The Seahawks won’t be the only bird on the menu Sunday night. Chicken wings have emerged from humble roots to become the Super Bowl’s version of Thanksgiving turkey. The delicious — and often messy — little bony nibbles are as much a mainstay of the day’s menu as the game itself.
Local food service and meat wholesalers predict an uptick in wing business this weekend. What was once perceived as a useless part of the chicken has become a treasured culinary canvas to which chefs apply different techniques and flavors. Chicken wings are the most popular dish ordered at sports bars, and when you add a Super Bowl to the mix — especially one involving the Patriots — it means the biggest wing night in years.
At one time, says John Dewar, sales ambassador at TF Kinnealey & Co., a Brockton meat wholesaler, wings “were an afterthought. Chickens were mostly cut up in quarters, and the wings were left attached to the breast. Eventually people got more creative and started cutting the chickens into eighths. That’s when wings took off.” When he started in business in 1963, Dewar bought wings wholesale for 10 cents a pound. That figure shot up as the dish became a national sensation.
Buffalo wings are certainly the most famous preparation in the wing lineup. The origin is debated, but the most widely acknowledged tale is that they were first served in 1964 as a late-night snack at Buffalo’s Anchor Bar, with a sauce mixed from hot sauce and margarine.
Dewar notes that Kinnealey expects to sell 24,000 pounds of wings in January, a 10,000-pound increase over an average month.. The price rises as the Super Bowl approaches. “It’s the most expensive cut of chicken right now,” says Dewar. “It’s all about supply and demand.” On the retail level, whole wings earlier this week were around $2.49-$2.99 a pound, drumettes around $3.49 a pound.
Once a wholesaler ships wings to chefs and bar owners, the cooking possibilities are endless. But many chefs stick to what people expect. At Coolidge Corner Clubhouse in Brookline, owner Andrew Pomper says that Buffalo was the only flavor available when he started serving them 25 years ago. But customers requested different sauces. Now he offers teriyaki and barbecue (10 wings for $10.99, 20 for $21.99) “People have gravitated toward the new sauces,” Pomper says. “But Buffalo will always be the top seller.”
The kitchen marinates Buffalo wings in oil and spices before they are fried, drained, and tossed in a peppery sauce, which contains cayenne, Worcestershire, and other ingredients Pomper won’t reveal. The restaurant expects to go through hundreds of pounds of whole wings this weekend, with at least half the orders takeout.
For someone looking to cook wings at home, Pomper says that it can be tough to replicate the sports bar taste. “If it was easy,” he says, “we probably wouldn’t be selling 500 pounds this coming weekend.”
(For wing recipes, see Page G9.)
Across from Fenway, the Cask ’n Flagon is considered by some to be one of the best sports bars in the country (there’s a second location in Marshfield). Wings will star there, too, on Sunday. Chef Donley Liburd is expecting to serve 100 pounds of split wings during the game alone, which is triple his average Sunday output. On offer are honey-barbecue, Asian chile, and honey-mustard (10 wings for $9.99; 20 for $16.99), but Liburd also says Buffalo remains his most popular variety.
Liburd’s wings technique begins when he marinates the wings in oil, salt, and pepper before giving them a preliminary bake in the oven. Then they go into a deep-fat fryer for a few minutes, and finally they’re tossed in a sauce. Both the oven and grill can be used for wings at home, he advises, but the fryer delivers the crispiness he’s looking for.
Liburd isn’t keen on experimenting with different flavors because wings are, as he puts it, “iconic.” He says, “Places will have a lot of different types of sauces. But to be honest, the number one seller will still be Buffalo or barbecue.
“People want to stay in their comfort zone.”
COOLIDGE CORNER CLUBHOUSE 307 Harvard St., Coolidge Corner, Brookline, 617-586-4948, www.thecoolidgecornerclubhouse.com
CASK ’N FLAGON 62 Brookline Ave., Fenway, Boston, 617-536-4840, and 804 Plain St., Marshfield, 781-834-2275, www.casknflagon.comJon Mael can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.