I struggle with vegetarianism, or, rather, I struggle with my addiction to meat. I could live in a steakless world. I could walk streets where ducks were never oranged. I could, in my most pious moments, shy away from cured meats. But fried chicken, specifically of the wing variety, is an addiction with hooks in deeper than reason can reach.
This is not a Best Chicken Wing article. I would rather write about politics than attempt to wade through that maelstrom of claimants to this particular throne. We all know the perfect recipe for wing success, anyway. It starts with size. The size is key, because wings too large finish uneven. This results in a mess that must be nibbled from the sinew and bone. The meat should slide from the bone as effortlessly as a needle pierces linen. The skin’s structure should be no thicker than necessary to maintain that familiar duo of shapes. The bone acts merely as a crutch for the delicate meat residing safely in the skin and sauce shell. Its bite shall be crisp, and its sauce shall be hot. I know where my favorite wings are. They’re found at Gonzo’s in Lockport.
The chicken wing isn’t a common choice in food pairings, unless American adjunct beers are concerned, and they are certainly concerned, but what other tonics, ferments, and brews play well with Buffalo’s nationally recognized food?
I like to drink with the seasons. In the winter, I prefer a tall boy of PBR—hopefully one with a little ice on top. For fall months, I lean heavily on Genny. Full strength. Spring tends to bring me to gin-and-tonic town, but the summer is for Turbo Specials. I’m not sure of the full recipe, but I do know that it has vodka and Gatorade in it.
Let’s get straight to business. This is the definitive wing sauce. Any other style is a deviation. The best wine and chicken wing pairing is ice wine and hot wings. This wild pairing was taught to me by Jonathan Oakes of Leonard Oakes Estate Winery. The sweetness and the heat play with the blue cheese and lifted fruit. It’s the only time that I’ll dip a flat.
It’s not always about heat and sweetness. The beverage doesn’t have to just be a liquid to help wash down the residual hot sauce. Sometimes you order medium wings, grab a big bottle of Madeira, and watch old CKY videos on YouTube. Fried chicken and maillard juice is a tale as old as time. Keep the sugar levels low for this one. You want to feel it.
I’ll admit it. I have sometimes turned up my nose at the mild wing folks. I am reformed. Mild wings and champagne is the new French fries and champagne. It’s the kind of hedonism we need after living through 2020. I prefer the brioche bombs for this one. Bubbles are the cleanest-feeling pairing to the chicken wing. Bubbles purify all.
The BBQ boyz
I apologized for my mild-sauce snobbery, but I will stand my ground against the sweet, thick, tangy zip of barbecue, and this includes the Mango Habanero and Honey Garlic varieties. Unfortunately, these are my wife’s favorites, so, if I must, I will only eat them with something bright, cold, and refreshing. Some say that the University of Minnesota’s genetically enhanced Marquette is perfect for pairing with barbecue sauce. If you can’t find Marquette, then look for some Pipeno. If you turn your nose to Marquette, then just get another fifteen-dollar bottle of Bojo.
For posterity, let’s lay down one last fact: the only dip is blue cheese, if you please. That is not debatable. Ranch has a place in the pantry, and its place is for baby carrots.