Wing Tips

On Super Bowl Weekend, Wings Are, Well, A Hot Commodity

February 03, 2010|By Rob Kasper

Something about Super Bowl brings out our national craving for wings and fire.

During the course of this weekend, hungry Americans will polish off more than 100 million pounds of chicken wings, many drenched in hot sauce.

The stats of this big wing weekend are staggering. According to the National Chicken Council - the group that is to chickens what the NFL is to football - about 1.25 billion wing portions will be consumed during Super Bowl weekend. The demand for wings has grown so fast that wings now cost more per pound than chicken breasts. Wings, in other words, have become chickens' MVP, most valuable part.

Local restaurateur Bill Bateman said that wings were something of a novelty in Baltimore back in 1987 when he put them on his menu, modeling the morsel after one served at the Anchor Bar and Grill in Buffalo, N.Y. "I liked them, No. 1, because they were cheap, and No. 2, because they had great flavor," Batemen said. Now, he said, "every chain in the world is using wings."

On Super Bowl Sunday, Bateman's 14 restaurants do a brisk business, usually tripling wing sales of an average Sunday, he said. "The line goes out the door on Super Bowl Sunday," said Bateman.

So why are wings so popular on Super Sunday?

One reason is demographic. Both football and wings are favorites of men 18 to 34 years old, a group that makes its presence felt on Super Bowl Sunday.

Mick Kipp, who makes the Whiskey Island line of sauces and rubs in Baltimore, offered another reason for the popularity of hot, spicy wings. "They are great bar food; they pair well with beer," he said.

Nancy Longo, chef and owner of Pierpoint Restaurant in Fells Point, spoke of the emotional lift, real or imagined, that comes from eating fiery fare.

"It gets your blood pressure up and gives you the oomph to root for your team," she said.

Longo is familiar with Super Bowl fare. For the past 14 years she has represented the Ravens and Baltimore at Taste of the NFL, a big feed held the day before the big game in the city playing host to the Super Bowl. Chefs from each of the 32 cities with NFL teams serve up dishes to customers who pay $500 a ticket. Proceeds benefit hunger projects in each of the participating cities.

"There are always some wings there," Longo said. "The spicy food always goes first," she said.

For Saturday's event at the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Longo is planning to serve an Asian-style crab cake with a hot, Thai curry sauce. Ravens offensive tackle Jared Gaither is scheduled to assist Longo and her cooking crew, she said.

While Longo will be in the Miami area on Sunday, she will not be in the stadium for the Colts-Saints game.

Instead, she and other Taste of the NFL chefs will, she said, "find the best sports bar in town, one that has the best wings." Over the years, watching the game and eating wings has become the chefs' Super Bowl tradition, she said.

That is a tradition I can identify with. So to get ready for the weekend, I contacted several sauce makers, local and national, and asked them for wing recipes.

Thom Edwards of Canton runs an online enterprise selling the Captain Thom's sauces and seasonings. He gave me a wing recipe perfected by his grandmother, Lola Carlton. It calls for dipping the raw chicken in buttermilk, dredging the wings in a mixture of cornmeal and flour, frying them in oil, and finally coating them with Captain Thom's Bite My Barnacles wing sauce.

Compared to his hottest sauce, a fiery concoction known as West African Voodoo Juice, his wing sauce is relatively mild, Edwards said. Rather than overpowering heat, the keys to a good wing sauce, he said, are having a smooth texture and an ability to apply a good coating to the wings.

Mick Kipp, who sells his spice blends at the Saturday morning Waverly Farmers' Market and the Whiskey Island Pirate Shop at 2800 Sisson St., offered up two wings recipes. One uses Cajun spices and is relatively mild-mannered. The other uses his potent Swamp Pop blend, made from habanero, cayenne and chipotle peppers.

Being a chicken, I first chose the milder path to wing bliss. These wings were coated with melted butter, sprinkled with the Cajun spice and then fried in hot oil. They were accompanied by a homemade hot sauce created by tossing peppers, vinegar and garlic in a blender or food processor. Later, on a night when the weather got much colder, I tried the fiery wing rub on oven-baked wings. They were hot, but when the temperature dips in the teens, fiery food seems much more appropriate.

Finally, I tried a recipe on the bottle of Frank's Redhot Wing Sauce, a nationally distributed product that has been around since 1920 and is made with cayenne peppers in Springfield, Mo. The recipe was simple: Bake wings in a 500-degree oven, then, while they are still hot, coat them with Frank's sauce. Frank's sauce, I was told, is being poured at the Taste of the NFL.

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