The big game is over. Time to snap out of that chicken wing induced food coma. Boneless. Breaded. Traditional. In today’s world of variety and immediate gratification the choices are endless. The options haven’t always been that selective. Or available for that matter. It’s hard to imagine a time when the crispy, sauce soaked treat we all love so much wasn’t available. The history of the chicken wing only goes back to the early 1960’s. Conflicting stories exist on who invented the snack but one thing is certain: the name “Buffalo Wing” can be attributed to the city by the same name located in western New York.
According to The Anchor Bay bar in Buffalo, they alone created the chicken wing. All accounts point to serendipity as the reason, but the invention process remains a matter of family dispute. As one story goes, the family matriarch needed a quick snack to feed her son and friends late one night. Another relates to a Friday night with the bar packed full of guests of the Roman Catholic persuasion. Rather than be confined to eating fish and vegetables, Dominix asked Teressa Bellissimo to whip up a snack for the stroke of midnight. The process however is undisputed. She took the chicken wing-long considered a throw away part of the bird-and split the wing into a “drummy” and a “flat”. She then fried them, tossed them in a spicy cayenne pepper sauce (Frank’s Red Hot?), and finished the platter with sides of bleu cheese dressing and celery sticks.
Then there’s John Young. His claim to poultry fame states that he was making these at HIS restaurant long before the Anchor Bay. Young relayed that his family had been using the chicken wing in their African American influenced cuisine for several generations. His use of “Mambo Sauce” though leads many experts to believe that he should be put in a different category entirely. Regardless of its origins, today the chicken wing has elevated its status from scraps to highly sought after. The chicken wing, once attributed to sports crazed taverns in large cities across America, has even spurred the creation of national chain restaurants. The popularity was only increased when the NFL franchise Buffalo Bills made a historic run to four consecutive Super Bowl appearances in the early 1990’s.
Today the evolution of the chicken wing continues. The sauces are created based on influences ranging from Asian to Caribbean flavors. A newer, boneless style of wings can be eaten with a fork instead of trying to keep those hands from being drowned in saucy goodness. Establishments have even come up with hot sauces-some with Scoville units reaching into the millions- to test their customers’ courage and intestinal fortitude alike.
Whether extra spicy, super sized or even the sauce-less dry rubbed variety, most Americans have a favorite. And whether you order them by the dozen or by the pound, don’t forget to tip your cap to that city in upstate New York. Thanks Buffalo for being brave enough to use what others wouldn’t and to change the way we see (and eat) a previously misunderstood piece of poultry. Without you folks the first Sunday in February may still have proven to be as exciting, we’re just not sure it would have turned out as delicious.