That Wing Thing

Food trends may come and go, but wings remain eternally popular. In fact, since the 1964 “invention” of the Buffalo Chicken Wing at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo—about an hour from where I live now—the bar food favorite has become an iconic menu standard, beloved by customers across the country.

Did You Know? Wings are mentioned on 44.2% of US menus, a 3% increase over 2014. The challenge is how to differentiate the chicken wings on your menu from all the other ones in town.

Sauce It Up
Take a look at the menu at Buffalo Wild Wings, and it’s easy to see how sauces and seasonings can be used to customize the diner’s experience and set the concept apart. With a total of 21 different options, from lemon pepper and mild Buffalo sauce to mango habanero and Parmesan garlic, there’s something for every craving.

Sauces, seasonings, and glazes can be used in core menu preparations or offered as optional choices. Wings can also be flavor enhanced with dips served with the wings. Treatments like apricot-ginger glaze, Dijon mustard, Jack Daniel’s BBQ sauce, or cheddar dip bring an interesting but still-familiar twist. Or, look to premium ingredients and trending flavor profiles outside the traditional wing arena; such as truffle salt, blueberry acai, Hatch chiles, and wild mushroom. Chicken is a blank canvas for flavors of all kinds.

Did You Know? Buffalo is still the #1 wing flavor profile, but honey, Parmesan, Thai, bourbon, smoky, and lemon pepper are all showing big growth.

Global Flavor Inspirations
Wing recipes that borrow from global cuisines represent another innovative approach to signature chicken wings. Asian flavor ingredients like fiery Vietnamese sriracha, Korean gochujang (a sweet/savory and spicy fermented soybean condiment), Chinese Sichuan peppercorns, Japanese miso, or Thai red curry add instant ethnic backbone that work well with the neutral taste of chicken.

And because chicken wings are also so approachable, they represent an excellent vehicle for introducing customers to new world flavors: Jamaican jerk seasoning, the citrus-and-cumin accents of a Cuban mojo marinade, Mexican adobo, Middle Eastern harissa, Indian garam masala, or even Southern-style Coca-Cola barbecued wings.

Don’t Forget Texture
Texture is an often-overlooked element of signature recipes. Whether coated with crunchy sesame seeds or soft and sticky with honey and soy sauce, texture adds depth and interest to chicken wings. Toss finished wings in thinly sliced scallions or fresh cilantro (or add them to the breading) for a burst of subtle, fresh crunch, or douse them in creamy, white barbecue sauce.

Texture (as well as flavor) can also be manipulated through the cooking method, such as using rice-flour or tempura batter, twice frying (the technique that makes Korean fried chicken so crispy), grilling, and wood roasting.

Use Presentation to Advantage
Because wings are shareable, they lend themselves to fun presentations that the whole table can enjoy. Send a batch of fried wings out to the table in a mini fryer basket, or pack them into a Chinese takeout box.

Other ideas include individual skillets; a bed of crispy fried Asian noodles or shredded vegetable slaw; butcher paper on a tray or in a basket, accompanied by artfully arranged raw vegetables and dip. Even just propping them up against each other in a circle, like a crown, will make wings look more appetizing.

In the age of Instagram, extra efforts like these will really pay off.

Swap Out the Protein
And who even says it has to be chicken wings? Duck wings provide an upscale alternative that go particularly well with Asian and Mexican flavors, especially ones that contrast both sweet and savory flavor combinations.

Turkey wings are big, snack-worthy servings that can be smoked or barbecued, and the drumette portion can be trimmed to create a “lollipop.” These make perfect bar snacks or catering fare.

I’ve even seen “pig wings,” cut from the fibula of the pork shank—great for utilization, plus they can also be purchased already cut. Talk about when pigs fly!

Source: Datassential SNAP! Wings (2019)