By Jason Menard
There are few foods as transcendent as the Chicken Wing. In addition to their simplicity of presentation and flavour, they are a supremely social food, as they are best enjoyed in a local establishment accompanied by friends, family, or both!
Over the years, I have travelled far and wide sampling some of this country’s best wings. I have plenty of experience built up in this quest – in fact, I’ve recently lost more than a few pounds of experience (too much of a good thing, I suppose.) The problem I’ve encountered is that rarely have these establishments offered what they promised.
You’ve heard the names designed to strike fear in the heart of the unknowing consumer: suicide, homicide, 911… all equally dramatic and all equally misleading. The concept seems to be that adding a violent noun to a piece of poultry will elicit a psychosomatic response that will make what you’re eating seem hotter.
An order of these wings is invariably accompanied by a quizzical look from your server and an “Are you sure?” comment that’s as welcome as that sprig of parsley. It’s inevitably followed by another comment that comes when the food finally arrives. It’s always some permutation of, “Good luck with that.”
Now, wings soliciting such reverence from the staff must obviously be worthy of the fear and awe they inspire, right? Wrong! All it does is build up false hope and increase the disappointment.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some wonderful wing establishments in this city that produce some tasty wings. I have brought my wife and kids (medium and honey garlic fans that they are…) to many of these places and we’ve enjoyed many a fine night of casual dining. But my search continues!!!!
Just this weekend, I went to a local watering hole and asked about the heat gradients and was told the usual litany, including suicide… but another was added to the list “Chef’s Challenge.” Hotter than suicide? This could be promising, I thought to myself… But, alas, the Chef’s Challenge was a misnomer – in fact, I was left wondering was I the one challenged, or was the chef?
So what makes a good hot wing? Any monkey can dump one of those industrial hot sauces on a wing and serve it up – but it would be inedible! They key is to combine searing heat and succulent flavour into a package that’s truly worthy of this sort of moniker! A wing needs to be plump, juicy, crispy, and with a flavour that resonates in the mouth. I’ve had single baked, twice-baked, double battered, bare, in fact any cooking style you can imagine, but the key to a memorable wing is in the sauce.
I’m not a masochist, but I enjoy spicy food. Eating hot is something I enjoy – it’s not a test of my manhood or a matter of pride. It’s also something that I know won’t last. Eventually, my stomach will have had enough and will revolt against the abuse I’ve heaped upon it for all these years. So, until that time, I want to get what I ask for!
Suicide, homicide, and their brethren need to indicate a heat level more than just one that’s discomforting to those who find tomato sauce a little racy, it needs to be truly awe-inspiring and palette-searing. As our world gets smaller, cooks are exposed to more and more ingredients, spices, and chills, at more affordable prices. The pallet of flavour is now limited only by our own imagination.
My search continues, but my stops along my road are poorly marked. One day I’ll find poultry Nirvana, but until then I make this appeal to our local establishments to adhere to truth in advertising. The majority of food out there is designed to cater to the widest spectrum of purchasers possible. Scan the grocery aisles and the foods labelled as hot barely contain any spice.
Our collective palette has become so dull that restaurants simplify their foods so as not to offend. It’s become so bad that I’ve been to restaurants that feature ethnic cuisine that’s known to be spicy, and it’s been watered down. When I’ve pressed to get “the real stuff” it has resulted in a trip to the back room and the comment “Well, when Canadians ask for ‘hot’ they don’t really mean it…”
We need to reclaim the individuality of food. We must celebrate diverse flavours and unique tastes! And I say it starts with the chicken wing. With this saucy delicacy let our appetites take flight!
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