USUALLY the Super Bowl isn't much of a football game, but it is a good excuse to eat chicken wings. That is what I plan to do this Sunday as I watch the gritty underdog Pittsburgh Steelers meet the flashy, top-dog, Dallas Cowboys.
The game is in Tempe, Ariz., where the weather, no doubt, will be sunny and the crowd will be tanned, privileged and behaving like people on vacation. For those of us watching the game on television, it will be just another Sunday night in front of the tube. We can't get too lathered up in the festivities because it is a "school night" and, in a few hours, car pool and other Monday morning duties will be upon us.
Still, watching the Super Bowl on TV is as good a reason as any to socialize. Long ago tribes gathered around a fire to eat roast beast and tell stories. Sunday, some 130 million of us will gather around beaming television screens to watch big guys play football. We will also want to eat something tasty. Something easy to prepare that can sit around without losing flavor. Something that isn't easily spilled. For me, that something has been chicken wings.
Apparently I am not alone. During Super Bowl week sales of chicken wings soar in the Baltimore area. That is what Paul Gill told me. Gill operates Wings Over Baltimore, a chicken wing delivery enterprise he runs out of Judy G's restaurant near Wilkens Avenue in southwest Baltimore. He has seven affiliated chicken wing dispensaries scattered through the metropolitan Baltimore area. In a normal week, Gill said he cooks about 1,200 pounds of chicken wings. During Super Bowl week the wing count climbs to 2,000 pounds he said. The only time Baltimore residents eat more chicken wings than during Super Bowl week, Gill told me, was during the week before Christmas.
This town has done a turnaround in its attitude toward wings, Gill said. More than 20 years ago when he sold uncooked wings in a grocery store, chicken wings were regarded as food for poor folks, he said. "You would sell them at 10 cents a pound. Sometimes you almost couldn't give them way," Gill said. The food gradually shed its lower-class image. Now 12 cooked wings sell for $5, he said, and demand is so strong that from time to time the supply of uncooked wings is tight.
One of the reasons for the change, he said, has been the increase in the variety of sauces served with the cooked wing. Instead of simply being battered and fried, the wings can now be flavored with eight or nine sauces. The current Baltimore area favorite flavor he said, is hot and honey barbecue, with a fiery number called "toxic waste," gaining ground.
I doubt that the tanned types watching Super Bowl XXX in sunny Arizona will be eating chicken wings at their parties . A group called the Committee to Save the Margarita, which describes itself as a grass-roots organization lobbying to keep tequila in the drink, sent me a fax detailing the work it would be doing in Tempe during Super Bowl week on behalf of margarita lovers. There was no mention of chicken wings.
I heard about some other Super Bowl gatherings when I spoke with Diane Long. She is married to Howie Long, a former Oakland Raider, who, along with Terry Bradshaw, Jimmy Jones, and James Brown, get paid to analyze football games for "Fox NFL Sunday," a popular TV show. Howie is the guy with the flattop.
Ms. Long is the mother of three young boys and is a spokeswoman for a rice growers group. During our phone conversation, she told me about the chicken potpie and about a shrimp and rice dish she served to her family and friends at previous Super Bowl gatherings at her home near Charlottesville, Va. (Free recipes for these dishes can be obtained by writing "Gridiron Club," USA Rice P.O. Box 740121. Houston, Texas 77274.)
These dishes hold up well if there is a delay in serving the food, which often happens when a televised game and children are involved, Ms. Long said. She told me that this week she will be in Arizona with her husband who will be appearing at parties given for friends and clients of his Fox-TV show. Again, no mention was made of chicken wings being served at these shindigs.
I, however, plan to eat wings on Sunday. We cook our own at our house. First we cut off the tip of the wing, and slice the remaining wing into two pieces. Then we rub these pieces with olive oil and sprinkle them heavily with Obrycki's crab seasoning. Then we put the sprinkled wings in the oven broiler and cook them about 10 minutes on each side, flipping once. They are served with a dipping sauce made by mixing a half stick of butter, melted, and 3 tablespoons of a thick, red hot sauce like the ones sold by Durkee's and Frank's. These wings will be accompanied, of course, by celery sticks and a dip made of blue cheese, mayonnaise and sour cream.
I can't remember the last time I was happy with the result of the big football game. But ever since I have been eating wings on Super Bowl Sunday, it has been a good day.