SAUCING GRILLED chicken wings is like giving advice to your kids: You have to fight the urge to do it too early and too often.
I now believe that grilled chicken wings do best when they are allowed to cook in their own juices, and get sauced later.
It has taken me some time to come to this position. For years I was an advocate of early intervention. I bathed wings with vinegar-based sauces before they cooked. I slathered their naked flesh with tomato-based sauce as the wings sat on the hot grill.
The results were often fiery and unpleasant. Residue would drip on the fire, producing damaging flames. The sauce, which had been applied to the wings in the hopes of becoming a flavor-enhancer, instead became a fire-enabler. Burned wings, regardless of what elixirs they have been coated with, taste bad.
This change in my chicken-wing outlook has not come without cost. It has forced me to ask myself some tough questions. One would be: If I do not have to get my hands in there and try to move things along, then why am I needed?
The answer, I feel, has to do with timing. When your help is propitious -- that is, when the offspring or the chicken wings are ready to accept it -- it can produce welcome results.
I thought of this the other night as I prepared a batch of wings for supper. In bygone days, my preparation would have consisted not only of chopping the raw wings into three pieces -- discarding the tips while saving the middle sections and miniature drum legs -- but it also would have included giving the wing parts a bath, a soak in a marinade. No more. Now I just chop.
I am not philosophically against marinades, but with chicken wings I don't think the bath is worth the trouble. The amount of meat being soaked is small. Moreover, marinating requires a block of time for effective saturation, and wings are usually a hurried dinner, at least at my house.
The other night the chicken wings that went on the grill were naked, sprinkled only with salt and pepper. The fire that cooked them was moderate. This also represented a shift in thinking.
Once I held the singe-and-scoot theory of wing grilling. I built a very hot fire underneath one end of the grill grate. I would singe the wings over the hottest part of the fire, then scoot them over to cooler quarters. This cooking style made for much drama, the wings could survive only a few minutes on the hot spots, and it kept me very busy.
Now, however, my fire is much quieter. No drama, no brimstone, much more egalitarian heating. I wait until the coals have cooled down, then spread them out evenly on the bottom of the cooker.
The other night the wings cooked in about 30 minutes and were brought to the table browned and beautiful, but unadorned. It was there, at the table, that wings and sauce were united.
I had made a couple of dipping sauces, one with soy sauce, scallions and ketchup, another with mustard, shallots and honey. I pulled the recipes from pages of the June / July issue of Fine Cooking, a promising-
looking, new magazine published in Newtown, Conn.
The brown wings moved through pools of dipping sauces we had placed on our dinner plates. It was a pleasing union. The pile of wings disappeared. The sauce made with soy, ketchup and scallions was a keeper.
Nonetheless, old behaviors are hard to change. I missed meddling with wings.
So while I will probably keep my sauce off the wings when they cook on the grill, when they cook in the oven all bets are off. There, they have to be tended and turned, sprinkled with a special crab seasoning.
Wings on the grill can be left alone, I guess, but in the oven they still benefit from a well-
Buffalo Meets Baltimore
Serves 4 as main dish
1/4 cup butter
3 to 5 tablespoons hot sauce
1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
2 1/2 pounds wings trimmed Buffalo style (see below)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons crab seasoning (Obrycki's)
To make dipping sauce, slowly melt butter in a large saucepan. Add the hot sauce (3 tablespoons for mild, 4 for medium, more for hot). Add the vinegar. Remove from heat.
To make wings, first cut off the tip of the wing and slice the remaining wing into 2 pieces. This is Buffalo-style trim. Brush both sides of wings with olive oil, or put wings in a large bowl and mix them with oil with your hands.
Place oiled wings on a large rimmed, baking sheet and sprinkle top side of wings with about half of the crab seasoning. Put wings in oven, about 3 inches from broiler. Broil at 400 degrees for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the tops of wings are browned.
Remove from oven, drain off liquids from baking sheet. Flip wings, sprinkling their new top sides with remaining crab seasoning. Broil until brown, another 10 to 15 minutes. Serve with hot dipping sauce.
- From "The Complete Book of Chicken Wings" by Joie Warner (Hearst Books, 1985, $7)
Per serving: 470 calories; 29 grams protein; 37 grams fat; 14 grams saturated fat; 2 grams carbohydrate; 0 grams fiber; 144 milligrams cholesterol; 668 milligrams sodium
Asian-Style Barbecue Sauce
Makes enough for 2 pounds of wings (roughly 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup tomato ketchup
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon light-brown sugar
1 tablespoon rice-wine vinegar
4 scallions, both white and green parts, trimmed and thinly sliced
large pinch dried red chile flakes
In a small bowl, whisk the ketchup, soy sauce, brown sugar, rice-wine vinegar, half the scallions and the chile flakes.
Reserve the remaining scallions to sprinkle on the wings after tossing.
- From "Fine Cooking" magazine
Per serving (based on 8 servings): 19 calories; 1 gram protein; 0 grams fat; 0 grams saturated fat; 4 grams carbohydrate; 0 grams fiber; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 337 milligrams sodium