You may be forgiven for some confusion about the provenance of buffalo wings: "Why are they called buffalo wings if they're chicken?" I’ve asked, more than once. A chicken's tiny wings bear no resemblance to the meaty thighs of the wooly buffalo. It made no sense. And yet, they're buffalo wings the world over.
The name has nothing to do with the prairie beast and everything to do with the town in upstate New York, where in 1964, Teressa Bellissimo, the proprietor of a local joint called the Anchor Bar, threw together hot sauce and butter, slathered it over some accidentally delivered deep-fried chicken wings — they were expecting necks — and served them alongside celery sticks and blue cheese dressing. (There’s some variation in the exact tale, with its various threads chronicled by The New Yorker and Smithsonian magazine, but the basic themes remain unchanged.) And thus were born the chicken wings we know and love today, served in sports bars as a spicy fried complement to a beer and a game of football.
But what of us who despise nibbling around tiny bones? Buffalo sauce is often ignored on its own merits despite its endless applications, many better than wings but still set aside in favor of the 50-cent meat bombs.
"I had never actually liked eating wings. My obsession with buffalo sauce started with my friend making me a buffalo chicken dip at a party," says Whitney Bond, food blogger at Little Leopard Book. Now, "I put it in everything. There's never too much buffalo sauce.” Her cookbook, Buffalo Style, contains 50 non-wing buffalo-sauce recipes ranging from an alfredo lasagna to guacamole.
Chef Jesse Schenker's buffalo sweetbreads, served at his New York City restaurant The Gander, came about as accidentally as Bellissimo's original creation: Left with the scraps of pan-roasted sweetbread, he first covered them with Sriracha as an after-service snack for his team. Soon they upgraded the Sriracha to a buffalo sauce, added pickled carrots and celery, and created a fresh buffalo milk blue cheese. A bar menu star was born — buffalo wings with a culinary pedigree.
Traditional buffalo sauce is made with equal parts butter and Frank’s RedHot, but Schenker swaps Frank’s for Sriracha and adds sherry vinegar and thyme. The flavor is subtle and well-rounded.
"What's special about our buffalo sauce is the acidity. It lingers on your back palate, just like a good ham or cheese," Schenker says.
Good buffalo sauce requires emulsification and careful heat moderation. "You don’t need to cook anything," Schenker says. "Heat it enough to get the flavors together, but you don’t want to boil it and burn things." You can do this over low heat, but he recommends whisking the sauce in a double-boiler to ensure proper emulsification, no matter whether you’re using Frank's or Sriracha.
"If you don’t want too overwhelming a flavor, start with less then add more as you go," Bond says. "That way, you can get the flavor you want."
Whether you're adding your sauce to fried sweetbread or another of your favorite dishes, "it's about balance," Schenker says. It doesn’t need to be dripping buffalo sauce — dress it like you would a salad.
(Serves 5–10 (snack portions)
- 1.5 lbs sweetbreads (the ones we use are from Colorado)
- ½ head garlic, cut in half
- 1pc sachet of thyme
- ¼ Spanish onion
- Water to cover
- In a large pot, bring pot of salted water to a boil with thyme, garlic, and onion.
- Add raw sweetbreads; turn heat down and simmer for 8 minutes.
- Take pot off of the stove and cool sweetbreads down in liquid.
- After they are cool, peel the skin off the sweetbread to clean.
- Cut sweetbreads into ½” pieces. Toss in Wondra flour and then fry until golden.
- ½ lb butter
- ½ bottle of Sriracha
- 120g sherry vinegar
- ½ head garlic, cut in half
- 1–2 sprigs thyme
- Melt the butter with the garlic and thyme in a pan over low heat.
- Add the sriracha sauce and sherry vinegar. Stir to combine.
- Simmer for 10 minutes to steep the garlic and thyme.
- Strain into a quart container and cool.
To plate: place fried sweetbreads in a mixing bowl and toss with sauce. Place 6–8 sweetbreads in a hollow bowl and garnish with celery leaf, pickled carrot, and celery and blue cheese dressing (if you so choose).
- 1 box Mrs. T's Mini Classic Cheddar Pierogies
- Non-stick cooking spray
- 1 cup oil
- ½ cup hot pepper sauce
- ½ tsp chili powder
- Blue cheese dressing
- Preheat oven to 400ºF.
- Combine oil, hot sauce, and chili powder; toss with the pierogies. Coat a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray and spread pierogies evenly on the baking sheet.
- Bake at 400ºF for 16 to 18 minutes or until pierogies are puffed and browned. For best results turn over once, halfway through bake time.
Serve with blue cheese dressing, carrots, and celery.
Optional: Instead of baking, deep-fry pierogies in 350ºF oil for 3 minutes or until golden brown, as directed on box.