Chicken Winged

After a two-day deluge marked by riotous winds, Winter finally gave way to Spring in Chicago this weekend. Sunny, breezy days brought people out of their winter hovels to clog the sidewalks along Broadway and the bike and running paths on the lake. It is the same every year.

March and parts of April are like a vise, squeezing the life out of all of us with their gray, leaden skies and swirling winds that can make 40 degrees feel like 20 and chill you to the bones. The days are wet, damp, and seemingly unrelenting, leaving me to ask, “Why the hell do I live here?”

The answer: Saturday and Sunday, and days like them, as few and far between as they are.

We fired up the grill both days, not that it takes warm weather for that. I’ve done as much when it was 10 degrees or when it was pouring rain or even snowing. The grill is three feet from the back door, so I can stand inside and let it do its work.

But these two days, I stood outside and admired the beauty of an urban backyard surrounded by four- to 40-story tall building. We live in a canyon, set down in the middle of surrounding life, blessed with the luxury of a backyard and beautiful songbirds, annoying squirrels, a grill, patio, and flower and vegetable garden.

On Saturday, I grilled burgers. About this, there is nothing worth noting. “Burgers on the grill” is a cliché. Throw in some grilled onions and a pretzel roll, plus any other condiments you like, and I can say I’ve done that a thousand times.

It was Sunday that brought revelation. I grilled chicken wings. I have never done that before. Chicken, yes, I’ve done, a million times—whole, thighs, legs, baked, grilled, fried, boiled in a soup, yep. But never have I made chicken wings

First, I am not a fan of chicken wings. I’ve only had good chicken wings once, and that was at Buffalo Bill’s in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, with my in-laws. They were the whole wing type (the wings, not my in-laws), baked in an oven and delivered properly seasoned.

The rest of the chicken wing world, at least that part of it I have explored, has been disappointing, characterized by deep-fried oil-soaked wings and/or wings so pumped up on hormones that it takes only two of them fill a plate. Or, what I’ve been served isn’t even a wing; it is part of the wing, as if all the chickens were amputees (I truly hope they weren’t). Or what I’ve been surrounded by is fifty or sixty people on a drunken, wing-eating frenzy that zaps my appetite as a I wonder what barnyard was massacred to feed these people who won’t even remember the next morning what they ate.

I know there are good wings out there, but to be honest, unless I am in New Kensington with my in-laws, I don’t want them.

Second, the whole chicken wing fad is odd to me. When did we start thinking chicken wings were an actual meal? After all, it’s just a bit of white meat clinging to bone and cartilage. There is so much more to the chicken, more that is tastier and more filling, such as the thigh and leg—dark meat that, unlike the wing, outweighs the bone it clings to. I’ll take a basket full of thighs any day over a basket for of wings.

Growing up, the idea that a restaurant or bar could make money off of chicken wings never occurred to me because, as far as I know, that didn’t happen then. When I told Beverly that, she disagreed, saying that she and her family would go out for wings—whole wings at that—all the time. But growing up, I didn’t know anyone who would actually go out to eat chicken wings.

My dad loved them, however. I knew that as a child and found it interesting even then. Of course, he ate other parts of the chicken (I mean, there were only two wings to a chicken then, and we never bought just chicken wings). His love of wings has stuck with me, however, in part, because it was a proper type of love, a love that one could respect and admire. Unlike people’s love of chicken wings today, which just leaves me rolling my eyes and thinking, “Yeah, right, and I bet you’d buy a bucket rib tips, too, and eat that,” his love of wings was unadulterated yet practical.

His was “a love of” I could respect and admire. He proclaimed it and acted on it, by eating every wing that came into the house. But he didn’t buy just wings—he bought chickens, and ate the wings because no one was eating them, and then he would say, “I love wings. They’re my favorite part of the chicken.” And I would think, “That’s good. You can have the wings. Can I have that leg?” Now that’s love for the sake of love, and also because someone had to do it.

So I made chicken wings for the first time in my life on Sunday because Beverly came home with 16 chicken wings—from non-drugged, free range, loved and respected chickens no less. I salted and peppered them, and then tossed six of them in paprika. I put them on the grill and let them cook, finishing off about half of them with a combo chili sauce and honey mixture that Beverly concocted. She also cut up some celery and carrots and made her own blue cheese dressing using Greek yogurt, Worcestershire sauce, a bit of mayonnaise, and blue cheese—good blue cheese. We had sweet potato fries, baked in the oven—no deep frying anything in my canyon.

I have to say that the wings were really good. Grilled to perfection, although Beverly claimed one was undercooked a bit (It wasn’t.). The crème de crème, however was the blue cheese dressing and the chili-honey sauce. They turned good wings into great wings.

So maybe that it is, maybe it is not the wings that are the problem? Maybe the wing sauces and blue cheese dressings I keep coming across have let the wings down, and left me blaming them for something they had no control over?

Maybe, but probably not. It’s the wings, I know. It has been a while, but I have been in enough bars and eaten enough assembly-line chicken wings to know to crave the wing is an abomination of everything our hunter-gather fathers and mothers knew and did to survive.

I mean, could you imagine them sitting around a sputtering fire just inside their hovel in pre-historic Chicago on a freezing, rainy night, with the wind blowing smoke and soot into their eyes, eating chicken wings? No, right? They weren’t eating chicken wings.