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Buffalo chicken wings with blue cheese dressing

Buffalo chicken wings with blue cheese dressing
Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

You're parked on the sofa, beer in hand, face painted, Terrible Towels in a pile on the floor. You've spent the off-week playing Madden video games and you're pumped. You're hungry. But you're NOT in the mood to have somebody in an apron hand you a tray of canapes.

The rest of the year we may nibble on pan-fried skate and wilted ache, but on Super Bowl Sunday, we want our Buffalo wings. When people watch football, they want real food. Bar food. Preferably food they can eat with their hands, piling the remains on coffee tables next to the bowls of chips and beer-can pyramids.

So forget the tapas, sushi, tea sandwiches . Instead, take a tip from the folks who programmed this year's Super Bowl halftime entertainment -- the Rolling Stones -- and stick with the classics. Solid old-school entertainment calls for some time-honored food to go with it. No lip-synching surprises. And no deconstructed salads either.

Mean Joe Green might have accepted a can of soda at halftime, but a cucumber sandwich? Would Mike Singletary have nibbled on salmon rillettes?

Would Terry Bradshaw? Would Keith Richards?

This is the day for Buffalo wings, marinated baby back ribs and beer-battered shrimp -- timeless bar food, high in protein for the nutritional needs of the serious armchair athlete.

This is comfort food for those of us who went to PAC-10 schools or who logged more time in sports bars watching ESPN than we'd care to remember -- or can.

There's something satisfying about wheeling out old classics. They're like the cleats you've had since you were 12. Old classics are familiar. They're safe. They don't go in for partial nudity during half-time shows.

But classics aren't always as great as they might be. (As Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick are now telling their rookies, there's always room for improvement.)

So instead of using mayonnaise in a jar for your blue cheese dressing, make your own. Use cornichons and capers in your tartar sauce instead of the relish your mother used back in Bart Starr's heyday.

Baste your ribs with Bourbon and brown sugar instead of prepared barbecue sauce. Better ingredients, more attention to details. Better food. Hike!

And making classics better doesn't mean long hours in the kitchen. Witness Buffalo chicken wings, which were invented in 1964 by Teressa Bellissimo of the Anchor Bar and Restaurant in Buffalo, N.Y., late one night for her son and his friends.

It's a quintessential origin myth for any iconic bar food: what to feed hungry boys really fast, before they raid what's left of your refrigerator.

In this case, Bellissimo fried up some wings, doused them in hot sauce and served them with what she happened to have on hand: blue cheese dressing and celery. It was a definitive moment for sports food -- and for Buffalo, which has had to compensate for a lot. Think Scott Norwood. Think O.J.

The published recipes for the original wings called for fried wings slathered with a happily toxic combination of Frank's RedHot Sauce (an old saloon staple), vinegar and butter.

But when I called the Anchor Bar last week, the cook on duty said that they didn't do that anymore.

Nowadays, Anchor's cooks just fry up the wings, pour Frank's RedHot Sauce on them, and offer bottled blue cheese dressing on the side.

Although there's a beautiful economy of motion (not to say ingredients) in that, the genius of the dish comes through much better when you go back to the original recipe, then recast it to achieve peak performance.

Buffalo wings work because of the way the aspects of the dish play off each other: crunchy fried wings, incendiary sauce, crisp celery, and the almost incongruous sophisticated depth of the blue cheese.

So make your own dressing, with homemade mayonnaise, a farmstead or other high-quality blue cheese (Maytag blue is a classic), buttermilk and garlic, and combine them into something that can hold its own against a bowlful of wings.

The difference in taste will be like the difference between, well, some Division 1 front lines and the ones the Seahawks and the Steelers will be fielding this Sunday.

You can amp up your beer-battered shrimp too. Instead of a heavy-duty batter that pads the shrimp till they resemble defensive players, make a lighter, crispier crust -- one that complements the taste of the seafood instead of burying it -- by using a good, full-bodied amber ale (we use Seattle's Red Hook, but Pittsburgh fans have their choice of microbrews too). The ale adds more depth of flavor than club soda or Pabst; a little cornmeal adds body.

Unless you live in Detroit, you're probably not tailgating this one, but you can give your guests something to gnaw on by making delicious oven-roasted ribs.

Marinated overnight with some extra brown sugar (to honor those Stones) and Kentucky Bourbon, the ribs have a depth and heat to them that many traditional ribs -- drowned in ketchup or barbecue sauce, the flavors masked under a layer of charcoal -- don't escape with.

So leave your old Stones LPs in the museum you've built for them, crank up your iPod's Bose sound system, and get ready for some football.

Everyone benefits from a makeover, even the best of them. Especially the best of them.

Total time: 1 hour | Serves 4
Note: Adapted from a recipe by Teressa Bellissimo, of the Anchor Bar and Restaurant in Buffalo, N.Y. You can adjust the heat of the sauce by increasing -- or decreasing -- the proportion of hot sauce to melted butter.

Classic mayonnaise

  • 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • Salt to taste

Step 1Whisk together the egg yolks, vinegar and mustard in a medium bowl until pale in color. Add the oil drop by drop, whisking constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken.

Step 2Continue whisking in the oil more steadily now, until all the oil is incorporated. Important note: If the mixture begins to break, you can add a few drops of water to bring it back together. Season with salt to taste. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use; keeps for two days. Makes 3 1/3 cups.

Step 3Food processor method: Combine the egg yolks, vinegar and mustard in the bowl of a food processor. Process for 30 seconds, then very slowly drizzle the oil a few drops at a time. After pouring in half a cup, drizzle the remaining oil in a thin stream. Season with salt to taste.

Blue cheese dressing

  • 1 cup classic mayonnaise
  • 3/4 cup crumbled Maytag blue cheese
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons buttermilk
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Step 1In a bowl, combine the mayonnaise, blue cheese, sour cream, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, vinegar, buttermilk, salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to use. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Wings and assembly

  • 8 cups canola oil
  • 2 1/2 pounds chicken wings, tips cut off and discarded, wings cut into two at the joint (to make about 16 pieces)
  • 2 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 5 tablespoons Frank's RedHot Sauce
  • 4 stalks celery, cut into sticks
  • Blue cheese dressing

Step 1Heat the oil in a deep, heavy (5- to 6-quart) pot until it reaches 375 degrees. Fry the wings, in batches, until golden, about 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

Step 2Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the vinegar and hot sauce and stir until blended.

Step 3When all the wings are cooked, place the wings in a large bowl, pour the sauce over and toss to coat. Serve warm, with the blue cheese dressing and celery sticks.

Each serving:
567 calories; 31 grams protein; 2 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 48 grams fat; 13 grams saturated fat; 120 mg. cholesterol; 682 mg. sodium.
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