Ever wonder if you went kind of crazy and nobody noticed? Back to that nutty notion in a second, for I’ve got wings to prepare -- turkey wings for the Big Game.
“Why turkey wings?” you ask. “Aren’t they tougher than Bronko Nagurski’s helmet?”
Well, yes and no. Sure, turkey wings can be a little chewier than the more traditional chicken. But isn’t that the point? The Super Bowl is a day for roasted meats, slabs of pizza and foods you clench with your fist. Ideally, utensils should be kept to a minimum -- though I suppose we’d make an exception for a good chili. And doesn’t the greatest game demand something more than the humble and ubiquitous chicken wing? Super Bowls require super wings -- something that would make a vegan gnaw at his knuckles.
Besides, what a great year for wing warfare. After all, three of the final four NFL teams were named after birds.
So with one of the biggest feasts of the year approaching, a buddy and I spend a day testing various marinades for turkey wings. It is a perfect sports atmosphere -- total mayhem, with my wife AWOL and the kids and their friends scampering in and out of the open doors. The kitchen is adjacent to the garage, and at one point we have to open the garage door to clear the smoke. All the windows are wide open as well. It looks like we are trying to clear the place of bats.
That is the moment, with the kids going in and out and the oven looking like we are smelting ore, when I feel like I am going a little nuts. But a nice nuts, know what I mean? Sort of a cathartic there’s-no-turning-back-now kind of nuts. Lately, if you’re not going a little crazy, you’re not really alive.
“WHERE’S THE DOG? WHERE’S THE DOG?” I shout, certain he’s escaped.
“I’m right here,” he says, sitting calmly at my feet.
Of course, he is at my feet. Where else could the dog sample so much dropped food? Our beagle now weighs about 300 pounds. He’s not a pet -- he’s a 4H project.
Anyway, I should know better than to think the beagle would ever slip out an open door and run away. Because, frankly, these wings smell astounding. They could draw Dick Butkus out of retirement. Butkus, who was once accused of biting a referee, would sharpen his teeth, then gobble a turkey wing and the entire Cardinal offense.
Ever pass one of those barbecue joints that hasn’t been painted since 1950, but it smells so good you think you could eat the shutters? That’s our house as we cook these wings. The scent of the three different marinades -- bourbon-teriyaki, honey and a very buttery hot sauce -- begin to attract squirrels and raccoons. By the end of the evening, the kids have started calling me Pa.
As in “Hey, Pa, more wings over here,” or “Hey, Pa, got any more of them napkins?”
The teriyaki bourbon is an easy mix of soy, sugar, garlic, ginger and some cheap bourbon. The spicy barbecue is a traditional vinegar and hot sauce-based marinade made with a slab of butter and a bit of garlic. For a real taste explosion, try topping a few of them with grated Parmesan during the last 15 minutes of roasting. Score.
The honey glaze requires about a half-cup of fresh cilantro and a dash of cumin, salt and lemon zest. But one little trick: Warming the honey during the basting process keeps it thinner and easier to brush on.
The dipping sauce was the easiest. A bottle of your favorite ranch dressing keeps things simple. Juice it up with a splash of lemon.
So, as you may have gathered, this isn’t exactly the kitchen at Le Cirque; we have even more crazy people than they do. One of them, my buddy Irv, is standing at the island trying to figure out which brews will work best with which flavor of wings. This process began even before he had wings to taste; he was sipping, but in a purely theoretical way.
“With the teriyaki, you might want something lighter, like the Kingfisher or maybe the Sierra Nevada,” he advises.
Whatever. I’ve just set a paper towel afire while trying to brush the wings with sauce one last time. I call for Irv’s help in moving the bottom tray to the top. The wings in the roasting tray on the very bottom are sizzling twice as fast as the top ones, so we’ve taken to shuffling them back and fourth (and brushing them with sauce) every 20 minutes.
By the way, all that smoke is mostly from the bourbon-teriyaki. Of the three sauces, it produces by far the most perfume. It is also, probably, our favorite (thanks to my neighbor Fred, who shared the bourbon tip). To my mind, bourbon could be used a lot more often in cooking. And I hear it also makes a delicious drink.
As we work on the wings, Irv keeps his own peculiar kind of pep talks coming: “Our minds are our magic carpets,” and “Dude, men invented the campfire. There’s no reason we shouldn’t know how to roast a mastodon.”
Whether you use Irv as a helper, or a crazed free agent of your own choosing, is up to you. In any case, with only the barest of cooking skills, you can put together a heck of a training table, three football-colored mounds of wings, served buffet-style with dipping sauce, icy beer and carafes of ice tea.
The wings were succulent, juicy and left big saucy smiles on the kids’ faces. Our youngest looked like Bozo. Our only fear is that the big red smile may be permanent and he’ll eventually have to get a job in TV news.
Talk about nuts.