Thursday, March 31, 2011

Inside Looking In: The Universal Element

Katie's Note: Another guest post from my man. Here he offers an explanation of his compulsion to make fire. Enjoy!

“And I am he that searched out the source of fire, by stealth borne-off inclosed in a fennel-rod, which has shown itself a teacher of every art to mortals, and a great resource.”

I come from a different place, and now I live here; that's part of my identity. But I am a man, and I make fire. It’s something I have to do. Fire is both a force of nature and a fundamental element of society. Ancient man first began to form civilizations around the idea of fire. Fire was difficult to move and harder to start, so some people stayed home to tend it while others foraged and hunted. Then we made beer, and things pretty much progressed the way you’d expect from that point.

Every single culture on Earth uses fire to cook. Grilling, in one form or another, is the true universal common ground. If aliens ever visit Earth, chances are good that if they come from an atmosphere somewhat similar to ours they also will know about grilling. 

So this Inside Looking In post isn’t so much about the differences between the South and the non-Yankee area I come from that is technically further north than here (Jefferson State - I won’t say “Californian” because it’s terribly misleading, and the idea of secession gives me some local credibility). I’d rather talk about this one thing we have in common - fire. Specifically, today, we'll talk about fire in two aspects - one of cooking, one of eating. This can be easily accomplished with the use of hot sauce and chicken wings.

You can’t just go with the off-the-shelf wings sauce; you gotta mix your own. Here’s what I use

That should protect my secret formula from the casual browser. Here’s the real ingredients:

It’s great to start out with a nice base sauce, like the one shown here. The batch I mixed tonight included some leftover home-made-from-scratch sauce I made last time, with lots of hot sauce and melted butter. That simply was not as good a base as the Moore’s brand here, though I do occasionally use other bases this one is my favorite. Add all kinds of sauces and seasonings to the base until you’ve got the heat and flavor you like best (if you have seventeen different kinds of hot sauce, I suggest that you use all of them). I always include some honey - it takes a little of the violence out of the spice while adding its own flavor, which is pretty handy when dealing out the heat like I like to (I also believe that it affects how the sauce crusts when cooked).

The sauce is always the boss
Taste-test frequently as you mix it, and don’t forget to add some salt if it needs it. I strongly recommend that you funnel this mix back into the original bottle once you’ve got it like you want it; once the baster that touches the chicken has touched the sauce, that sauce can never be saved and re-used. I just pour a little at a time into the bowl, then use that bit up and pour a little more. Cross-contamination neutralized.

When your grill is ready, stick your wings on and give them a good glaze with your basting brush.

Turn them every couple minutes and baste again. You’ll notice pretty quickly that they’re turning black. They’re not burning! (yet)

That's not char - that's flavor
This is caused by the various tasty things in the sauce well.. burning. "Caramelizing" is what professional chefs, say, or "blackened" - but blackened is just a fancy word for "intentionally burned," and this sauce is being blackened on the grill. The chicken is fine, though, and needs to cook the full time - and how long is that? However long it takes! The sauce, meanwhile, will progressively form a tasty black crust around the meat. Too much of that and it gets flaky and powdery, but too little and you’re just making grilled chicken wings - a fine idea, but not the idea I’m talking about. 

If you like a little less of this delicious coating, wait a couple turns before applying the first coating of the sauce. That’s a matter of preference.

The wings are done when you can poke them with the tongs (or two forks) and the meat easily pulls away from the bone (and isn’t pink, or at least not very pink). If you want to coat the grilled wings in a fresh coating of the sauce, do it in a new bowl to avoid that cross-contamination thing we talked about (with fresh-poured sauce, not the leftover from the basting bowl). 

Good sides should probably include a starch and a vegetable, but what do I know. Green beans and rice-a-roni have gone well in the past,but tonight we did half a (big) baked potato and macaroni and cheese (the fact that it counts as a vegetable is the one of my favorite Southern factoids).

If you want to go a little crazy with the hot sauce, add some Frank’s Red Hot or Tabasco to the Mac’n’Cheese, maybe a little ground cayenne too. The cheese keeps it from being stupidly spicy (unless you’re stupidly generous with the spiciness) but the undercurrent of heat makes it good. It’s a great way to fancy up something that came out of a box. And hot sauce belongs on everything.

One whole chicken wing is the same as two wing pieces you’d get ordering wings from your favorite wings place, so plan (and eat) accordingly. Prometheus was punished by having an eagle eat his liver for eternity. If you've ever had more hot wings than you know you should, you have at least some idea of what that would feel like. 


  1. I will have to share this with my husband. Very interesting article. I know feel as if I could go make a mess of chicken wings. J. good for you for writing for the blog. I'm impressed and it was a fun read.

  2. Since I am a newbie over here, I haven't gotten to see his guest post before. Really well done! Why is it that ALL men have a obsession with fire. The hubs is always going and poking at the BBQ when it is on.
    As for the hot sauce, I am more the spicy one in the family! THe hubs like a few drops of Tabasco in the Mac and Cheese, but that is about it :)

  3. Thanks for the comments! Wings like this are pretty easy; the trick is making sure they're done, I guess, but that's not much of a trick in the end.
    Putting hot sauce in Mac & Cheese is one of my favorite personal discoveries. I've probably tried hot sauce on every kind of food, and that one was a pleasant surprise. I was already the Mac&Cheese expert, but now I'm like some kind of savant. It's one of the few things I'm really good at.

  4. Jefferson State - sounds like you are from the extreme North California/Southern Oregon area. I have relatives that live in California, Oregon, and Washington.

    Getting to your recipe - sounds delicious - and I will have to try the sause as soon as I fire up my grill for the spring -

    But of course, me woman.....


  5. should extraterrestrials land in the vicinity of my backyard I will have my man create fire, grill some food and bridge the great divide.

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