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Medium Hot

May 22, 2013

Getting on the scale can be harrowing. While it may not be the best tool to evaluate a healthful diet, I keep track of my progress in between doctors visits by monitoring my weight. Part of me is trying to eat better. The other part of me is trying to be a little less strict this time than the last go around.

Today I had a fish fry lunch and a French fry dinner. Guess which part of me is winning?

Yeah. As a late night treat I also had some vanilla ice cream with roasted pumpkin seed oil and sea salt. That was followed by a few of my last remaining duchilly hazelnuts from TC Bakery.

But scales aren’t just things to be dreaded as we veer off course from our diets. Some scales are quite helpful. There’s the IBU scale for bitterness in beers. That can help prevent problems at home, as Mrs. Fussy doesn’t enjoy her IPAs when they are super bitter. And of course there is the Scoville scale that rates the heat of varying chili peppers.

However, just because the fieriness of food can be measured, doesn’t mean the places where you might want it used actually employ this handy tool. And more’s the pity in the wild world of wings.

Maybe this is old hat to those who grew up in upstate New York where good wings are available at almost every local tavern. But I spent most of my life in Miami and San Francisco where Frank’s Red Hot isn’t a household name.

My past experience leads me to the perfectly reasonable notion that mild wings are mild. Hot wings pack a punch. And medium wings are a dumbed down version of the hot stuff.

Except I’m starting to get the feeling that’s not how the game is played out here.

What I’m learning is that by their very definition, Buffalo wings are designed to be hot. So with that in mind, medium wings are totally spicy with a good combination of heat and flavor. Mild are the dumbed down version of medium.

In my recent experience, ordering chicken wings hot is where you start getting into problematic territory. It’s at this level of heat that restaurants start adding other ingredients to try to increase the intensity and thus significantly changing the flavor profile of the dish.

The Ruck, which I love, adds black pepper to their hot. I don’t love that.
Swifty’s adds crushed red pepper flakes to their hot, and that adds only heartburn.
Sutters hot is simply the hot sauce unfettered by any kind of buttery fat (and its flavor).

Then at some places they go up a few levels more to nuclear wings, or dynamite wings, or suicide wings, or insanity wings, or some other kind of ridiculous macho come-on. And for those who want to combine their pleasurable eating experiences with feats of strength, more power to them. But it’s not for me.

Not that I don’t enjoy spicy food. I adore it. One of the things I miss is having a real Szechuan place in the region. Dumplings drowning in chili oil or plates of food buried under an avalanche of dried chilis are without a doubt not for the weak of constitution. They’ll make you sweat.

However, balance is important.

Lately I’ve been going around ordering wings hot, with extra wing sauce on the side. But I think the smart call if you are in upstate New York and trying out an unfamiliar establishment is to go for the medium wings first. Plus you can always get a little of their hot version on the side. You know, for dipping fries. And…um, for science.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Mark R permalink
    May 22, 2013 10:20 am

    Having lived in the area all of my life, and enjoyed the great wings this area offers for almost as long, this post compelled me to stop being a lurker. My rule of thumb is to order “hot” when it is not the spiciest flavor available (places that offer variations on “nuclear,” “suicide,” “XXX,” or all of the above). If it is simply “mild,” “medium,” or “hot,” then I would agree that medium is the place to start.

  2. Dorothy permalink
    May 22, 2013 10:59 am

    Not that they are traditional, but the sriracha lime wings from Michael Symon are out of this world good. Go heavy with the lime, YUM. This is from someone who only had flat feeling about chicken wings to start. http://m.foodandwine.com/recipes/spicy-sriracha-chicken-wings

  3. Doug permalink
    May 22, 2013 1:08 pm

    There are many fabulous wings out there — Sichuan salt-and-pepper, Lebanese grilled with toum, Thai stuffed with pork and shrimp, and the Symon recipe is now high on my list to make. It’s the variations using the label “Buffalo Wings” that I take exception to, much like cocktails named in the form of “noun – tini”. They may be very good, or in Daniel’s words just a macho come-on, but they are not Buffalo Wings.

  4. May 22, 2013 1:12 pm

    I would also love a real Szechuan restaurant out here, but without that I’m happy to have Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty to turn to–one of my favorite cookbooks out there. Except when I start cooking from it and see just how much oil is required in Szechuan cooking (part of why it’s good, I suppose).

    Also, on the subject of the IBU scale in beer, I’d say it’s not a perfect judge of bitterness because lately I’ve found some beers pretty high up on the scale that aren’t actually that bitter. Lagunitas Sucks (IBU of 63) is really well balanced, a great combination of citrus flavors (from the hops) and maltiness. That one is liked a lot by the lady of the house here, who also isn’t a fan of bitterness in beer.

  5. May 22, 2013 2:03 pm

    I always start with mild: that way, you can enjoy the flavor, and you can get an idea of what sort of heat they’re using. I’ve eaten mild wings that were totally tame; I’ve also gotten mild wings that had a nice bit of heat, not super-hot but not un-hot. If you start with medium, you don’t really know what you’re gonna get — it could be medium-hot, but it could be more like hot hot, too hot, all heat and no flavor. But if you start with mild, at least you know the heat level will be edible, and if they’re too tame, you can always step it up next time.

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