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The secret to superb wings

Kate Krader

THE WASHINGTON POST – Chicken wings have an indelible association with the Super Bowl.

This year, Americans consumed a reported 1.42 billion wings for the big game, even as prices rose. (The wholesale price was USD2.61 per pound ahead of the big game, compared to an average five-year pre-pandemic price of USD1.76.)

But for some restaurateurs, the Super Bowl is just the start of chicken wing season. Chef, owner, and general partner at Feges BBQ Erin Smith in Houston, held off on selling wings at the start of 2022 because the price was so high.

They were so popular as a Super Bowl special, however, that she put them on the menu in preparation for March Madness, the NCAA Basketball tournament. The women’s championship game is April 3; the men’s is April 4 and, allegedly, there are no perfect brackets left.

Immediately, Smith began selling 100 pounds of wings a week. The most intriguing sauce is a high-intensity concoction that evokes the childhood favourite: peanut butter and jelly (PB&J).

Smith’s background does not suggest chicken wing chops. The Houston native started her career at fine-dining spots such as Per Se and Babbo in New York. She had no serious background in barbecue (or wings) before she and her husband Patrick Feges opened Feges BBQ in 2018.

You might want to go heavy on the PB&J sauce, as the author did. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

Three years later, Feges landed a spot on Texas Monthly’s Top 50 Texas BBQ Joints with their second outpost. Its menu features whole meat cooked over post-oak, as well as not-so-standard dishes such as charred coleslaw and a barbecue sauce that uses the Korean chili paste gochujang. “We incorporate smoke into a lot of our food, but it’s not always straight barbecue. We do chef-driven dishes that incorporate the use of our smokers,” said Smith.

She got the idea for PB&J wings at a pool party with fellow chefs about a decade ago, when they were in need of a sauce. “I ran back to my apartment and came back with peanut butter and orange marmalade – which is also good with the wings,” she said. “We thought it would be the stupidest thing we ever did. We couldn’t believe it was so delicious.” Smith has since updated the recipe with a more traditional peanut butter accompaniment: grape jelly.

Make the wings and you’ll see. The thick, sticky, mahogany-coloured sauce is ridiculously simple and well suited to wings, and begs the question: Why don’t more people mix peanut butter and jelly into a sauce? Key to the dish is in the ratio of ingredients. Peanut butter is the driving force and suggests the popular Thai sauce, while the sriracha contributes heat. The grape jelly sweetens it up and adds a satisfying stickiness. Then it’s just a matter of roasting the wings. Use an air fryer if you’ve got one – or even better, smoke the wings as Smith does to add a toasty accent to the meat.

Although Smith makes a point of saying Feges isn’t a sports bar – “we show black-and-white Westerns” – the NCAA basketball games will air, and she expects wing sales to keep climbing. She also sees the PB&J snack as good for Oscar parties; she’ll be watching with a plate of wings. “Every time someone thanks the Academy, I’ll eat a wing.”

Tester’s note: Smith said the sauce is best made the day before an event to allow the flavours to meld. Leftover sauce can be refrigerated for three weeks.

You can also double the amount of chicken wings if you wish to serve more.

Serves six-eight, with leftover sauce

Three-quarter cup creamy peanut butter
17.5 ounce jar grape jelly
Three tbsp sriracha
Two dozen chicken wings and drumettes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Vegetable oil, for cooking
Toasted chopped peanuts, for garnish

In a food processor, combine the peanut butter, jelly, and sriracha and mix until smooth. (There might be some lumps, depending on the type of jelly you use.)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Toss the chicken wings with vegetable oil and spread them on a rimmed baking sheet. Season well with salt and pepper. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until they’re cooked through.

Alternatively: Cook the wings in an air fryer according to manufacturer’s directions. Or you can smoke the wings until they’re cooked through – about one and a half hours, depending on the size of the wings.

Let the wings cool slightly. In a shallow bowl, toss the wings with half the sauce, and transfer to a platter. Sprinkle with the chopped peanuts and serve with a little more sauce.