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Food writer Kerry Byrne has become something of a chicken wings aficionado over the years. Now he’s putting all that knowledge to good use with the creation of his Byrne in Hell’s Kitchen Hot Wings — about to debut at McQuaid’s pub. Kerry gives us his insight into the history of wings — and his new recipe!
Reverence for the hot-wing arts is a global culinary phenomenon – with deep roots in American casual-dining culture. These delectable little pieces of poultry are so popular in the United States that they’ve disrupted the entire American chicken market.
Hot wings were once a regional casual-dining quirk that famously originated in the working-class watering holes of western New York – invented on a lark, legend has it, nearly 60 years ago at the Anchor Bar of Buffalo.
The wings and legs were once considered cheap unwanted parts of the bird, not nearly as desirable as plump, tender white-meat breasts or flavorful, fatty dark-meat thighs that chefs so covet.
But our national passion for spicy, sauce-soaked winglets and drummies sent prices soaring. Chicken wings now cost more per pound than a whole-bird chicken, if you can even find them. Yes, there is a chicken wing shortage in Pandemic America.
Amid this crisis of the cockerel, some of the best new hot wings in the city are found sizzling right here in the deliciously diverse culinary cauldron of Hell’s Kitchen — in fact, here’s the list that W42ST readers put together of Best Fried Chicken Places back in October.
And the newest chick in the coop is Byrne in Hell’s Kitchen Hot Wings, which debut today (Monday) at McQuaid’s pub on the corner of W44th Street and 11th Avenue. They’re part of the venerable family-owned tavern’s effort to update its menu as New York City eateries and often-reluctant diners emerge from the COVID crisis.
Kerry Byrne spent 25 years as a reporter covering, among other topics, global food and drink trends, with a special focus on the role hospitality played in urban renewal. “Somewhere along the way I developed an affinity for American hot-wing culture, how its humble, accessible blue-collar roots turned into a culinary cult movement and, now, a ubiquitous part of our national food scene,” he explained.
Visits to hot new restaurants or up-and-coming nabes were often accompanied by forays into nearby dive-bar culture, exploring popular wing joints in whatever town he visited. “Local wing pride these days is much like pizza or craft-beer pride – everybody thinks their town, their pub, has the best,” said Kerry. “The popularity of hot wings is so pervasive today and that even chefs and restaurants serve some version of a hot wing. Hot wings have become haute wings.”
So how did Kerry move into creating his own signature hot wings? Let him tell the story… “Somewhere years ago I began hosting backyard “wingfests” with friends — cookouts centered around 50 pounds or more of wings, cooked in small batches in a giant turkey deep fryer and paired with various homemade sauces, with the recipes inspired by favorite wing joints and my own trial and error.
“An autumn wingfest here in Hell’s Kitchen inspired pal, longtime neighborhood food enthusiast and McQuaid’s regular Arvind Admal to suggest to bar manager “Big Timmy” Leahy (not to be confused with his coworker “Little Timmy” Egan) that we put the wing sauce on their menu.”
That idea has now become reality — are you ready to take the taste test? “My basic hot sauce got pretty good over the years — or at least so I’m told. Hoping wing enthusiasts will give it a shot at McQuaid’s and decide for themselves,” said Kerry.
Our neighborhood has no lack of incredible chicken spots. “I’m partial to Sticky’s the Finger Joint on Ninth Avenue and its Nashville numb sauce,” said Kerry, whose eye-catching hell-red sauce is slowly thickened on the stovetop to take on a viscous, lava-like consistency. “The texture allows the sauce to stick deliciously to the wing while providing the savory umami that lights up the palate and that humans innately covet,” he added.
Fans of the wing will appreciate this tasty explanation, courtesy of Kerry: “Wing aficionados recognize a clear distinction between pub-wing styles. Buffalo wings are a specific variety of American hot wing, traditionally made only with Frank’s Red Hot, a popular supermarket product, blended with melted butter,” he said. “More sauce, more heat, more butter less heat. This style of Buffalo wing is easy to find around the city and around the nation. It’s your everyday wing. The success of these wings speaks for itself. But the modern wing enthusiast seeks more diversity.
“Hot wings is a more inclusive name for more inclusive times. The phrase implies any wing with a kick. Hot wings are made with a wide array of spices, sauces, textures and cultural traditions. Korean hot wings, for example, are not Buffalo wings but certainly a kindred spirit hot wing,” he said.
“The new Byrne in Hell’s Kitchen Hot Wings at McQuaid’s settle in somewhere in between. Truly in the American wing tradition – but distinct enough, we hope, to stand out from the crowded American market of Buffalo wings.”
Sounds like a good excuse to get out and support a local family-owned business in the restaurant industry’s time of need.
McQuaid’s is at 589 11th Ave on the corner of W44th Street. @mcquaids_nyc