#3 Tastes of the Region: Wings and Weck

In this installment of our periodic column "Tastes of the Region" we move to the westernmost limits of our great state, on the shores of Lake Erie, to the Queen City: Buffalo. Most Americans have had, and are vaguely aware of the regional origin of, Buffalo Wings. In this post I will discuss the story of the almight wing and give a recipie to make them at home.

However, Buffalo did not give the world a single dish and wipe their hands of the matter of culinary innovation. To the contrary, the city is home to a thriving regional culinary tradition. A quick visit to www.buffalofoods.com, a site designed to provide expatriates with local foods, reveals a wealth of meats (especially sausages), breads and sauces. There is even a local soda (Loganberry, which I find disgusting, but I guess each to his or her own) and a local chocolate delicacy called Sponge Candy. One distinctive Buffalo/Rochester dish that one does not need to order, but can be made at home is Beef and Weck, which I will also discuss below.

The Buffalo Wing is a relatively recent invention, dating back only to 1964. It was invented by Teressa Bellissmo of the Anchor Bar, though there are several variations of the story (for a good summary, check out the Atlas of Popular Culture in the Northeastern US's article on Buffalo Wings). All agree though that "Mother Teressa" took what she had at hand: butter, hot sauce and a glut of chicken wings, and turned these common ingredients into something fantastic. The wings combined thrift (the wing was thrown out in those days), good taste and ease of cooking to create what has become the ultimate bar food. In 1964, wings cost 5 cents a pound (source) and my father distinctly remembers in the 60's and 70's how wings were served for free at Buffalo bars to get the patrons to drink. In 1977, the mayor made July 29th Chicken Wing Day. Since 2002, there has been a yearly National Buffalo Wing Festival.

A recent Journal of NY Folklore had an article on Beef on Weck read:
...those of us born within hailing distance of the Peace Bridge know that long before Teresa at the Anchor Bar came up with her inspired solution for undesirable chicken parts, Buffalo had a signature food. My fellow expatriates, home for a visit, have been known to hug the relatives, pat the dog, dump the suitcases, and head directly out for...a beef on weck?
...it is [the] roll that makes the sandwich unique. Made only in the Buffalo-Rochester area, the
kummelweck—often alternatively spelled kimmelweck—is basically a Kaiser roll topped with lots of pretzel salt and caraway seeds. Inside, very thinly sliced roast beef is piled high, and the whole thing is served with a dish of "au jus" (I suppose it is too much to expect a German sandwich to make sense of French prepositions), for dipping. Alternatively, the cook sometimes dips the top of the roll into the jus just before serving it. In either case, the beef on weck sandwich must be accompanied by a pot of freshly grated, sinus-clearing horseradish.

This unique sandwhich is clearly descended from southern German cuisine imported around the turn of the last century. The local innovation was the addition of the horseradish and salt, both added by local breweries who served the dish for free to encourage patrons to drink (this seems to be a theme). Today it has caught on and is served around the city. Here is a listing of some of the places one can find Beef on Weck in Buffalo today.

Buffalo Wings
4 to 5 pounds chicken wings
Black Pepper and Salt
4 cups vegetable oil
4 Tbsp butter (1/2 stick)
5 Tbsp Louisiana-brand hot sauce or Tabasco sauce
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar

1) Halve and trim the wings, salt and pepper them, if desired.
2) Heat up the oil in a heavy pot until it sizzles. Fry the wings and pat them dry.
3) Melt the butter over medium heat in a heavy saucepan, add the hot sauce and the 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Stir well and remove from the flame immediately.
4) Pour on the sauce and toss. Serve with bleu cheese and celery.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
Note: Commercial sauce can also be used, I suggest the Original Anchor Bar sauce. Also, when I was in Spain, a Buffalonian friend of mine and myself experimented with pan frying the wings in a little olive oil. The flavor was not as deep, but it created a lighter snack that might be appreciated by health conscious eaters.

Kummelweck Rolls
1/4 cup caraway seeds
1/4 cup coarse salt
2 envelopes active dry yeast
5 cups (approximately) flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup oil
2/3 cup milk
3/4 cup warm water
2 eggs
1) Combine the caraway seeds and the coarse salt in a small bowl and set aside.
2) In a large mixing bowl, combine the yeast, 2 cups of flour, the salt, oil, milk, and water. Mix well at medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally. Add the eggs and beat the mixture another minute, adding as much flour as the mixer will take. By hand, stir in enough remaining flour to make a soft dough.
3) Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead, adding flour if necessary, until it is smooth and elastic. Place it in a large greased bowl, turning it to grease the top. Cover and let the dough rise until it has doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes. Punch the dough down and knead it for two minutes on a floured board.
4) To shape the rolls, cut the dough into 24 pieces. Tuck the edges of each piece under and shape it into a flat, round roll. With a sharp kitchen knife, cut four evenly spaced, shallow arcs into the top of each roll from the center to the edges, pressing at the center with your thumb to make an indentation. The pinwheel pattern should resemble that on a Kaiser roll. Sprinkle the tops of the rolls with the caraway-salt mixture, then transfer them to baking sheets and cover them. Let them rise until they have doubled in bulk.
5) To bake, place a heat-proof pan of water on the floor of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When the oven is hot, put in the rolls and bake them for about 30 minutes, until they are brown.

-Posted by Jesse


BuffaloRox said...

Thanks for pointing out some of our less healthy but fabulous tasting local creations. As far as loganberry, it is not a soda. Loganberry is well known to anyone old enough to remember the old Crystal Beach amusement park (in Canada). Loganberry is a sweet syrup that is mixed with water. The Loganberry sold in cans and bottles (i.e. not the "original Crystal Beach Loganberry syrup) doesn't taste the same. I think it's awful.

As you point out, there is a large German population in the Buffalo area. Buffalo also has some great hot dogs. So does Syracuse (Hoffman's). I lived in Boston (MA) for a long time and there wasn't a decent widely distributed hot dog (Fenway Franks? yuck!). I think the German emmigration must have skipped New England. Rochester also has some great local fare. Try their version of KFC - a chicken quarter lightly breaded and deep fried, placed on a piece of white bread, surrounded by macaroni salad and coated with a wonderful sweet/hot sauce (Sal's Birdland and Smitty's are two examples). Country Sweet also makes a chicken wing with this type of sauce that is also good. Unfortunately, Rochester has some awful pizza (tastes like sponge) and hot dogs. A well known hot dog brand is absolutely awful - it's like biting into soft tasteless mush. The locals rave about this brand until I bring some Buffalo hot dogs or Hoffman's.

Randy said...

The best hot sauce for authentic wings is Frank's Red Hot. While Tabasco will work in a pinch, it's not quite the same. Not even close, actually.

As a transplanted Buffalonian living in Los Angeles, I was thrilled to find the BuffaloFoods.com site. I can't wait to fire up the grill and cook some Sahlen's hot dogs... original sheep casing- the kind Ted's uses. And scarf down some chips with Bison Brand French Onion dip. And of course wash it all down with a cold Loganberry.
I spent twenty-plus years in Buffalo, and while you can keep the weather, the people are great, and the food is absolutely incomparable. The food in LA is trendy and ever-changing... but nothing here will ever compare to Bocce pizza, Beef on Weck (Bailo's used to be my favorite for this)Mighty Taco, real Buffalo wings, Loganberry, Anderson's, etc. I think a trip home is long overdue...

Bob Russell said...

I have lived in L.A. for 44 years now: I was visiting
my family in Orchard Park and North Tonawanda soooo often that I purchased a duplex in West Seneca...now I
get back there seven or eight times a year: Nothing beats dinner at the Deerhead Inn ...fish fries in LA
are (on a scale of 1 to 10) are normally a 2! I schlep
Sahlens hotdogs back ... the horseradish and easter lamb
butter from the Broadway Market... Logenberry syrup (actually made in Crystal Beach !!)...and all the frozen
homemade Polish food that will fit in my carryon !

Growing up we all laughed about poor old Buffalo ann
the lack of jobs and the crappy weather: now that I am
older I miss so much about Western New York...and the
great food(unhealthy as it is) ....


Carolyn Skeen said...

Hi fellow york staters! I need a favor... I'm originally from Rochester and love those Smitty wings. I had a recipe for them but in my move I've misplaced it. Does anyone have the recipe they could share with me. I'd sure appreciate it.


Anonymous said...

did anyone have a recipe for the smitty's wing sauce. Looking for one myself. Joe