With the Super Bowl later today, I set out on yesterday’s long run in the snow with the goal of arriving home with a few ideas of dishes to make which would be creative, use what we had on hand, and fit the football party atmosphere. It was really helpful to set out with something specific to think about because once I walked outside, I knew that the run would be difficult. We had about 4-6 inches of fresh snow and, since I head out at 5 AM, not a single flake of it had been shoveled. Throughout the thirteen miles, I thought of all of the terrible emails sent notifying me of a chicken wing shortage or how spinach-artichoke dip can be made at home (and with only 3 cans). The one flavor I kept going back to was buffalo sauce. I love the sharp blast of vinegar-y heat and the way the butter keeps the that heat and acidity on your tongue for far longer than a salsa or hot sauce.
At these parties, I always thing vegetables first. Everybody has dip. Everybody has meat. I always leave thinking, I wish people had vegetables. With that in mind, I thought buffalo burnt cauliflower. The thing about buffalo sauce is that you need to serve it hot or the butter congeals. If there was a way to keep things warm for the party at someone else’s home, it would be easy, but how do you tromp into a friend’s home and ask for a plug? This was at about mile eight. At about mile nine, I changed the question to what could I do with congealed buffalo sauce.
Once I asked this question, my mind when back to chicken wings. The most enjoyable part about chicken wings is, to me, the skin. That was it. I had harvested skins from chicken carcasses that I had split into pieces over the past few months. Buffalo chicken skins would be great and could be served at room temp to be dipped into sauce, but that is kind of clumsy. It was at mile eleven that I wondered if there was a chicken analog to ciccioli, the Italian dish where pork skin and the fat rendered from it is potted and served as rillettes would be.
I knew that by making gribenes, I would end up with crispy chicken skins and golden fat rendered from the chicken skins. At that point, I thought that if there was no chicken analog to ciccioli then I would make one. What I did not quite understand was how I would make it “buffalo’ed”. I first thought that I would dredge the crisped skin in congealed buffalo sauce and then pour the schmaltz over to seal them. Just as I wrapped mile 13, I was reminded, in the same way that buffalo sauce congeals, schmaltz congeals as it reverts back to room temperature. Combining buffalo sauce and chicken fat could keep the flavor of hot wings, but not require it to be served hot.
WIth a little reassurance from a trusted schmaltz/gribenes expert, I went to work. Rendering chicken skins is fun work. Skim the surface at the beginning and let your ears tell you when they are ready. You may not know yet, but when you do it, you will. The skin is golden brown (I like mine a little darker) and the sizzle turns into a different tune. I strained the schmaltz from the skins and added one part homemade buffalo sauce (made with some expertly made, gifted habanero sauce) to 5 parts (by weight) chicken fat. I whisked until they were homogeneous. Then I poured the chicken fat over the skins. After the jar set, I sealed it with the last bit of neon orange buffalo sauce.
I had some left out to sample with a bit of beer jelly. It was buffalo chicken, but richer and spread over bread. The skin doesn’t lose crunch in its schmaltz bath. The initial burst of heat that is so familiar with buffalo wings was no longer there, but the same flavor was there and lingers longer because of the fat. The beer jelly is a pretty natural pairing for anyone who spent their early twenties, like I did, living large by finding wing specials at bars to have dinner between leaving work late and falling into bed.