In the old days (the early 1960s and before) chickens were sold at municipal markets and neighbourhood butcher shops and you bought a whole one and asked the butcher to cut it up for you. If roast chicken was on the menu, he drew the bird and trussed it for the oven.
But 20 years later that scene had changed completely and all butchers in supermarkets and municipal markets were selling chicken joints galore — some stalls at the Mercat d’Olivar work exclusively with chicken and all its wonderful bits and pieces.
Housewives and amateur cooks could have their pick from trays piled high with breast fillets, drumsticks, thighs or the whole leg — boned, skinned and all set for stuffing.
And then there were the wings, sometimes with the tip tucked under the flat part, ready for marinating before popping them on to the barbecue. They also came cut into their component parts and ready for the frying pan.
The wingding meals with chicken wings was a trend that started on the East Coast of America and then spread throughout the country before going in all directions and becoming a worldwide craze.
The chicken wing mania began quite by accident in the mid-1960s at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, run by Frank Bellissimo and his wife Teressa.
One day their meat supplier sent a batch of chicken wings instead of the backs and necks they used for a spaghetti sauce.
Frank thought the wings were too good for the sauce and he asked Teressa to do something special with them.
Using what was at hand, which is how many famous recipes originated, Teressa decided to deep-fry the chicken wings and then toss them in a buttery spicy-hot sauce. She served them as a counter dish with sticks of celery and a blue cheese dip.
Customers weren’t very sure if the dip was for the celery or the chicken wings, but it didn’t really matter — the deep-fried chicken wings were an instant success.
Teressa’s Buffalo style chicken wings became famous locally and were soon all the rage in New York City. After that the chicken wings flew off with a one-way ticket to all the other states in the Union — and then a world tour got under way.
Chicken wings never became all the rage in Palma bars and restaurants although at many places they are a menu fixture.
The best ones I know of are at Buco Burger in Calle Rubén Darío 8 (Tel:871-048970) where you can get them as a takeaway until the island’s restaurants are allowed to reopen. Buco’s wings are so juicy, so tasty, so perfect. The secret of their success (a 10-rating on two occasions) is deep-frying at a high temperature for a shortish time — which guarantees sheer succulence.
The most serious mistake cooks make with chicken wings is to fry them for such a long time that their juiciness disappears and they become dry and tasteless.
I prefer to sauté the flat part of the wing in less than one centimetre of oil and over a moderate heat for three minutes on one side and two on the other. Unless they are very large wings, that produces perfect succulence.
They are also delicious when done Chinese style. Simmer them with noodles and vegetables of your choice and serve them in biggish individual bowls.
Eat them Chinese style — fish out the wings, veggies and noodles with chopsticks and drink the highly flavourful stock direct from the bowl.
The Chinese, who know a good economical buy when they see one, are extremely fond of chicken wings and consider the flat part to be a true delicacy.
They have recipes in which the flat part of the wings are stir-fried in a small amount of oil and then braised for 15 minutes or so in a mixture of sherry, soya sauce and the finely chopped green part of spring onions.
They can be served as a snack or as one of a selection of dishes at the start of a meal. They are good when cold, so they make an interesting addition to one’s repertoire of picnic food.
When you have large flat wing parts you can stuff them in a simple way that will impress family and friends. This recipe entails removing both bones from each cooked wing and replacing them with tiny sticks of cooked ham and slivers of raw celery, which you have sliced up beforehand.
Simmer the wings until they are very tender, but not sloppy. When they are cool enough to handle, you must carefully remove each bone. As it slips out at one end, you introduce a tiny piece of cooked ham or raw celery at the other end.
You end up with pieces of cooked wing with ham and celery instead of bones. You can braise them in the same mixture as in the recipe above and serve them atop plain white rice. The stuffed wings can be cut into two or three pieces for easier eating with chopsticks.
The top part of the wing, which looks like a miniature drumstick (Americans call it the drumette), is meatier and can be used as the chicken ingredient in a paella or similar rice dish.
The Chinese steam this part for about 20 minutes, then dip it in beaten egg before coating it with fine breadcrumbs. The drumettes are deep-fried and served with dips, usually combinations of sherry, soya sauce, vinegar, garlic, honey or finely chopped root ginger.
Drumettes cooked like this are ideal for a buffet table because they are such excellent finger food. All of the chicken wing dishes are best when eaten with the fingers, which isn’t a problem if stacks of paper napkins are at hand.
You’ll find two kinds of chicken wings at most butcher shops and supermarkets — white and yellow. If you just ask for ‘alitas de pollo’ the butcher will say ‘blancas o amarillas?’
The difference is that the white ones are from a young battery chicken and the yellow ones are in the free range category. The white ones are sometimes priced at around €2.95 a kilo and the yellow ones are just over or under €5.
The yellow ones are more mature and they’re bigger and better in every way. They also have more fat, which also means more taste, but depending on the recipe you’re using (a rice dish, for instance) you may not want the extra fat.
If the wings are a main course you should allow at least three per person and several more for the pot — to cover for those with larger appetites.
Chicken livers are another great buy at the specialist stalls. They are highly nutritious and cheap, they are versatile and can be turned into a varied range of interesting dishes. They make excellent smooth pâtés as well as luxurious concoctions cooked in sherry or port (with good dash of brandy) and served over creamy mashed potatoes.
You can sauté them in butter before stirring them into a creamy risotto to make a superb luncheon dish for a cold winter’s day. Some cooks like to do them in butter and cream and then flambé them with brandy before serving them on a crouton of fried bread, an excellent and highly tasty starter.
You can also sauté them in butter over a very high heat, getting them slightly charred on the outside with pink interiors, and then serve them with only Maldon salt crystals and freshly ground black pepper. With hot baguette and lots of butter, this is a princely starter to any meal.
Yet, splendid as they are, not many of us eat chicken livers on a regular basis. That’s a pity, because they are one of the best buys at the supermarket and will be an ideal economic item for the coming financial crisis that will start as soon as coronavirus and covid-19 are defeated.
You sometimes come across chicken livers with hearts and kidneys attached, which is fine if you have a use for them. I always get my chicken livers at El Corte Inglés. They are well trimmed and without the other interiors and come in transparent plastic boxes priced at just under €1.
Chicken livers need very little preparation. Look them over and discard any fat or membrane, and snip off any blemishes with scissors. In the middle there is a section with nerves and blood clots, but it is easily removed with the scissors.
Give them a quick rinse under running water and let them drain in a colander while you get on with the recipe.
Chicken livers, like the livers of all other animals, must never be overcooked. I prefer a pink tinge all the way through, but they should have at least a spot of pinkness in the centre. If you take them past that stage they become dry and leathery.
Chicken livers recipes
One of the classic recipes is chicken livers in sherry, an excellent dish when done properly. Having cleaned the livers as described above, cut them in two and marinate them for an hour or two. You can use any kind of sherry, but the dish also works nicely with a marinade of vermouth, sweet moscatel wine, madeira, port or marsala.
Drain the marinated livers and sauté in a little butter over a high heat. Two minutes should be enough to get them slightly charred on the outside. Pour over the marinade and add a good splash of sherry or one of the above drinks.
Turn over in this mixture for a couple of minutes, sprinkle with salt, pepper and finely chopped parsley and serve on a bed of plain basmati rice. You could also use creamy mashed potatoes or polenta, both of which are ideal on cold days.
For another simple dish, prepare 500 grs of livers as above, dust them with seasoned flour and sauté them gently in butter for 3-4 minutes.
Add 50 mls heated brandy and light it. When the flame has burned out pour over 250 mls warmed cream into which you have mixed two egg yolks. Cook slowly for three minutes or until slightly thickened, but don’t let the mixture come to simmering point or the egg yolks will curdle. Serve on croutons of bread crisply fried in butter.
Chicken livers make superb pâtés, always a good stand-by when family or friends are visiting because they can be used for easy snacks and starters. The best chicken liver pâté I know, which is based on Elizabeth David’s recipe, has a very smooth texture and is bursting with flavour.
Chicken liver pâté recipe
You will need: 500 grs chicken livers, 100 grs butter (or more), 1 glass dry sherry, 1 glass brandy, 2-3 garlic cloves, salt and pepper to taste, fresh thyme, basil or marjoram and about 250 grs lard.
Clean the chicken livers well, snipping off all membrane, nerves, veins and green or discoloured patches. Put half of the butter into a big frying pan and sauté the livers over a gentle heat for about five minutes. They must be pink inside, so don’t overcook them.
Add herbs to taste and the very finely minced garlic. Then pour in the sherry and brandy and sprinkle on salt and freshly milled black pepper to taste.
When the livers are ready, add some of the pan juices to a blender and put in the livers. Add the rest of the butter cut into small pieces and pour over the remaining pan juices. Add extra herbs, if needed, and blitz until smooth. If your blender bowl isn’t very big, you should do this operation in two stages rather than cram in the livers, which would make the blitzing more difficult.
Spoon the puréed livers into small ceramic ramekins (the brown Majorcan ones are ideal) and smooth the surface with a spoon. Cover with just-melted lard to a depth of at least one centimetre. When the lard solidifies, cover each ramekin tightly with tinfoil. It is better to use lard for covering the pâté because it is less porous than butter. It is also a good deal cheaper.
The pâté can be eaten as soon as it is cold, in which case there is no need to cover it with lard. However, it should be left to mature for at least a week in the fridge with its covering of lard. It will keep for up to three weeks.
When you want to use the pâté, run a thin knife round the edge of the lard covering and prise it off in one piece, as if it were a lid. The ideal knife for this is the small curved one for extracting grapefruit flesh.