Colette Burnett: I believe I can fly

Colette Burnett’s tasty chicken wings are the best in Brooklyn. Franka Philip finds out what the flap is about

Burnett sits outside her Brooklyn location. Photograph courtesy Colette Burnett/Super WingsBurnett’s winning wings. Photograph courtesy Colette Burnett/Super WingsColette Burnett. Photograph courtesy Colette Burnett/Super Wings

Nah, I not eating no chicken wing! Woman, is breast or thigh for me, please!” the man said to the exasperated food vendor. “She mad to be giving me wing,” he grumbled as he collected his over-full box of creole food.

It sounds funny, doesn’t it? But it actually happened several years ago at a busy takeaway in Port of Spain. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who has experienced chicken-wing snobbishness. My mother never used to serve the wings to my father, and some of my friends even say that long ago their mothers used to discard chicken wings.

Well, not again! I can report that chicken-wing snobbery has virtually disappeared and the once maligned flapper is not only extremely popular, but has become the basis of an entire culinary industry. I smile at the e-mail exchanges I get copied into with recipes for literally dozens of recipes for this once lowly piece of poultry.

What inspired this tribute to wings was seeing an adventurous Trinidadian woman floor one of America’s top celebrity chefs on prime-time TV with a recipe to die for.

Colette Burnett isn’t a chef or a trained cook, just someone with a passion for chicken wings who wanted to live a dream. She came to my attention a few months ago on the social-networking site Facebook, when lots of people posted a video titled “Trini beats Bobby Flay in wing challenge”.

And there it was. Bobby Flay, one of the Food Network’s top chefs, with all his swagger, challenging Burnett to outdo his jerk wings with rum/brown sugar glaze. Did he really think he could get the better of Trini tamarind wings with explosive lava dipping sauce?

I did some digging to find out about the growing allure of the chicken wing and found an article on the American newspaper site TheTimesNews.com quoting Hugh Carpenter, author of The Great Wings Book.

“They are neither white meat nor dark meat,” Carpenter explained. “The wing bones distribute the heat and contribute a wonderful sweetness to the meat, while the skin gradually becomes crisp and protects the meat from ever becoming dry.

“As opposed to ribs, you can cook them for about a year and they are still delicious,” he enthused. “They reheat beautifully. They are messy, but you get something that is absolutely delectable. So much flavour impact for not much money.”

This “flavour impact” is what Burnett takes advantage of at her popular Brooklyn eatery, Super Wings, where she and her team serve up wings in ten varieties developed by Burnett and her mother.

“Our flavours represent different Caribbean nations,” she said. “Lava is for Montserrat, the mango is for Barbados, Trini tamarind is for Trinidad.”

Knowing she wasn’t catering to an exclusively Caribbean clientele, she introduced some flavours that were mild enough to entice the average New Yorker.

“We’ve also done ginger buff, which is a taste that’s close to the traditional buffalo wings that people are used to. It’s our most popular flavour and it draws people into trying something different. Once they like the ginger buff, they get a little more curious and try the hotter and spicier flavours.”

Burnett says the secret to her wings is getting the best-quality ingredients. “We marinate the wings for 24 hours and only use fresh products, just like we would at home. Our tamarind comes from Thailand, and our mangoes and ginger are also always fresh.

“What we eventually want to do is set up a farm in Trinidad where we can grow the stuff and ensure that everything is as organic and authentic as possible.”

Super Wings has been around for less than two years, but already, they’ve made quite a name for themselves. New York City Mayor Bloomberg featured the business on his television channel and they took on 16 other wing-makers and won the Best Wings in Brooklyn contest last year. And as a result of the coverage on the Food Network, Super Wings has been visited by wing lovers from all over the States and even as far as Australia.

Burnett, a former banker, puts a lot of her success down to her past experience in helping small businesses stay out of trouble.

“There’s that thing about us [Caribbean people] not running business well. Many of us have great ideas, but we may not have had the proper business experience. We cook really well, but we don’t think about how to get people in the doors if it snows or if it’s rainy.

“I use marketing studies, and look for what the competitors are not doing.”

The folks I know in New York who’ve gone to Super Wings, in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, attest to its tastiness, like Anthony, who posted this enthusiastic review on the micro-blogging site Twitter: “Just annihilated the Trini Tamarind, Ginger Buff & Chili Cilantro wings from Super Wings NY. Call 911 cuz that was murder. Tasty tasty murder!”

I’ve also heard although the queues are pretty long, it’s worth the wait for the full-flavour impact at the end.

Super Wings is at 1218 Union St, Brooklyn, NY 11225
(between Rogers and Nostrand Ave in Crown Heights, Brooklyn)
Telephone: 1 718 467 8737
Website: www.mysuperwings.com

Ingredients

Caribbean-Style Marinade:
1⁄3 cup fresh thyme leaves
1⁄3 cup cloves garlic
½ cup chopped scallions
1⁄3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
(coriander) leaves
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
½ cup vinegar
4 pounds chicken wings

Trini Tamarind Sauce:
2 cups tamarind pulp
(see Cook’s Note)
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1⁄3 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
3 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons pureed garlic
1½ tablespoons garam masala
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 Habanero pepper, or red pepper flakes
Cook’s Note: For tamarind pulp, soak 1 pound peeled tamarind fruit in 1½ cups
warm water, then sieve to extract seeds and seed coverings.

Lava Sauce:
¼ cup olive oil
1 clove garlic
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons Secret Special 4 pepper blend, or your favourite hot sauce

Canola or vegetable oil, for frying
Veggies or sides, for serving

Directions

For the marinade: Puree all the ingredients, except the chicken wings, together in a food processor, and then add to the chicken wings. Marinate the wings for 24 hours.
For the tamarind sauce: Mix all the ingredients into a medium-thick sauce. Refrigerate for 1 day to allow all the flavours to meld.

For the Lava Sauce: In a small pot, heat the olive oil and sauté the garlic until golden; remove and cool. Add all the other ingredients, combine completely, and refrigerate.

Preheat the oil to 350 degrees F.

Add the chicken wings to the oil and deep-fry until they are crispy and golden, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oil and drain.

Transfer the wings to a hot wok and douse with Trini Tamarind Sauce. Saute the wings for 1 minute in the sauce, remove, and serve with your choice of veggies or sides. Drizzle with Lava Sauce for an extra punch of spicy goodness.