When I think of traditional football snacks, one leaps immediately to mind … chicken wings. One of my all time favorites, wonderfully messy and truly finger-licking good, they are also full of calories. Deep-fried and dredged in a buttery hot sauce, they can single-handedly destroy anyone’s diet. But that doesn’t have to be the case; these wraps have all the flavors of traditional Buffalo wings but without the hassle and excess fat. By using chicken tenders and baking instead of frying them, you greatly reduce the calories and wrapping them in lettuce or tortillas makes them very easy to serve and eat.
Of course we all know that buffalo chicken wings got their name from the city of Buffalo, NY. There is some debate about who actually created the very first version, but one thing is sure, they are typically made with a simple blend of cayenne pepper hot sauce and butter. Because I like a little touch of sweet with hot and savory flavors, I have added a little honey to my mixture. If you are a real traditionalist, go ahead and leave it out.
While most people think of chicken wings with the Buffalo hot sauce, you can make them with any combination of flavors that you like. A simple Italian version would be olive oil with some fresh garlic, rosemary, and maybe dried pepper flakes for a bite of heat. If you wanted to go more in a North African direction, try a bit of harissa seasoning with some garlic and oregano. Toss in some chopped olives and a little tomato paste and you will be in heaven. Of course using Teriyaki sauce gives you a wonderful Japanese flavor, always on the top of my list. How about a French spin? A little melted butter with some freshly chopped tarragon and maybe a bit of bleu cheese. YUM! Make a few different versions and have your guests vote on their favorites. I love variety in life and on my menus!!
The concept of wraps is centuries old, but the current versions seem to have originated in my home state of California. When you live in an area where you spend the majority of the year outdoors, finding creative ways to easily transport foods is a fun pastime. In San Francisco in the early 1980’s, local bars and restaurants served what they called Aram sandwiches. These were flat bread or lahvash spread with cream cheese and layered with cured sandwich meats, cheese, and lettuce. This was then rolled up into a log and sliced into 1 to 2 inch thick pieces. So easy to make for a crowd and always popular, these sandwiches were often on the menu at catered parties. I spent many years enjoying these at business luncheons – they made boring meetings much more fun.
Of course one of the most common wraps is a burrito – see, you DO eat wraps! Instead of the flat bread or lahvash, you use tortillas. Very large tortillas, designed specifically for wraps are available in many grocery stores. Working with these larger tortillas makes it so much easier to roll everything together. Why fight trying to work with small ones – buy the big variety and cut them into individual portions. If you can’t find them at a grocery store near you, ask at your local gourmet shop. If they don’t stock them regularly, they will usually be happy to order them for you.
Burritos don’t have to be Mexican. You can fill them with anything you want. This would be like drawing outside the lines – try something new and open your horizons! Last night I made a wonderful stir-fry for dinner. Tonight I am going to serve the leftovers wrapped inside of a tortilla. Easy to assemble ahead of time, I can have it all ready to go and then will reheat it when my husband gets home. He is always starving when he walks in the door and wants to eat immediately. By having everything already made, I am not driving myself crazy trying to get dinner on the table quickly.
The Buffalo chicken wraps can be completely made ahead and served at room temperature, or you can have all the fillings warm and let people make their own. I always have additional hot sauce on the side for those who want a Chernobyl heat level – they can add it to their hearts content. While Tabasco is the most common variety, there are hundreds of fun ones to try. Have you tasted the Chipotle Tabasco? I love the smoky flavor from the chipotle peppers. I also love Sriracha, an Asian version that adds a tremendous flavor. And one of our local fire departments, from Palo Alto, CA makes the most amazing pepper sauce. It has quickly become our family favorite. Look around at your farmer’s market and local shops to find homemade specialties made by local vendors. You never know when you might find something fun to send to your friends and family members for next year’s holiday gifts!!
Whether you are rooting for Pittsburgh or Green Bay to win the Super Bowl, your guests will have a blast eating these fabulous not-so-traditional Buffalo chicken wraps on Sunday. Enjoy!!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
When you are using lettuce leaves to wrap ingredients, the type of lettuce you use does make a difference. Look for round heads, like butter or iceberg lettuces. Cut out the hard part near the core – if you don’t it will be really hard to get the leaf to roll the way you want it to!
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup low fat mayonnaise, preferably Hellman’s or Best Foods
- 2 tbsp finely minced fresh basil
- 2 tbsp finely mince fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 shallot, very finely minced
- Large flour tortillas or Iceberg lettuce leaves to use as wraps
- Shredded lettuce (if not using lettuce leaves as wrap)
- 3 celery stalks, shaved with a vegetable peeler
- Fresh basil leaves, optional
- Crumbled bleu cheese, optional
- 1-1/2 lb chicken tenders
- 3 tbsp butter, melted
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1/4 cup hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco or Sriracha
- 1-1/2 cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Prepare Dressing: Combine all dressing ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk until smooth. Cover and refrigerate at least an hour before using. May be made up to two days in advance and stored in the refrigerator. For the easiest use, place in a squeeze bottle.
- Prepare Accompaniments: If using tortillas for the wrappers, soften in microwave for about 30 seconds and shred lettuce for filling. If using lettuce leaves for the wrapper, remove outer leaves from head of lettuce and discard. Separate remaining leaves from head and cut out hard stem area. Trim leaves into a rough circle with kitchen shears. Stack and set to the side. Shave celery and place in a small bowl.
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Prepare Chicken: Cut chicken tenders lengthwise into 3 or 4 pieces. In a shallow bowl, combine the melted butter and honey with the hot sauce, whisking to blend. Place panko into another shallow dish and season to taste with salt and pepper. Set bowls of hot sauce and panko next to each other.
- Dredge chicken pieces in the butter/hot sauce mixture and then press into the seasoned panko. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.
- Assemble Wraps: Take one softened tortilla or prepared lettuce leaf, add some of the shaved celery, top with a few pieces of chicken and a couple of basil leaves. Add shredded lettuce if using tortillas. Sprinkle with bleu cheese if desired. Drizzle with the dressing and roll up, burrito-style. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Serve immediately.
- Yield: about 4 servings