We Have the Recipe for Fiorella’s Next-Level Italian Hot Chicken Wings
With Point Reyes blue cheese for those tasty local vibes
Brandon Gillis had been living and working in New York for over 10 years when he made the ultimate shift: hanging up his winter coat and embracing the life in the Outer Richmond.
“The easy thing to love about San Francisco is that it’s just so beautiful,” he says.
It was a big change for the East Coast native – but one, he says, was well overdue. “The year I left New York, we had a heat wave, and then my last day there, there was like a six-foot snowstorm,” he says. “And I was like, I’m kind of done with this extreme weather. I’ll suck it up for fog and a little gray here and there.”
After time at Danny Meyer’s Tabla, Brooklyn Pizzeria, and Franny’s of Brooklyn, Gillis was more than ready for a new challenge — and he got one at Fiorella, as well known for its made-in-Oakland wallpaper designed in collaboration with Andy Samberg’s comedy troupe as for its wood-fired pizza.
After his time at Franny’s, Gillis is no stranger to the latter. Indeed, when asked which of his experiences contributed most to his current role, he laughs.
“Oh yeah, that’s super easy,” he says, noting that not only did he glean invaluable knowledge of the inner workings of running a business, crafting a menu based on the seasons, and “a real dedication to the execution of simplicity” from his five years at the Brooklyn pizzeria, but twenty years later, founders Franny Stephens and Andrew Feinberg remain “two of my dearest and closest friends. And that’s a really special thing to have coming out of a working relationship.”
Forging forward at the San Francisco pizzeria, however, required a slightly different touch.
“I think the Italian food is definitely more like … Cal-Italian,” he says. Fiorella’s thin-crust pies, he notes, are a style all of their own.
“Our style of pizza isn’t necessarily Neapolitan; it’s not New York; it’s not New Haven,” says the once-native of both East Coast pizza meccas. “It’s really just sort of a blend of a few different qualities of living in New York, cooking at Franny’s, living in New Haven, that we wanted to bring to San Francisco.”
Case in point: pizzas may feature anything from “NYC Slice”-style sauce and pepperoni to local bounty like roasted potatoes, broccoli rabe, lacinato kale, or surf clams. And in addition to his unique pies, Gillis and his team are also free to craft other dishes with a “Cal-Italian” flair. Case in point? His Calabrian hot wings.
Like many of the best culinary inventions from potato chips to Champagne, this particular dish came about a bit by accident. With Fiorella – like all of San Francisco’s restaurants – relegated to takeout last February, Gillis and his team concocted this dish as a Super Bowl offering that folks could easily carry out and enjoy at home.
“It’s sort of an Italian take on traditional American buffalo wings,” he says. “Everything we do is definitely Italian-inspired, and we just wanted to do something that feels aligned with what we do at Fiorella.”
The wings start with a long, herb- and garlic-scented brine, after which they’re par-baked, fried, and tossed in a tangy hot sauce made with a deeply caramelized garlic base blended with chili flakes, pickled peppers, Calabrian chili paste, and a touch of Frank’s for good measure. It’s a spicy yet ultra-balanced combo that Gillis notes is par for the course at Fiorella, where the house-made pickled peppers are a major player on everything from the chopped salad to the house-made sausage pizza.
“We tend to use a lot of pickles as a way to bring a lot of acid and brightness into our dishes,” he says. “You’re kind of getting that acidity the same way as you would get it from just a fresh squeeze of lemon right before a salad plating.”
Both the peppers and the pickling juice go into this recipe, which is paired with a cooling dip made with local Point Reyes blue cheese.
“We tried it with a gorgonzola dolce, and we found that that was a little bit too sweet, too creamy,” he says. “I think that the Point Reyes, it has a good sharpness to it. It’s not too dry, and it’s just creamy enough where it really holds well in the dressing.”
While the recipe was originally meant to be a seasonal offering only, he notes, “we’ve gotten such great response from them that I think we’re probably going to put them on the menu for a little while and see how they do.”
Or you could always make them at home and see for yourself.
Calabrian Chili Hot Wings
Makes 24 wings
For the chicken
- 24 chicken wings
- 1 gallon water
- 240 grams salt
- 3 lemons, halved
- 1 bunch parsley, torn in half
- 1 bunch thyme
- ½ cup honey
- 6 to 8 medium cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- ½ cup blended oil (for frying)
For the Calabrian hot sauce
150 grams (about ⅔ cup) blended oil
150 grams (¾ cup) minced garlic
250 grams (about 2½ cups) dried crushed chili flakes
150 grams (about half of one 12-ounce jar) Cento brand mixed cherry peppers
130 grams (about ¾ of one 10-ounce jar) Tutto Calabria brand “wet” chili paste
130 grams (about ⅓ of one 12-ounce jar) sliced pepperoncini peppers
500 grams (1/4 cup + 3 tablespoons) pepperoncini pepper liquid (from jar)
500 grams (about 2⅛ cups) Frank’s Red Hot hot sauce
100 grams (¼ cup + 3 tablespoons) fresh squeeze lemon juice
For the blue cheese dressing “dip”
500 grams (17 ⅔ ounces) Point Reyes blue cheese
70 grams (4½ tablespoons) red wine vinegar
10 grams (2 teaspoons) Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
300 grams (10½ ounces) sour cream
200 grams (¾ cup + 1 tablespoon) buttermilk
400 grams (1¾ cups) mayonnaise
40 grams (2½ tablespoons) freshly squeezed lemon juice
About 5 grams (2 teaspoons) freshly cracked black pepper
Twelve hours before serving, brine the wings. First, bring 1 cup of the water to a boil, and dissolve the honey and salt in it. Combine it with the remaining water and the other brine ingredients, and mix in a large container. Add the wings, cover, and place in the fridge. Brine for 12 hours.
Meanwhile, make the hot sauce. Heat the oil in a small saucepot over low heat. Add the garlic and slowly caramelize for about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently and taking care not to burn it. (The lower the heat the better, but will result in longer cook time.) Once the garlic is fully cooked, combine it with the other ingredients in a blender. Beginning on the low setting, blend, gradually increasing speed until fully blended and smooth. Once fully blended set aside.
When the wings have fully brined, remove them from the liquid and pat dry. Preheat the oven to 325º F, and place the wings on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. This step will render some of their fat and par-cook them. Remove from the oven, and cool 30 minutes, or until cool enough to handle.
Meanwhile, make the blue cheese dip. In a food processor, combine half of the crumbled blue cheese with the buttermilk and lemon juice. Blend until very smooth. Add the remaining ingredients except for the remaining blue cheese, and once more, blend until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a small mixing bowl, and fold in the remaining blue cheese. Season if needed with salt.
Just before serving, preheat ½ cup of blended oil in a large pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken and fry over medium heat for about 5 minutes per side. (Depending on the size of your pan, you may need to work in batches; if this is the case, place the fried wings on a baking sheet and keep in the oven on the “warm” setting, about 250 ºF.)
Once all of the wings are cooked place them in a large bowl, and add enough Calabrian sauce to coat, roughly 1 cup. Serve with blue cheese sauce and more hot sauce for dipping!
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