A childhood memory leads to a search for Milani 1890 French Dressing, and a fun recipe that’s definitely not organic or local (except for the chicken).
All photos by Ted Axelrod
I’m going to get this out of the way right now and admit that this isn’t really a recipe. It’s one of those dumb but delicious concoctions like dumping a jar of hot pepper jelly over a block of cream cheese and calling it an hors d’oeuvre. (But if you’ve ever done that, you know how genius it is, right?)
This not-a-recipe is even crazier because it came from Ted’s mom, Joan, who was buying organic food way before most of the world had even heard of the word. She even feeds organic food to her dogs. But still, Ted has fond memories of 1890 chicken wings from his childhood, so when the thought popped into his head a few weeks ago, he naturally had to go on line and order the key ingredient — Milani 1890 French Dressing.
Once ubiquitous on family dinner tables, sweet, red-orange French dressing is an American invention that would make any true Frenchman or woman shudder. “This is the dressing most of us grew up on. And until Julia Child taught us how to make vinaigrette in the 1960s, it was the one we ladled over wedges of iceberg or mixed greens,” writes Jean Anderson in “American Century Cook Book: The Most Popular Recipes of the 20th Century (Clarkson Potter, 1997),” quoted on the fascinating website, The Food Timeline.
Despite having 1890 in its name, the Milani brand dates from the late 1930s. It may be still available in some supermarkets, but since we couldn’t find it at the Portland Hannaford, we turned to Amazon, which describes it as “blended according to the original world recipe using only premium ingredients for truly unparalleled flavor.” What are those ingredients, you may well ask? Soybean Oil, Water, Vinegar, Tomato Paste, Dextrose, Salt, Paprika, Xanthan Gum. Citric Acid, Propylene Glycol Alginate, Natural Flavor, Apocarotenal And Beta Carotene (Color), Calcium Disodium Edta (Maintain Freshness).
Oh, nevermind, I’ve stretched this out long enough — let’s get to the recipe. Because these are good. Slightly tangy, slightly sweet, sort of like a Buffalo wing without the spice. Ours didn’t get quite crispy enough after baking, so we ran the dish under the broiler for a few minutes, turning them over once.
2 pounds chicken wings
1 bottle Milani 1890 French Dressing
Preheat oven to 350.
If you’re wings are whole, separate the “drumstick” part from the winglet with a sharp knife or kitchen shears.
Put the wings in a glass or ceramic dish large enough to hold them in a single layer.
Dump the bottle of dressing over the wings and use tongs or your hands to make sure it is distributed evenly.
Cover the dish with foil and bake the wings for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake for 30 another minutes, or until wings are brown and slightly crisp.
If you want to brown them more, place the dish under the broiler for a few minutes, turning the wings once, but watch carefully so the wings don’t burn.
To serve 4, you can still use one bottle of dressing.
Variation: Combine the dressing with 1 envelope dry onion soup mix and 1 can whole berry cranberry sauce for another retro-style dish.