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Wingin’ it

Buffalo Cauli Wings from the Owl House

When I told an Owl House employee that I was writing about the vegan buffalo cauliflower wings, she assured me that years after first tasting the dish, she’s “still not over them.” Okay, that’s fine, I thought. Not really a vegan foodie, but I’ll try anything once.

Thanks to the Owl House, now I’m a believer.

No, I didn’t think it could be done. And it’s probably fair to say that being “sister cities” with the home of the original Buffalo wings, we can be total wing snobs. But these Owl House people have pulled one over on this city and maybe the world.

Matty Miller is the executive chef and perfecter of this dish, which was conceived in the mind of Owl House’s original chef, Brian Van Etten, who’s now an owner of the Playhouse/Swillburger.

Miller tells me the “cauli wings” have been on the menu for five years and have gone from the standard Buffalo style to versions including one that mimicked General Tso’s chicken and was served with broccoli slaw. Customers begged them to bring back the original, and it remains one of their most popular dishes.
The wings now have a permanent spot on the small plate menu next to the soup of the day and house-cut fries. It’s surprisingly simple: crispy, deep fried cauliflower florets tossed in zingy Frank’s Red Hot with vegan bleu cheese and celery slaw.

“I wanted to make it more like what you get when you order wings from a pizza place—buffalo sauce with blue cheese and celery sticks,” says Miller.

The creamy dressing is made with vegan mayo, nutritional yeast, white vinegar, lemon juice, and crumbled tofu for texture. The slaw contains sliced celery, white cabbage, and red onion dressed in a simple mixture of white vinegar, salt, and pepper.

They really nailed the textures and flavors that go well together on the plate, with the cool slaw and dressing balancing the heat of the hot sauce. The crispy wings would please the toughest critic — you could even have them at your next Super Bowl party.

Here’s how the main attraction is prepared:

Take a washed head of cauliflower and turn it so the crown is face down. Point your knife toward the stem and cut the florets, working your way around the outside. Take your pieces and submerge them in plain soymilk until moistened.

In a separate bowl, pour a generous amount of cornstarch. Place the florets into the cornstarch until they are coated on all sides. Heat oil (canola or vegetable works fine) in a deep fryer to 350 degrees. If you’re doing this at home, carefully heat your oil in the bottom of a stock pan. You want just enough so that the cauliflower is partially submerged when dropped into the oil.

Lower your florets into the oil and let them fry for 3 to 4 minutes. Lift them out of the oil and let them drain on a paper towel. Put the wings into a bowl and cover and toss with Frank’s Red Hot until covered. Plate them next to vegan bleu cheese and celery slaw and serve.


Bethany Bushen is a Rochester-area freelance writer. Follow her at @BRBushen.

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