I’m a fan of chicken wings. Not necessarily the traditional buffalo-style wings which you find at every sports bar chain in America, but the sticky spicy garlicky wings you might find at Kin Khao in San Francisco, the amazing wings made famous by Pok Pok in Portland, or these little gems that we fried up in my kitchen a few years ago.
Recently though I ate some buffalo-style wings at The Shuckery in Petaluma, CA, that made me rethink my aversion to one of America’s all-time favorite bar foods…in the form of cauliflower “hot wings.” Now, you might be skeptical. I certainly was. But hear me out…when done right, the cauliflower retains a meaty heft and holds up well to a light batter, crisp on the outside, savory and tender on the inside. And when doused with tangy-spicy Frank’s RedHot (made decadent with a bit of butter) and some blue cheese dressing and celery sticks, you might forgo the original for this vegetarian version.
Good news vegetarians and gluten-free folks – this one’s for you! And if you want to make this vegan, just swap out regular butter for your favorite vegan butter (or don’t use it and just use the Frank’s RedHot Sauce on it’s own), and use crumbled cashew or almond cheese instead of the blue cheese dressing.
Buffalo Cauliflower “Hot Wings”
Makes about 6 servings (as an appetizer)
- Canola, peanut, or other high-heat oil for deep frying
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup hot sauce such as Crystal’s or Frank’s RedHot Sauce
- 3/4 cup rice flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 cup sparkling water
- 1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into 1 to 2-inch florets
- About 1/3 cup blue cheese dressing, for serving
- Celery sticks, for serving
- To make the sauce, in a small saucepan over medium heat, add the butter to the hot sauce and whisk to combine. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Preheat an oven to 200F and place a large rimmed baking sheet on the middle rack.
- Fill a Dutch oven or large, wide saucepan half full with the oil and heat over medium-high heat to 330F on a deep-fry or candy thermometer (or heat up your deep fryer if you have one). Have ready a wire rack lined with paper towels and a spider or slotted spoon and tongs.
- In a large, shallow bowl, whisk together the rice flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the sparkling water and stir to combine, until a smooth batter is formed. Drop the cauliflower florets into the batter and toss to combine, until each floret is coated with batter.
- When the oil reaches 330F, pick up a floret, allowing any excess batter to drip off, and very carefully add it to the hot oil. Repeat until you fill the pan, but don’t overcrowd it or the cauliflower won’t fry evenly. Fry the cauliflower, turning gently and occasionally with the spider, slotted spoon or tongs, until golden brown and crispy and the cauliflower is tender, about 6 minutes (I suggest taking a piece out after 5 minutes and cutting into it to determine the exact timing). Using the spider or slotted spoon, transfer the fried cauliflower to the paper towels to drain, and season with salt.
- Allow the oil temperature to return to 330F before frying the rest of the cauliflower, in batches if necessary. Keep the fried cauliflower warm in the oven on the baking sheet while you fry the remaining.
- When all of the cauliflower is fried, place in a bowl and lightly coat with the hot sauce. Immediately pile the cauliflower on a platter and serve along with a small bowl of blue cheese dressing, celery sticks alongside and plenty of napkins.