Think back to the first time you saw “boneless wings” on a menu. You probably took the term literally and pictured an actual chicken wing that had been deboned and fried, a potentially brilliant culinary innovation. But in reality, a boneless wing isn’t a wing at all. It’s a chunk of white-meat chicken that’s been sliced roughly into the same shape of a wing before being battered, fried, and tossed with wing sauce.
There are a couple problems here.
First, as mentioned, that’s not a wing. Second, real Buffalo wings aren’t battered before they’re fried. Third, the name isn’t just misleading; it’s an insult to the art of the wing.
Let’s think for a moment about what an actual boneless wing would taste like. If you were do debone a wing before frying it and tossing it in wing sauce there’s no way that it wouldn’t be astoundingly delicious. Revolutionary, perhaps, but what would this paradigm-shifting innovation be called? Not boneless wings, because the name has already been taken. I can’t even use Google to find out if real boneless wings are a thing, because the search results have been usurped by impostors.[related]
A New York Times article from 2009 dubbed the boneless wing “an oxymoron dipped in hot sauce… not wings at all, but slices of breast meat deep-fried like wings and served with the same sauces — a bit like a spicy Chicken McNugget.” It attributes their emergence to a couple factors, chiefly the rising price of wings and the falling price of breasts, and diners’ aversion to getting messy by eating traditional wings. You only really see boneless wings on the menu alongside traditional wings, primarily at chains and bars, so it would make sense to keep the terminology similar. But calling what’s basically a sauced mini-chicken tender a wing is an affront to the wing, and it’s time we came up with a better name for it.
There are plenty of options. We can go literal and just call them chicken chunks, although that’s a little boring. We can call them XXL Popcorn Chicken Bites or something extreme like that. We can take a cue from chicken fingers and call them chicken thumbs. If we absolutely must tie them into wings, we can call them “boneless wingers.” Or we can just make up a completely new gibberish term for them, like wingdoodles.
Whatever you want to call them, it’s time to stop calling fried chunks of chicken breast boneless wings. Words have meaning, and even though we’re living in a post-truth world, the least we can do is let a wing be a wing. Before we know it, we’ll be calling a patty of ground pork with barbecue sauce a boneless rib!