French chef Fernand Point once said, “In the orchestra of a great kitchen, the sauce chef is the soloist.” That must mean that local chef C.J. Hamm will take center stage during National Sauce Month in March.
An entire month dedicated to sauces is not an easy task for me to take on in a single column. But with family roots in Buffalo, where chicken wings reign, I decided to fly over to the northwest corner of Golf Links and Harrison to sit down with the sauciest wingman I know.
Hamm took ownership of Mulligan’s Bar and Grill in 2017, a local sports bar, and one of his first orders of business was to raise the level of its cuisine.
“We’re about food, sports, and drink here, and it’s the food that comes first,” said Hamm, chef/partner at Mulligan’s, 9403 E. Golf Links Road. “This is a chef-driven menu from a scratch kitchen, with elevated pub food as well as some things you’ve probably never seen before.”
Hamm is right when it comes to his wings. While many restaurants across town sauce them up in a handful of ways, the Mulligan’s menu features 23 distinct wing varieties with house-made sauces and rubs.
“You can get Buffalo, barbecue, and garlic parmesan-sauced wings pretty much anywhere, but with wings as a real focal point for us, I wanted to make the experience exciting and new,” he said.
With more than 40 original sauce recipes that he keeps in “an old wing sauce-stained notebook,” Hamm rotates them in and out as needed, but he says that he’s never too proud to pull those that aren’t performing well.
The 23 wings on the current menu all seem to be performing quite well, with eight mild, eight medium, three hot, and four extra-hot to suit any taste.
In the mild category, the Al Pastor wings were inspired by Hamm’s love of tacos al pastor, with achiote spices and pineapple.
“I love the way the achiote brings an element of mild spice to these wings, which works beautifully with the sweet flavors of caramelized pineapple and a kick of acid from some orange zest,” he said.
Among the medium options, Hamm says his Red Dragon wings come from the flavors of one of his favorite Chinese food dishes, Kung Pao Chicken.
“I wanted to bring a bit more heat to the Kung Pao experience since Kung Pao Chicken is rarely hot enough for me, so we blended Thai chiles and garlic and found exactly what we were looking for.”
Tucson’s heat can be found among the wings in the hot category, with the T-Town representing the Old Pueblo.
“If you don’t count creosote, the T-Town wings are what Tucson smells and tastes like to me,” he said, “with smoked cumin, chiltepin and chipotle chiles, and a fresh burst of lime juice.”
For the adventurous, there are four wings in the extra-hot category, including a fan favorite called the Scorpion King.
“This one is like going to an Indian restaurant and ordering extra hot curry,” Hamm said. He takes dehydrated lemon, mixes in some curry, and then adds scorpion chile powder to give it that “wake you up” heat factor. “The heat arrives a little late,” he warned, “and you might take down two or three wings before you realize how hot they really are.”
There will be plenty of saucy action at Mulligan’s every day of the week during National Sauce Month in March. Let the stirring, simmering, and slathering commence!
Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at email@example.com. Russell is also the publisher of OnTheMenuLive.com as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.