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Super food: Fans are gearing up football’s biggest day with munchies from chili to lobster sliders

  • A staple of Super Bowl meals: Buffalo chicken wings. These are from Rafters Sports Bar and Restaurant in Amherst. SUBMITTED PHOTO/ Yvette Rowan

  • In top photo, Buffalo chicken wings from Rafters. The Amherst restaurant sells big quantities of takeout wings — 50 is the biggest order, weighing in at four pounds — on Super Bowl Sunday.

  • Avocado fries, foreground, with a lobster slider, Three kinds of guacamole, left, clam chowder, and a pulled pork slider made by Tony Jung, Chef de Cuisine, at the University of Massachusetts will be among the game day offerings in the UMass dining halls. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tony Jung, Chef de Cuisine, at UMass adds sauce to the avocado fries a dish that will be served in the dining halls at UMass on Super Bowl Sunday. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tony Jung, Chef de Cuisine, at UMass makes a lobster slider. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tony Jung, Chef de Cuisine, at UMass makes a lobster slider with a side of avocado fries. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tony Jung, Chef de Cuisine, at UMass puts garnish on three kinds of guacamole, BLT, rear, fruits, middle, and Mediterranean. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kevin Paul, a Chef at UMass makes avocado fries GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Puller pork slider made by Tony Jumg, Chef de Cuisine, at UMass. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tony Jung, Chef de Cuisine, at UMass makes a pulled pork slider. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tony Jung, Chef de Cuisine, at UMass makes a lobster slider. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tony Jung, Chef de Cuisine, at UMass puts garnish on three different kinds of Guacamole. BLT, left, fruits and Mediterranean. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Russ Miller and Carol Johnson have the ingredients ready for the chili they will make for their Super Bowl party. They’ve been hosting such gatherings for roughly a decade. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Carol Johnson is shown behind ingredients she and Russ Miller use to make chili for a Super Bowl party they've been hosting in their Amherst home for roughly a decade. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Russ Miller and Carol Johnson have the ingredients ready for the chili they will make for their Super Bowl party. They been hosting such gatherings for roughly a decade. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY



Staff Writer 
Friday, January 27, 2017

Big game, big meal.

You can buy that super-size order of wings if you’re so inclined. But while along with those wings, party-size pizzas and giant submarine sandwiches have their place as Super Bowl fare, there’s no rule about not trying something a little different.

From private parties, to restaurants, to the dining halls of the University of Massachusetts, football fans and chefs in the Valley will be preparing a variety of victuals on a day that’s considered second only to Thanksgiving in the amount of food consumed.

At the Amherst home of Russell Miller and Carol Johnson, the emphasis is on hearty food that’s also balanced and healthy. The couple have hosted a Super Bowl party for the last 10 years, and during that time they’ve developed a tried-and-true system.

Miller whips up two batches of chili — one with meat, one without — that also includes “a lot of spices and vegetables, like onions, carrots, peppers, corn. If I do say myself, it’s really good,” he said.

Johnson, meantime, bakes homemade bread to go with it.

The couple also supply the requisite snacks and a few beverages, but they rely on their guests — generally between seven and 10 people — to bring dishes and other things to drink. Since they’ve been hosting a Super Bowl party with many of the same friends over the years, they generally know what they’ll get.

“Someone always has a green salad, and there’ll be a good fruit pie, a vegetable dish, things like that,” said Miller. “It’s pretty healthy. We have snacks, of course, but the emphasis is on having a complete meal.”

And though Miller is a big Patriots fan, and a football fan in general — Johnson also has been drawn in over the years — he says the party is more of a social gathering than a hardcore gridiron session.

Yet even his guests who don’t follow football are interested in watching the Super Bowl, he says. “There’s something about having friends and good food around that makes watching the game a lot of fun.”

Of course, if the Patriots end up winning Super Bowl LI, just like they held on to win XLIX in 2015 by the skin of their teeth, “that will be even better,” Miller said.

‘N.E. MVP Experience’

At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Dining Services has notched numerous awards in recent years, both for the quality of its meals and its efforts to use local produce, with the goal of using more sustainable sources of food. The Princeton Review has ranked UMass tops in the country for campus food for the current school year.

Over the years, UMass chefs and planners have also crafted numerous special meals for the holidays and other occasions. The Super Bowl has been in that mix for about the last 10 years, says Ken Toong, executive director of UMass auxiliary enterprises (which includes Dining Services).

Now that the Patriots are preparing to play in their seventh Super Bowl since 2002, UMass Dining is going all-in on the event. The “New England MVP Experience,” as it’s called, will be served at dinner in the dining halls and will feature some regional food staples as well as some personal favorites of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, like smoothies and flash-fried avocados.

“The idea is to have some fun with this and give people some different options,” Toong said. 

For starters, there’s the ultimate comfort food from these parts: New England clam chowder. Alongside that will be lobster sliders — a salad of chopped lobster meat, mayonnaise, shallots and other items served on a small toasted bun.

Garrett Distefano, UMass director of residential dining, says the lobster will come from Maine. That’s in keeping with the school’s emphasis on getting food from as close to home as possible, he says.

Along those lines, another option for game day will be sweet potato quesadillas, with the sweet potatoes coming from a Hadley farm. There will also be a fresh guacamole bar.

And in a nod to Brady, who maintains a careful diet that’s rich in alkaline foods — vegetables, whole grains, fish, beans — the menu includes things like the flash-fried avocados, smoothies, almond milk and bubble tea.

“We want to take things up a notch,” Distefano said. 

Of course, amid the healthy offerings, there’s also a traditional New England dessert on tap: Boston cream pie.

Toong says it’s been a challenge, but a fun one, to come up with special themes for Super Bowl dinners at UMass, especially given that the Patriots have been in the big game in both 2012 and 2015. In 2012, the menu included several varieties of mac and cheese; 2015 featured a “Tailgate Dinner” with pulled pork nachos, sausage grinders and Buffalo chicken wings, among other items. 

“Even if you’re not a football fan, we think you’ll find something different, something good to eat,” Toong said.

‘Wing, wings, wings’ 

Of course, when it comes to Super Bowl food, there’s still a certain maxim that applies, similar to the mantra of “location, location, location” for real estate: wings, wings, wings.

According to the National Chicken Council, Americans consumed 1.3 billion Buffalo chicken wings last year during the weekend of the Super Bowl, and the group is predicting similar figures for this year. That’s about four wings for every man, woman and child in the country, the council estimates.

At Rafters Sports Bar and Restaurant in Amherst, chicken wings are the most popular item on the menu for the big game. General manager Yvette Rowan says the restaurant’s take-out business has its busiest day of the year on Super Bowl Sunday, starting in the afternoon and going right up until kickoff.

How many wings get sold? Rowan didn’t have immediate figures at hand, but she said “A lot — I mean, a lot!”

Rafter’s sells wings in five serving sizes — from six wings to 50 — and they’re also available in boneless form. The restaurant offers a choice of 15 sauces to go with them.

Jessica Micka, general manger and co-owner of the Platform Sports Bar in Northampton, says wings are a big hit in her restaurant as well; on Super Bowl Sunday, they’re deeply discounted and very popular.

What’s their appeal, particularly for the Super Bowl? Rowan says that aside from their spiciness, wings are easy to eat, along with other types of finger foods like French fries, nachos and potato skins.

“You can keep your eye on the game,” she said.

Russell Miller was happy to share his Super Bowl chili recipe which he says has more vegetables and seasonings than do many chili recipes.

Russell Miller’s Super Bowl Chili

(Adapted from “Jane Brody’s Good Food Book”, 1985, W. W. Norton & Co., New York)

Base 

1 pound lean ground beef 

1 cup of onion, finely chopped 

2 teaspoons of minced garlic 

3 teaspoons vegetable oil (e.g., olive) 

1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes in water 

3 tablespoons of tomato paste 

1 16-ounce can of kidney beans

1 4-ounce can of green chilis

1 cup of green pepper, chopped

1 cup of carrots, sliced

1 cup of celery, chopped

1 cup of canned or frozen corn 

Seasonings

6 teaspoons brown sugar

6 teaspoons mild chili powder

1 tablespoons ground cumin

1 tablespoons dried oregano

½ teaspoon ground coriander

teaspoon ground cloves

teaspoon ground allspice

1. In a large skillet or Dutch oven, sauté the onion and garlic in the oil until vegetables are softened.

2. Add the meat, browning and stirring it to break up the pieces.

3. Add the canned tomatoes, liquid and all the seasonings. Heat until the mixture bubbles, then lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

4. Add all the beans and vegetables except the corn and simmer for 10 minutes.

5. Add the corn for the final 10 minutes.

6. Optional: Adding ½ teaspoon of cider vinegar to a bowl when served enhances the flavor.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.