Somewhere along the way, hot chicken became the undisputed signature dish of Nashville, TN. As aficionados know, it’s not the temperature of the chicken that makes it hot, it’s the ingredients.
Foremost among them is cayenne pepper – and plenty of it.
According to the Nashville Hot Chicken Coalition, a fairly militant group of local enthusiasts who are the keepers of the flame, so to speak, it’s not really Nashville hot chicken unless it has all three original components – white bread, the signature chicken, and dill pickle chips. (Warning: don’t even think about substituting bread-and-butter pickles for the required dill variety.)
Nashville hot chicken apparently was originated by café owner Thornton Price in the 1930s. Today, Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack is run by his great-niece, Andre Prince Jeffries, a local celebrity.
The James Beard Foundation put it this way: “A visit to town doesn’t count unless you make the pilgrimage to this joint, set in an abbreviated strip mall alongside a nail salon, for crispy yardbird with a cayenne-soaked coat of armor.”
The media savvy Jeffries apparently is fond of saying that her hot chicken has some profound effects: “It’s a 24-hour chicken. Hot going in and hot coming out.”
She advises that some relief from the heat can come from sitting in a bathtub of cold water while eating her hot chicken.
Wikipedia has weighed in on the how Nashville hot chicken came into its own: “Although impossible to verify, Jeffries says the development of hot chicken was an accident. Her great-uncle Thornton was purportedly a womanizer, and after a particularly late night out his girlfriend at the time cooked him a fried chicken breakfast with extra pepper as revenge. Instead, Thornton decided he liked it so much that, by the mid-1930s, he and his brothers had created their own recipe and opened (a café.)”
Now there are more than a dozen hot chicken restaurants in the Nashville area that have been deemed authentic by the coalition, There's also an annual July 4 hot chicken festival in Nashville that has been embraced by residents and visitors alike. And the hot chicken craze appears to be catching on elsewhere, with hot chicken restaurants opening in Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta and elsewhere.
If you can't make it to Nashville for the real thing, you can make your own hot chicken at home.
NASHVILLE STYLE HOT CHICKEN
10 pieces of chicken, mixed dark and white, with breast pieces cut in half
1 1/2 tablespoons plus 3 teaspoons of kosher salt or sea salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 tablespoons mild cayenne-vinegar hot sauce
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
5-6 cups vegetable oil or peanut oil
2/3 cup warm heated lard (or hot frying oil)
3-4 tablespoons cayenne pepper, depending on the heat you want to achieve
1 1/4 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
dill pickle chips, for garnish
sliced white bread
Rub the chicken with 1 1/2 tablespoons salt and 2 teaspoons pepper. Cover and refrigerate 12-18 hours to enhance flavor and tenderness.
Combine and whisk the eggs, buttermilk and hot sauce in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix well the flour and 2 teaspoons salt. Pat the chicken dry. Dredge each piece in the flour mixture, shake off the extra, dip in the milk mixture, then the flour mixture again, and set aside.
In a Dutch oven or deep fryer, heat the oil to 325 degrees, using a frying thermometer. Place a wire rack on top of a baking sheet. Working in batches, fry the chicken until deep golden brown and crisp, 15 to 20 minutes, turning occasionally. Put the fried chicken on top of the wire rack to drain. Return the oil to 325 degrees between batches.
Next comes the paste that will be basted or rubbed onto the fried chicken. Using a whisk, mix the cayenne pepper, dark brown sugar, garlic powder, paprika and 1 teaspoon salt. Then whisk in the warm melted lard or warm frying oil, mixing well. Baste the mixture onto the chicken, or rub it in wearing gloves to protect your hands from the spicy heat.
Serve the chicken onto 1 or 2 slices of bread per piece, with dill pickle chips on top.
If you want the entire meal to be authentic, use some of the common side dishes used at real Nashville hot chicken restaurants: baked beans, cole slaw, potato salad, French fries.