I like hot things. I like to think that I have a tolerance for spicy foods. I like hot sauce. Sweet chili gets on my nerves. I order raw jalapeños on my burritos for crying out loud.
When I approached the counter to order Nashville hot chicken for the first time last summer, I had it under control. Let me back up a little. Nashville is known for a dish called hot chicken. It’s spicy fried chicken. There are lots of restaurants there that serve the staple, but traditionally, the who-created-it-credit is given to Prince’s Hot Chicken. My husband and I were in Nashville last summer and knew we had to try this food we’d heard so much about, so naturally we chose Prince’s.
We drove up to the humble space within a strip mall, put the car in park, and looked at each other.
“Okay, so, we can order from four choices: mild, medium, hot, or extra hot.”
Knowing we both had the guts for a little spice, I said, “Let’s get hot. Extra hot? …hmm…I don’t know. Let’s just stick with hot for now.”
And we locked eyes for a minute as if we were making a tiny pact, got out of the car, and bolted into the line and stood there firmly like we’d been regulars for years. Remember, we had it under control.
Once it was our turn, we approached the man in the tiny window. I opened my mouth to order. “I…”
“This y’all’s first time here?”
My husband and I looked at each other. “…yeah. Yeah, it is! We’re excited and we’d like to try the…”
“Well, you see, we actually really like spi…”
“Uhh, no, you gettin’ mild.” Chingggg.
And just like that, the register chimed open and the order was placed.
We probably owe that man some money, at least our first born child or something, because I’ll tell you this: mild is not mild. Mild is hotter than anything I’ve ever eaten. I can’t even imagine eating medium and I’d bet that extra hot just makes your entire body burst into flame.
They try to make it better for you by serving the chicken with white bread and pickles. The white bread is honestly some what of a tease. In the midst of your sweating and faucet nose, you see that white bread laying there, and think, “RELIEF.” So you grab a chunk of it and shove it in your mouth and immediately realize that that bread has been soaking up all that cayenne-infused oil for about 10 minutes and now your mouth is just numb and you can’t remember how to swallow. The bread is a tease. A delicious tease, but, yeah…a tease.
The only real relief comes from eating one of the pickles and it only lasts about .7 seconds. The pickles are only there to give you a little encouragement. They’re like miniature cheerleaders when you feel like your entire body is turning into a giant ball of capsaicin.
Basically, Nashville hot chicken is hot. It’s dang hot. But it’s also dang good. I squealed when I saw the cover of the newest Bon Appétit magazine: “The Hottest Fried Chicken”. If you can’t make it to Nashville, this’ll do just fine.
nashville-style hot chicken
recipe from Bon Appétit, June 2014
active time: 1 1/2 hours total time: 4 1/2 hours
(2) 3 1/2 to 4 lb. chickens, each cut into 10 pieces (breasts halved)
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp plus 4 tsp kosher salt
4 large eggs
2 cups buttermilk (or whole milk)
2 tbsp vinegar-based hot sauce
4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
vegetable oil for frying (about 10 cups)
6 tbsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp paprika
bread and sliced pickles (for serving)
Toss chicken with black pepper and 2 tbsp salt in a large bowl. Cover and chill at least 3 hours.
Whisk eggs, buttermilk, and hot sauce in a large bowl. Whisk flour and remaining 4 tsp salt in another large bowl.
Fit a Dutch oven with a deep-fry thermometer; pour in oil to measure 2″. Heat over medium-high heat until thermometer registers 325º. Pat chicken dry. Working with 1 piece at a time, dredge in flour mixture, shaking off excess, then dip in buttermilk mixture, letting excess drip back into bowl. Dredge again in flour mixture and place on a baking sheet.
Working in 4 batches and returning oil to 325º between batches, fry chicken, turning occasionally, until skin is deep golden brown and crisp and an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of pieces registers 160º for white meat and 165º for dark, 15-18 minutes. Transfer to a clean wire rack set inside a baking sheet. Let oil cool slightly.
Whisk cayenne, brown sugar, chili powder, garlic powder, and paprika in a medium bowl; carefully whisk in 1 cup of the frying oil. Brush fried chicken with spicy oil. Serve with bread and pickles.