One of America’s Favorites – Hot Chicken

December 1, 2014 at 7:28 AM | Posted in One of America's Favorites | 2 Comments
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Prince's hot chicken

Prince’s hot chicken

Hot chicken or Nashville hot chicken is a type of fried chicken that is a local specialty of Nashville, Tennessee, in the United States. In its typical preparation, it is a portion of breast, thigh, or wing that has been marinated in a water-based blend of seasoning, floured, fried, and finally sauced using a paste that has been spiced with cayenne pepper. It is served atop slices of white bread with pickle chips. It is both the application of a spicy paste and the presentation that differentiates it from similar dishes, such as Buffalo wings. It can be viewed in similar context to other foods that have been tweaked to be unique in a regional way, such as the slugburger or the Mississippi Delta tamale.

There are many restaurants in Nashville that serve a variant of the dish, and there is a city-wide festival and competition commemorating it. The popularity of hot chicken has spread beyond the Southern United States due to the influence of Nashville’s music industry. At least one restaurant in Michigan, Zingerman’s Roadhouse in Ann Arbor, now serves the dish.

 

 
Although the components of the dish largely remain the same, the preparation of the dish can differ greatly. A pressure fryer or deep fryer can be used, although most restaurants serve a pan-fried product. Nearly all hot chicken is marinated in buttermilk to impart flavor and to retain the meat’s juices upon frying. Some preparations of hot chicken are breaded and fried after application of the spice paste; the more traditional method has the paste applied immediately after the chicken is removed from the fryer.

A typical Nashville-style hot chicken spice paste has two key ingredients: lard and cayenne pepper. The two are mixed together, three parts pepper to one part lard, and heated until they form a thick sauce. Some restaurants vary the composition of the paste, adding sugar, garlic, or additional hot sauce. The paste is applied to the fried chicken by the server using a spoon and latex gloves; it is lightly squeezed into the finished chicken by hand. The heat level of the chicken can be varied by the preparer by reducing or increasing the amount of paste applied.
The main variation to traditional hot chicken is in the application of the spice paste: before breading or after breading, and whether or not additional spices are applied. Recipes, cooking methods, and preparation steps for hot chicken are often closely guarded secrets, proprietary to the specific restaurant, so the look of the chicken may vary widely.

 

 

 

Nashville-style hot fish

Nashville-style hot fish

A variation of the hot chicken theme is hot fish, typically a breaded and fried whiting or catfish filet prepared using a similar cayenne paste as hot chicken, or using a cayenne powder blend sprinkled liberally over the filet. Some hot chicken restaurants also serve hot fish, but recently some have begun to specialize in hot fish only.

 

 
Anecdotal evidence suggests that spicy fried chicken has been served in Nashville for generations. The current dish may have been introduced as early as the 1930s, however, the current style of spice paste may only date back to the mid-1970s. It is generally accepted that the originator of hot chicken is the family of Andre Prince Jeffries, owner of “Prince’s Hot Chicken”. She has operated the restaurant since 1980; before that time, it was owned by her great-uncle, Thornton Prince. 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 the BBQ Chicken Shack café.

 

 

Hot chicken strip on a stick

Hot chicken strip on a stick

Ironically, what began as breakfast revenge is now considered to be a staple food for late-night diners. On weekends, most restaurants dedicated to hot chicken are open very late (some past 4 am). As of 2013, fourteen Nashville restaurants serve hot chicken, either as the focus or as part of a larger menu. For a time, country music stars Lorrie Morgan and Sammy Kershaw owned and operated a now-defunct hot chicken restaurant called “hotchickens.com”. The former mayor of Nashville Bill Purcell is a devoted fan, sponsoring the Music City Hot Chicken Festival and giving numerous interviews touting the dish. While in office, he frequently referred to his table at Prince’s Hot Chicken as his “second office”.

 

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