In my travels, I’ve eaten a lot of dishes – some great, some good, and some that should be buried in the backyard.
In my travels to Nashville, I’ve come across something that could only be described as one of the great ones: Nashville Hot Chicken. It’s a wonderful amalgamation of fried chicken and spices that, up until 3 years ago, I’d never seen anywhere else. Now, Hot Chicken is spreading all over the country with even KFC getting into the act (ugh.).
Here’s a brief history of the originators of Nashville Hot Chicken from wikipedia:
“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 Shack. She has operated the restaurant since 1980; before that time, it was owned by her great-uncle, Thornton Prince III. 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.”
Now, I have not had the opportunity to eat at Princes on my visits to Nashville; but, just by luck, Husband Steve & I have stayed at a hotel across the street from another very popular Hot Chicken stand, Hattie B’s.
If you want a seat, especially on Sunday, get in line early before they open. It’s almost like the Franklin Barbecue of Nashville.
Now, of course, when Steve & I were back home, I wanted to be able to make this. I was spurred on by Steve actually wanting me to figure out how to make this so we didn’t have to wait for another trip to Nashville. (Although there are many great reasons to go there.) As an added incentive, Younger Nephew – Food Enthusiast – has pretty much requested I make this every time he visits.
I started by looking up what might be the authentic Hattie B’s recipe. I made it and liked it quite a bit. However, it seemed something was lacking; I wasn’t sure if this was simply an interpretation of the original, something was left out (which happens more often than most realize), or I missed something in the preparation.
I decided to take the recipe I found and tailor it more to my tastes – slightly more smokey and sweet-heat. I still keep most definitely to the spirit of the original, but here is my version of Nashville Hot Chicken (as inspired by Hattie B’s).
1 whole chicken, about 3 1/2 to 4 lbs. -or- the same weight of chicken in parts (i.e. wings, drumsticks)
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. hot sauce (i.e. Tabasco, Original Louisiana)
Dip & Dredge:
1 c. whole milk
2 eggs, beaten
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1/2 c. hot cooking oil
1 tbsp. cayenne (more or less to taste)
2 tbsp. dark brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. Spanish (smoked) paprika
1/2 tsp. ground garlic
1/2 tsp. ground onion
Unflavored oil and/or lard for frying (approximately 4 cups total)
If you are using a whole chicken, cut it either into quarters or into 8 pieces. (I usually have the back as a separate piece and generally throw it into the freezer bag with other chicken pieces for stock. However, if you want to fry it up, too, go for it.)
If you’re using just one type of part, like the wing, you can, of course, skip this step.
In a large bowl, toss the chicken with the 1 teaspoon of salt and the hot sauce making sure it is evenly coated. Either keep the chicken in the bowl covered with plastic wrap or move it to a large zip bag and place in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or up to 24.
After the chicken has marinated, take it out of the fridge and set aside. Have a plate ready for the breaded chicken and a baking sheet lined with paper towels.
Have 2 large bowls. In one, beat together the milk and eggs. In the other, mix together the flour, 2 teaspoons salt & 1 teaspoon pepper.
First, lightly dredge the chicken in the flour, making sure it is fully coated, making sure to shake off any excess flour.
Second, dip the chicken into the dip; again, making sure the chicken is completely coated and letting any excess dip drip off.
Third, dredge the chicken again in the flour, once again making sure it is fully coated and making sure any wet spots are re-coated with the flour.
Set the chicken aside and heat the oil and/or lard to 350F. I like to use a half & half blend of oil and lard. I find lard alone to be too strong a flavor even though I like the way it cooks the chicken; so, I cut it with the oil and it is fine for me. You do what you prefer.
*I know the more traditional amongst you will be appalled at the fact I use an electric skillet for my frying rather than cast-iron. The fact of the matter is, I’m usually doing other things as well and I simply don’t have the time, patience, or attention span to constantly monitor the heat of the oil. Hence, the electric skillet.
Once the oil is at the correct temperature, place the chicken in the hot oil and let it fry for 5 – 7 minutes before turning over.
I will admit here I am the queen of turning over my chicken frequently in the skillet as it fries. It’s easier for me to control how browned it becomes and I can more easily gauge the doneness of the chicken.
A note on frying: There are three basic mistakes everyone has made when frying: oil too cold, oil too hot, pan overcrowding.
Problem One: Oil too cold – If your oil is too cold when you put in your food, it will absorb oil. A lot of oil. The food must sizzle when you put it in; this is a result of the moisture pushing back against the heat of the oil. This is what helps to keep your food from becoming greasy. While frying foods will most definitely absorb some oil, they don’t need to be greasy, sodden messes.
Problem Two: Oil too hot – If your oil is too hot, it pretty much should go without saying that the exterior will be done, and even burn, long before the inside is done.
Problem Three: Pan overcrowding – If you overcrowd your skillet, the oil temperature will drop too low, the food will take too long to cook, become greasy, and if you have any coating it will fall off. Make sure that you have plenty of real estate for your food and that it doesn’t touch anything else in the skillet. Another added bonus, it’s easier to turn the food when the skillet isn’t crowded. This can be said for frying and pan searing. You want your food to fry, not steam or become greasy.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, thoroughly mix together the cayenne, brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, the paprikas, the ground garlic, and the ground onion.
Once the chicken is done, take it out of the oil and set aside to drain. You can make sure the chicken is done one of 2 ways: a) Make a small slit on the underside and if the juices are clear, the chicken is done; b) you can also carefully use an instant read thermometer by sticking it into the thickest part of the meat making sure not to hit any bone (avian bones are hollow and absorb heat faster, so if you hit one, you will get a false reading). It must be at least 150F for the chicken to be done. (I’ve also gone so far as to make a slit in the meat all the way down to the bone to make sure there was no pink.)
Take 1/2 cup of the hot oil and carefully ladle it into the spice mixture and whisk together. (The hot oil cooks the spices and makes them taste less raw.)
You can put this blend on the chicken one of two ways: either toss the chicken in the spice coating (which works well if you’re using a part like wings), or brush it on (which works best for larger pieces).
Traditional accompaniments with the Nashville Hot Chicken are white bread (think Mrs. Baird’s or Buttercrust) and pickles; additional accompaniments can be greens, macaroni & cheese, sweet potatoes (mashed or fried), cole slaw, beans, potato salad, and fried okra.