Recipe of the Week: Nashville Hot Chicken

Hot Chicken is a staple in Nashville, but with the right spice mix, you can make it anywhere. Photo by Danielle Atkins.
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Hot Chicken is a staple in Nashville, but with the right spice mix, you can make it anywhere. Photo by Danielle Atkins.
Hot Chicken is a staple in Nashville, but with the right spice mix, you can make it anywhere. Photo by Danielle Atkins.

Hot Chicken is a staple in Nashville, but with the right spice mix, you can make it anywhere. Photo by Danielle Atkins.

Louisville might have the Hot Brown, but Nashville has Hot Chicken, the spicy fried chicken that has become the city’s most iconic dish.

Common lore is that in the 1930s, Thornton Prince had a girlfriend who was fuming mad at his carousing and made cayenne-laced fried chicken as a form of revenge. According to a new book by Timothy Charles Davis, “The Hot Chicken Cookbook: The Fiery History & Red-Hot Recipes of Nashville’s Beloved Bird” (Spring House Press, $19.95), Prince loved the mouth-searing chicken so much that he started making it for friends and family.

He eventually opened BBQ Chicken Shack, which eventually turned into Prince’s Hot Chicken, which to this day attracts thousands of customers a year — locals and tourists alike — who come for chicken as spicy as they can tolerate. Here is a base recipe whose spice mix could be adapted to your level of heat tolerance and also used on anything from chicken wings to popcorn, french fries or ketchup.

Traditional Hot Chicken

For the spice rub and paste:
3 Tbsp. cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. smoked or hot paprika
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3/4 tsp. garlic powder
For the chicken:
1 whole fryer, cut up
2 cups all purpose flour
Peanut oil (or frying oil of your choice)
Bacon fat or used oil, as needed for paste

Mix together the spice rub ingredients in a small bowl.

Fill an iron skillet or Dutch oven about 2 inches deep with oil and heat to 350 degrees. Mix the flour and a tablespoon of the spice mix in a paper bag. Working in small batches, drop the chicken into the bag, shake, let rest briefly, and shake again. Test the oil by sprinkling a small pinch of flour into it — when ready, the oil should gently bubble around the flour.

Carefully lower the chicken into the oil. Fry only a few pieces at a time so as not to crowd the pan. Cover partially and cook until one side begins to brown. Turn the chicken and cook until golden brown. (Internal temperature should be at least 165 degrees.) Remove from the oil and drain on a wire rack or paper towels. Cook in batches until all is done.

Using a couple teaspoons of the just-used fry oil or leftover bacon grease, add a teaspoon of the spice mix at a time, adding more to make a brushable paste. What you’re looking to achieve is a consistency that is neither a hard paste nor too liquid-y; aim for something along the lines of stone-ground mustard. Liberally brush the finished chicken with the paste. Grab a thick stack of napkins. Serve. Serves 8 to 10.

— From “The Hot Chicken Cookbook: The Fiery History & Red-Hot Recipes of Nashville’s Beloved Bird” by Timothy Charles Davis (Spring House Press, $19.95)


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