In the past few months, food writers everywhere(Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, etc) have been talking a lot about Hot Chicken, the ultra-spicy fried chicken of Nashville. In the articles they write, they seem to enjoy hamming up the idea that “folks” from Nashville just can’t get enough of the spicy treat. They make it sound like, here in Music City, a stop for Hot Chicken is about as frequent as making a sandwich or a bowl of cereal at home. This is not unlike the way in which non-natives incorrectly assume that most Nashvillians spend their evenings at the Honky-Tonks–though we sometimes do.
Now don’t get me wrong. As someone who loves to read and loves to write, I understand the power of a good story. And I also understand the power of the human imagination. In this way, food without a story often lacks a certain depth. (‘a rose by any other name would (not) smell as sweet’). I guess, after all, I’m not really upset with Bon Appetit’s inaccurate depictions of Nashville food culture, or any food culture. I guess, after all, I’d just like to be clear to my readers (the few brave souls you are) about how this ever-popular, peppery, poultry plate is and is not regarded here in our fair city of Nashville.
Sure we don’t eat it every week or every month, but that doesn’t mean that this spicy-salty-sweet crispy fried chicken is not anything other than addictive. Because it is. I’m also willing to bet that, at least before Bon Appetit and Food & Wine gave it a write-up, there were not many people trying to make this stuff at home. But you should. In doing so, you’ll be gaining some experience with two dishes: Fried Chicken and Hot Chicken. You see, the two dishes are essentially the same thing, if not for the painful punch in the face rendered by a couple pieces of Hot Chicken. And it is a punch in the face. For some, spicy food is unpleasant and unnecessary; For others, it’s a great joy, something to be relished. It’s like the intensely glorious pain of a deep-tissue massage, but for your mouth.
So, let’s talk turkey (er, chicken):
Hot Chicken (adapted from–you guessed it!–Bon Appetit)
2 lbs chicken thighs and legs, split
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp salt
1 cup whole milk
1 tbsp hot sauce
2 cups AP flour
vegetable oil for frying, about 10 cups
3 tbsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp paprika
White bread a pickles, for serving
Season the chicken with salt and pepper and let it hang out, covered, in your fridge for about 3 hours. The salt will help to tenderize the meat. It will also help for the chicken to caramelize during frying.
Whisk the eggs, milk, and hot sauce in a large bowl. Then whisk the AP flour and salt in another bowl.
In a dutch oven, or a very wide rimmed pot, pour in your vegetable oil. It should be about a depth of 2”. Be sure that whatever you are using to fry the chicken has very tall sides, because the oil will expand dramatically when you begin to fry the chicken. And you don’t want to kill yourself. Set your stove on medium high heat. As the oil comes to temperature, let’s bread the chicken.
Working with 1 piece at a time, dredge the chicken in flour, shake off the excess, and then dunk it in the milk mixture. Then, dunk it once more in the flour mixture before placing it on a plate to rest. Once all chicken has been battered, you’re ready to roll.
When frying, work in batches. You don’t want to overload your fryer. The cold chicken will bring down the temperature of the oil drastically. That being said, don’t put more than 3 or 4 pieces into the pot at a time. Once in the hot oil, turn the chicken occasionally. Cook each batch for about 14 minutes, or until an instant read thermometer reaches blah blah blah. After you finish a batch, place it in a 250 degree oven to keep it warm.
Okay, the chicken is fried and delicious. At this point, you could eat. But you’re not going to. Instead, very carefully spoon out a 1/2 cup of the oil used for frying into a bowl that is not going to crack on you. Seriously, be careful. Into the oil, whisk the cayenne, brown sugar, chili powder, garlic powder, and paprika.
Throw down a few pieces of white bread and some pickles and stack a piece of juicy chicken on top. Lather the hot oil over the chicken and enjoy, y’all!