What is Nashville Hot Chicken?

2016-08-22 | jlbworks

Hot Chicken


Nashville hot chicken, a long-standing, spicy tradition in Tennessee’s capital city, has taken front and center in recent years due to number of chicken “shacks’’ popping up by popular demand. The local specialty, dating back to the 1930s, is said to have been started by Prince’s Hot Chicken – the original, staple chicken shack.

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 appearance of the chicken may vary widely.

Various restaurants in Nashville serve a version of this pollo caliente and, much akin to Memphis’s Barbeque fest; Nashville has a citywide festival and competition commemorating the spicy dish.