Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 4, 2013

Hot chicken takes over Nashville

BY CHRIS TALBOTT
AP Music Writer

---- — NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Most folks know Memphis for its barbecue and Philly for its cheesesteaks, but how about Nashville and its hot chicken?

If you’re not sure, you’ve never tried this fried chicken so fiery it will leave your mouth in shock. It’s a flavor you don’t soon forget.

Born as cheap, flavorful fare for Nashville’s working class community and offered late into the night for its party-goers, hot chicken has long been a staple in town.

At heart, it’s fried chicken that gets finished with a potent — and nearly always secret — blend of dry, peppery seasonings (paprika and cayenne are common, though that’s just the start). But that oversimplifies things.

“I don’t know,” James McNew, hot chicken fan and bassist for New Jersey indie rock band Yo La Tengo, says of the recipe. “Some kind of combination of love and hate. I’m not sure of the measurements, whether it’s half and half or not.”

McNew and husband-wife bandmates Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley have been coming to Nashville for almost two decades. For the music, of course. And the chicken.

They sing its praises to anyone who will listen. They even named two songs in honor of their love for Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, which has been serving up searing hot chicken since sometime during the 1940s.

“It’s something different,” said Andre Prince Jeffries, second-generation owner of Prince’s. “It’s not a boring chicken. I mean, you wake up on this chicken. You’re gonna talk about it.”

And talk about it they do. The members of Yo La Tengo heard about hot chicken from another band that already had fallen for it. They visited the humble strip-mall home of Prince’s in north Nashville, far from the trendy districts, and were immediately enchanted.

“It really was love at first sight,” Kaplan said during a recent interview at Prince’s. “Even before we tasted it. It was obviously unique.”

Nashville Hot Fried Chicken

2 qt. cold water

½ c. hot sauce

Salt and ground black pepper

½ c. plus ½ t. sugar

3 ½- to 4-lb. whole chicken, quartered

3 qt. peanut or vegetable oil

1 T. cayenne pepper

½2 t. paprika

¼ t. garlic powder

2 c. all-purpose flour

Hearty white sandwich bread (optional)

Pickle chips (optional)

In a large bowl, whisk the cold water, hot sauce, ½ c. salt and ½ c. sugar until the salt and sugar dissolve. Add the chicken and refrigerate, covered, for 30 minutes or up to 1 hour.

When ready to cook, in a small saucepan over medium, heat 3 T. of the oil until shimmering. Add the cayenne, ½ t. salt, paprika, remaining ½ t. sugar and the garlic powder. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer to small bowl and set aside.

Remove the chicken from refrigerator and pour off brine.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, ½ t. salt and ½ t. pepper. Two at a time, dredge the chicken pieces through the flour mixture. Shake excess flour from the chicken, then transfer it to wire rack. Do not discard the seasoned flour.

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 200°. Set a clean wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet.

In a large Dutch oven over medium-high, heat the remaining oil to 350°.

Return the chicken pieces to the flour mixture and turn to coat, then shake off the excess. Add half of the chicken to the oil and fry, adjusting the burner as necessary to maintain oil temperature between 300° and 325°, until the skin is a deep golden brown and the white meat registers 160° and the dark meat registers 175°, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Drain the fried chicken on the prepared wire rack and place in oven to keep warm. Return the oil to 350° and repeat with the remaining chicken.

When all of the chicken is cooked, stir the spicy oil mixture to recombine, then brush it over both sides of the chicken. Serve on bread, if using, and top with pickles, if using.

— Recipe adapted from Cook’s Illustrated magazine