Nashville Hot Chicken
COMFORT FOOD WITH A KICK
Recently, when I talk about Nashville hot chicken to people in the Midwest or other parts of the country outside of the South, people get very excited about it. This simple dish of fried chicken with a cayenne-based seasoning has started to capture the imagination of chefs and consumers alike. The mix of a favorite comfort food and a flavorful heat source is a powerful combination that has potential star power. It is not uncommon to see hour-long lines at hot chicken establishments in Nashville, or anywhere in the country for that matter. I’ve eaten the dish a lot, and I can confirm when it’s described as “hot, but addictive.” Top chefs are starting to make menu moves with this flavor profile as the driver to satisfy their customers’ cravings for something familiar but with a regional twist.
As the story goes, it all started back in the 1930s. Thornton Prince, the man credited with bringing Nashville hot chicken to the masses, was a handsome man that had a slightly wandering way. After a long night of his usual no-good activities, Prince’s girlfriend was upset and decided to teach him a lesson. The next morning, she prepared his favorite breakfast of fried chicken. But, she didn’t stop there. Instead, she served it up with heaping amounts of cayenne pepper and a sweet smile. She waited for him to spit it out in disgust, but to her dismay, he asked for more. Prince loved the extreme heat paired with the fried chicken. The next day he brought home some friends and asked her to make it again. They all agreed it was amazing and a star was born. Prince spent the next few weeks perfecting the recipe in his home kitchen and then opened up the first hot chicken shack. Almost 100 years later, the simple dish is more popular than ever. It even has its own “hot chicken day,” celebrated every March 30th.
- Chicken: This is a standard fryer cut into eighths.
- Marinade: It is either dipped or marinated in a very simple buttermilk mixture.
- Breading: Flour with maybe salt and a little pepper.
- Cooking method: It is fried at 325 F – 350 F until crisp and completely done.
- The oil dip (the bath): A mixture of the seasoning and some oil, often it is the fryer oil. This is stirred and combined. The chicken is dipped in here to absorb more flavor and act as a tacky base for the seasoning.
- The seasoning (aka the magic shake): A secret blend of cayenne pepper, salt, and some form of sweetener—brown sugar seems to be the favored sugar. Other seasonings can be added, but these are the base few.
- Bread: Simple white bread that resembles wonder bread. This is to simply soak up the excess seasoning and grease.
- Pickles: Normally two to four garlic dill slices on top of the chicken.
- The heat level: All places seem to offer the same number of heat offerings.
- The sandos: The sandwiches that many of these hot chicken stands serve share similarities: a boneless fried hot chicken breast, seasoned to your desired heat level, served on a soft white bun with coleslaw, comeback sauce and pickle slices.
A RISING RETAIL STAR
Nashville hot chicken has been gaining momentum across the country. There have been more than a few national chains that launched a version and are educating the consumer with Nashville hot sandwiches and the flavorful heat expectation. These high-profile offerings coupled with the fact that this dish straddles multiple macro-trends, such as American regional specialties, comfort food, and spicy profiles, shows the potential strength of a retail product!
If you have questions about how you can utilize Nashville hot on a new product offering, or just want to talk trends, please reach out to our dedicated team at Asenzya. We’ll help you take your taste buds to the unknown.
Locations visited for field research:
Prince’s Hot Chicken