In Search Of: Nashville Hot Chicken

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KFC’s loose interpretation of Nashville Hot Chicken. (Photo source: KFC)

Thornton Prince III was a legendary womanizer in 1930s Nashville. The owner of a small eatery called the Chicken Shack, old Thornton was known to get himself mired in many trysts, much to the chagrin of whatever poor woman claimed to be his steady girlfriend at any given moment.

One of those girlfriends, whose name is lost to history, decided to attempt a measure of revenge and inadvertently created one of the greatest culinary wonders ever committed to a menu. After Thornton stayed out particularly late one night, the unnamed girlfriend woke up early to cook her man breakfast. She fixed him some fried chicken, but to give him the burn she believed he deserved, she loaded the chicken with an obscene amount of chili powder, cayenne pepper and any other spice she could get her spurned hands on.

But instead of spicing him onto a path of contrition, the brutal concoction brought a heat that he immediately knew would forever change the course of fried chicken. Eventually, Thornton and his brothers would refine the recipe and open the old chicken shack anew, under the name Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack—which is still in business and is currently run by Thornton’s great-nephew, André Prince Jeffries.

Hot chicken is typically served with white bread and pickles. (Photo source: Wikipedia)

Today, there are an estimated two dozen restaurants in the Nashville area that serve hot chicken, and there’s even a Music City Hot Chicken Festival held every July. Unfortunately, we Long Islanders aren’t so lucky. Internet research yields precious few establishments serving the dish, and most that do boast a version of Nashville Hot Chicken are found in the city. But as we approach National Hot Chicken Day on March 30, let’s discover the eateries where Long Islanders can find some spicy bird.

Nashville Hot Chicken is deep fried, with the “hot” aspect traditionally added immediately after it comes out of the fryer. The two key ingredients to true Nashville Hot Chicken spice paste are lard and cayenne pepper, with additional ingredients including sugar, garlic, chili powder or bottled hot sauce. The spice paste is heated and heaped onto the chicken in varying amounts. It’s served atop two slices of white bread and finished with pickle slices.

It’s important to note that Nashville Hot Chicken is not chicken with buffalo sauce. Nashville hot is much more of a “dry” sauce, rather then the sloppy hallmark of buffalo wings. The taste is also far different, offering a smokier taste along with a more intense, deeper burn.

Behold, the dark red attitude of Nashville Hot Chicken. (Photo source: YouTube)

But where is Nashville Hot Chicken on Long Island? Is it anywhere? Well, fast-food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken sells a somewhat reasonable facsimile of hot chicken—it’s called “Nashville Hot Chicken” and is indeed served with pickle slices, but alas, no white bread. However, one of the problems with KFC—and there are many—is that their hot chicken is served in a slimy pool of oil and grease. Also, KFC’s quality varies greatly store-to-store. To sum it up: The Colonel is not what we need in our hot chicken dealer.

Rockville Centre’s haven of fried food, Bucket List, does in fact serve their own take on hot chicken. But the restaurant recently ceased operation of its full-service restaurant, opting to move into a new space across the street as a quick-service eatery. Luckily, Nashville Hot Chicken will in fact remain on the menu at the relaunched Bucket List. And this is good news, as that eatery’s hot chicken gets as close as possible to the authentic dish, right down to the white bread.

Radio Radio in Huntington is another restaurant that graciously dabbles in the state dish of Tennessee. The restaurant, specializing in southern fare that crosses regional lines, brings Nashville-style hot chicken with a skillfully prepared hot oil that actually works to coat your mouth—thus keeping the burn going after the bird is long gone.

Back in Rockville Centre, Copper Pot Chicken Co. brings Nashville hot to the table, offering it as a side sauce and also incorporating the preparation into a chicken sandwich.

But beyond that, Nashville Hot Chicken becomes much more difficult to locate in Nassau County. So, head west to Long Island City, where Sweet Chick—co-owned by rapper Nas—began serving hot chicken when it opened a couple of years ago. And of course, Brooklyn has plenty of hot chicken spots as well. One of which is Peaches HotHouse on Tompkins Avenue where hot chicken is not only the main event, it is also offered in a devastating “extra hot” style that the owners warn is not for the faint of heart.

Of course, if you absolutely had to, you could recreate Nashville Hot Chicken in your own kitchen. Just be sure you have the authentic ingredients on hand, including plenty of buttermilk. Check out the recipe at www.saltandwind.com/recipes/317-hattie-bs-hot-chicken-recipe, which cops the recipe used by another hot chicken legend, Hattie B’s of Nashville.

Nashville Hot Chicken can be had on Long Island—you just have to know where to look. And when you finally get your hands on some, be sure to thank Thornton Prince III for his philandering ways.

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