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Nashville hot chicken


Start this recipe at least a day ahead to brine and rest the chicken.

You'll need

1 chicken (about 1.4kg) 1 litre buttermilk 2 tbsp mild-flavoured hot sauce, such as Frank’s 1¼ tbsp coarsely ground black pepper 400 gm plain flour 1 tbsp cornflour ¾ tsp each of garlic and onion powders 375 ml (1½ cups) canola oil 420 gm (2 cups) lard (see note)   Chicken brine 185 gm (¾ cup) salt 165 gm (¾ cup) caster sugar   Hot spice mix 40 gm (1/3 cup) smoked paprika 40 gm (1/3 cup) hot cayenne pepper

Method

  • 01
  • For chicken brine, bring 3 litres water to the boil in a large saucepan, add salt and sugar, and stir to dissolve both. Pour brine into a large non-reactive container, cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until completely chilled.
  • 02
  • For hot spice mix, combine ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
  • 03
  • Cut chicken into 8 pieces: 2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 wings and 2 breast pieces on the bone, then halve each through the bone, rinse under cold water, then submerge in chilled brine, cover and refrigerate to soak (12 hours).
  • 04
  • Make an ice bath in a bowl with equal parts ice and water. Remove chicken from brine and transfer to ice bath for 5 minutes (to wash away the impurities drawn to the skin while brining), then remove and pat dry.
  • 05
  • Mix buttermilk, hot sauce, 1 tbsp pepper and 2 tbsp hot spice mix in a large container.
  • 06
  • Add chicken, cover and marinate at room temperature (1 hour). Drain chicken, briefly rinse under cold water and pat dry.
  • 07
  • Mix flour, 2 tbsp hot spice mix, cornflour, garlic and onion powders, and remaining pepper, in a large bowl. Add chicken, turn to coat well and refrigerate to rest (at least 3 hours or overnight).
  • 08
  • Shake off excess coating from chicken and transfer to a wire rack to rest (15 minutes).
  • 09
  • Heat oil and 1½ cups of lard to 150C in a large heavy-based frying pan at least 6cm deep (see note). Add chicken breasts and thighs, and cook (3 minutes), then add legs and wings and cook, turning carefully and occasionally until all the chicken is crisp and a deep-golden colour (15-17 minutes). Transfer to wire racks to rest.
  • 10
  • Melt remaining lard gently in a saucepan over low-medium heat then transfer to a warm bowl. Add 2 tbsp spice mix and 1 tsp salt, stir to combine, then add a couple of chicken pieces at a time, turn to coat and return to wire rack. Sprinkle remaining spice mix over to taste and serve hot.

Note For lard, combine 1kg diced pork backfat with 125ml water in a large saucepan over low heat and cook until rendered to 375ml (1½ hours). Strain through a fine sieve and discard solids. Lard will keep refrigerated for 2 weeks. If you use a large cast-iron frying pan with high sides and the recommended 1.4kg chicken, you should be able to fry the whole chicken at once. If this isn't possible, use two skillets and mix two batches of oil and lard to achieve the right flavour and crispness.


Nashville hot chicken

There's southern fried chicken and then there's Nashville hot chicken, writes Sean Brock, and once you've tried it, there's no turning back.

I remember the first time I ate hot chicken in Nashville. Well, sort of. It was 2am and I had spent most of the evening at my favourite honky-tonk on Broadway, Robert's Western World. Robert's is one of the last true honky-tonks in America and it's a must-visit, bucket-list kind of place. Time seems to stand still in that bar, and it's quite easy to lose track of it. Trust me, I've been hundreds of times; I now live right around the corner. It's a magical place to say the least.

After a good, hard night of old country music, Jameson shots and cheap American beer, your belly is screaming for something to soak up all that action. In Nashville you don't have a whole lot of eating choices at that hour, but those in the know head straight to Prince's Hot Chicken Shack. The line is insane at 2am. The people-watching alone is worth the trek into a pretty rough part of town at a pretty rough time of day. But this is all part of the hot-chicken experience.

The first time I ate at Prince's I went for it. I honestly didn't know any better and was feeling like the Incredible Hulk thanks to my evening at Robert's. The thing about hot chicken is that it's tricky. Most of us who eat spicy food as a hobby are used to the immediate burn of fresh chilli. This kind of burn is instantaneous and goes away after a little crying. Hot chicken is about the cayenne powder - it travels through the blood stream like a snake in the grass; you never see that bite coming until you step on it. When that cayenne hits your brain, you're taken to another realm of reality. Time stops, your ears start to ring, your vision blurs, your left arm starts to tingle and voices are just mumbled distractions in the distance. Hot chicken makes you hallucinate.

I suppose that's why I like it so much. It's a total out-of-body experience for a few minutes if you go for the hottest they make. The chicken becomes more a form of weird pleasure and entertainment than just filling your tummy because you're drunk and hungry. I can tell you one thing, though: that was my first experience and I've been hooked ever since that foggy following morning.

This was 10 years ago and the Nashville hot-chicken trend hadn't really caught on yet. There were only two places to get it back then. Bolton's Spicy Chicken & Fish served fantastic hot fish and chicken in a cinder-block building in East Nashville and then there was the original, of course, Prince's. The story of Prince's is pretty awesome: the recipe started out as punishment for a guy who had been misbehaving. Turns out he loved it so much that he opened Prince's and the rest is history.

These days in Nashville there are several restaurants that specialise in hot chicken and just about every chef in town riffs on it in some form or fashion, myself included - it's hard not to. One of my secrets is to leave the chicken in the flour mixture overnight because I like the way it adheres to the skin, and when you cook it, the skin almost turns into crackling.

Hot chicken speaks of the culture, it belongs to Nashville - a special place where we have our own way of doing things. Hot chicken is the perfect metaphor.

Sean Brock's secrets to surviving Nashville Hot Chicken
1 Order the hottest available. You came all the way to Nashville to eat mild chicken? That's like flying to Vegas and not gambling.

2 Two words: sweet tea. Don't mess around with carbonated drinks; they only make it worse.

3 Ask for the squishy white bread on the side. Traditionally this is placed under the chicken to soak up the grease, but once the bread is drenched in that evil fat, there is no turning back. I like to have the option of dipping it in the fat for a bite every once in a while to punish myself, and a bite of pure untouched honky bread calms the heat every now and again as well.

4 Keep a pile of napkins near your left hand and a pile near your right hand. The left pile is for your sweaty, clammy face and the right side is for your hands. Do not mix them up.

5 Order extra pickles. The acid helps.

6 Eat fast. Push the chicken into your mouth without it touching your lips. Lips are sensitive and this is a veteran's secret.

7 Enjoy the buzz and embrace the hallucinations. And keep reminding yourself that this is only temporary.

8 When you're finished, wash your hands until they hurt.

9 Do not touch your face or your private parts for the rest of the evening, no matter how hard you scrubbed your hands previously.

10 Before you go to eat hot chicken, put some toilet paper in the freezer. You may need a couple of rolls.


At A Glance

  • Serves 4 people
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At A Glance

  • Serves 4 people

Featured in

Sep 2014

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