One of my favorite Southern dishes is fried chicken, so when I heard about Nashville’s cayenne crusted hot chicken, which has been known to make grown men cry, I knew I would love it. Traditionally, hot chicken is fried in a cast-iron skillet and crusted with a reddish cayenne paste. The chicken is served with pickles and white bread, which gets soaked through with shockingly spicy orange hot chicken drippings.

There are plenty of variations of hot chicken all over the city, but the original is Prince’s Hot Chicken. According to legend, a lady friend of Thornton Prince sought fiery revenge by serving her cheating man extra hot fried chicken for breakfast. The passive aggressive act backfired. Thornton loved it so much he developed a recipe for the spicy chicken, and the dish spread across the city like wildfire. Salacious history aside, many restaurants all over Nashville offer their version of the city’s namesake dish, but Prince’s is the original (Hattie B’s is definitely worth trying as well)!  

Johnny Cash says, “Love is a burning thing, and it makes a fiery ring.” As I glanced at my reflection in the glass at Prince’s, I noticed a ring of cayenne around my lips. I’d like to think Cash was possibly talking about Nashville Hot Chicken…

Nashville Hot Chicken

Serves: 2

Note: My hot chicken recipe is a simple version of the classic, which doesn’t require double dipping or double frying. You are also able to control the amount of spice.

If you are sensitive to heat, you can decrease the amount of cayenne pepper by half. It will still be spicy but not as spicy as the chicken you would get in Nashville!

Ingredients:

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 cup of buttermilk
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons of cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, plus more for seasoning flour
  • Cracked black pepper, to season
  • Oil, for frying
  • Sea salt, for serving
Directions:

Cut chicken thighs in half crosswise, creating 8 equal pieces.

Fit a pot (preferably cast-iron) with a thermometer and pour in oil to measure 2” over medium-high heat until the oil reaches 350 degrees.

Meanwhile, in a shallow dish, whisk together buttermilk and egg. In another shallow dish, combine flour, pinch of salt and cracked black pepper.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, stir together 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil, cayenne pepper, brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt. (This is the hot chicken paste!) Set aside.

Working in batches, dip the chicken pieces in the buttermilk, and then dredge in the flour. Dip your fingertips into the buttermilk as you pack the flour onto the chicken. (This step creates a lovely, crispy crust once fried!) Transfer to a wire rack.

Working in 2 batches, fry chicken, turning occasionally until golden crispy and the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165 degrees, about 6-8 minutes. Transfer fried chicken directly into the mixing bowl with the hot chicken paste. Coat each chicken piece evenly with the paste. Sprinkle with sea salt. Serve immediately with pickles and white bread. Enjoy!




Amber Wilson

Amber Wilson was raised in Cajun Country, experienced the boldness of Texas fare, tasted the light cuisine in Florida, plunged her fork into the various influences in Alabama, and is now enjoying the harmonious city of Nashville. She grew up in the small town of Lake Charles, Louisiana, where the women in her family taught of the importance of Cajun heritage and, of course, Cajun cuisine. She can be found sharing her Southern food and memories writing at For the Love of the South.

Amber is one of our food bloggers for The Opener, an exclusive, invite-only contributor network that will bring the best food, culture, and innovation writing to the pages of Coca-Cola Journey.