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Red Cup Tailgates: Nashville Hot Chicken, or at Least an Attempt at it

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It's fried chicken that's spicy. That's really all you need to know.

Over the past few years, Nashville hot chicken has become a bit of a fad. Once confined to the traditionally black, working class neighborhoods of Nashville, the spicy fried chicken can be found throughout Middle Tennessee and on menus peppered throughout the South. Rumored to have been first concocted by a jealous cook looking to enact revenge on her philandering boyfriend, hot chicken is a dish that's as unforgiving as it is delicious. When done right, it's crunchy, juicy, and hot enough to rival some of the spiciest dishes you've had.

It can also make a pretty damn good tailgate food, something to which plenty of of SEC fans can attest. As Southerners, we all eat too much chicken as it is anyway, and anything that's deep fried and seasoned with cayenne pepper is something that we'll, at the very least, give an honest try. Combine those traits with the picknicky, finger-food qualities of fried chicken and the unassailable fact that fried chicken tastes even better the day after it's cooked, and Nashville hot chicken is an ideal tailgating dish for any Ole Miss fan looking to serve spicier fare to his or her Grove guests.

What You'll Need

  • Chicken. I used five chicken drumsticks because I love chicken legs and if you're going to keep it true to the original recipe, you want chicken on the bone. Tenders are more Grove-appropriate though, so perhaps you could splurge a bit and buy a bunch of those and fry them up. Either way, you've got a treat that's easy to eat while holding a drink. That's what you want, right?
  • Buttermilk. You'll need enough to marinade the chicken in. I used about a pint.
  • Hot sauce. Two tablespoons.
  • Flour. One cup.
  • Breadcrumbs. One cup.
  • Salt. Two teaspoons.
  • Black pepper. One teaspoon.
  • Paprika (sweet or Hungarian, if you can). One tablespoon.
  • Cayenne pepper. One tablespoon, but keep some more of this lying around for flavor.
  • Oil. A lot of oil.

How to Make it

The first thing you're going to want to do is soak your chicken in the buttermilk and hot sauce. Overnight is best, but a few hours also helps. The acid in the buttermilk and hot sauce help break down and soften the meat, and the thickness of the marinade allows the flour coating to stick nicely.

Take half of your flour and mix it with your bread crumbs. Take another half of the flour and mix it with your salt, pepper, and half of the paprika and cayenne pepper. Once you've done this, you'll need to set up an assembly line of sorts to get your breading nice and thick on your bird parts. Here's mine:

The flour, salt, and spices mixture is on the bottom left in a glass dish, the buttermilk, hot sauce, and chicken are top center, and the (lumpy, sorry) flour and bread crumb mix is bottom right.

Take the chicken out of the buttermilk and hot sauce, and let the excess drip off by holding it above the bowl/dish/whatever for a few seconds. Then bring it over to the flour and spices and drop it in. Roll or toss it around to get it evenly coated. You can do a few pieces of chicken at a time if you'd like. Then pick them up, shake the excess flour off, drunk them back in the buttermilk before dropping them into the flour and breadcrumbs mix. Going back and forth like this will give you a thick, almost paste-like crust that should stick to the chicken.

You could, if you're so inclined, batter the chicken. This would make it extra, extra crispy, but it requires more cooking time and a messier cleanup. You could also just roll it in the flour and then fry it. Really, there are lots of things you could do to make fried chicken. This is how I do it. Feel free to try other things because this is the United States of America, a country where we fry birds without prejudice.

Once your chicken's good and coated with a crust, you fry it. I cook my chicken in a cast iron skillet using oil that's heated to about 350 degrees fahrenheit. I only use enough oil to come halfway up the pieces of chicken as to not start a gigantic grease fire. If you want to use a deep fryer, that's great; they're easy to use and will give you more even browning. A deep fryer also allows you to cook more pieces of chicken at once. A skillet, though, is easy to clean and just looks cool when it's doing its job. Here, take a look:

The advantage of using a deep fryer is that you can just dunk whatever you're cooking in a vat of oil and forget about it until it's done. When pan frying, you actually have to pay attention to ensure that your food is cooked without being overcooked (see: burned). With my oil's temperature hovering between 325 and 350 degrees (you do have a thermometer suitable for this job, right?) I fry my chicken for eight minutes, turning the drumsticks a quarter turn every two minutes. Keep a good eye on the browning you're getting and on the temperature of the oil. Keeping things consistent is key here.

Also, use either an apron or one of those round, wire mesh splatter guards, because you don't want hot oil popping and cracking all over the kitchen. That stuff can be like napalm on human skin, y'all. Stay woke.

Once you've cooked the bird, remove and drain on a bed of paper towels. Wait ten minutes. Then take about a quarter cup of the oil from the pan and put it in a small bowl with the remainder of your spices. Stir it up and, before you use it, use a toothpick or the back of a teaspoon to take a sample of it. If it's not hot enough, add more cayenne. Keep going until you've got the heat you're looking for.

Brush the spicy oil on the chicken. That's it. You're done.

How to eat it

With your hands and mouth.