All the Steps to Make Hot Chicken
Mac ‘N Cheese
Everyone has heard of soul food, right? We are talking about crispy fried chicken, collard greens, mac n’ cheese, coleslaw, and much more. I bet your mouth is watering just thinking about the amazing southern flavors, right? That is why Timothy Davis compiled a cook book, not only focused on southern cooking, but specifically on Nashville’s famous Hot Chicken in the Hot Chicken Cookbook: The Fiery History & Red-Hot Recipes of Nashville’s Beloved Bird.
What is Hot Chicken? It is exactly what it sounds like, fried chicken with a blend of spices that give this classic dish quite a kick. Every time you crunch, you can taste the blend of cayenne pepper, subtle sweetness, and savory flavors.
This book focuses on the Nashville style of hot fried chicken, as well as the history and culture surrounding it, but also includes their versions of most of your classics, as well. We took a couple of these recipes and tested them out just to see what all the craze was about.
A little background about the chefs preparing the meal: none of them were from the South, and each are clueless about the art of real Southern cooking. The first, a beautiful Latina from Peru, the second, a good Jewish girl from the ‘burbs of DC, and the third, an outgoing, free spirit from Australia. Because these ladies were far from experts in the Southern style, it was a unique experience, as preconceptions or previous experience did not get in the way of following the directions.
The cornerstone of the meal was, of course, the Traditional Hot Chicken. This recipe, according to the book, follows the basics in terms of spices, but also includes dry mustard, and a touch of sugar, for a slightly pungent, sweet taste that accompanies the savory, spicy flavor.
The preparation was easier than originally thought, as it looks and sounds intimidating to perfectly blend a mix of spices, batter, shake, and fry. However, as you go through it, that perceived intimidation quickly fades. Another benefit is that you also don’t need a lot of equipment to make this dish. Of course, a fancy Dutch oven or fryer makes things easier, but all you really need is a big pan that can cover the pieces of chicken with the frying oil. In addition, to batter up the chicken the directions just call for a paper grocery bag. So simple.
However, we found that the directions were not “dummy proof” enough. The wording assumes that you have attempted to cook this type of thing before, so if you have no idea what you are doing, things could get a little confusing. Suggestions such as, “don’t batter all the chicken at one time, only batter as you go,” were left out. So the pieces that didn’t get fried first started to get a little soggy, which affects the texture of the crunch.
The end result was pretty darn tasty. Like life, you figure it out as you go, and make adjustments accordingly. In addition, the beauty of having a cook book means that you have the power to change anything you don’t like. The only thing that the recipe lacked was salt, so a pinch was added to the chicken, the batter, and the paste; a great decision resulting in perfect flavor.
As a final note for the chicken, you have two options for the paste that you brush on after frying it. You can use either some of the used fry oil, or bacon grease. We tried both, and we recommend that you use the bacon grease, because it has a better consistency and a greater flavor content.
One of the side dishes was “Ma’s Slaw,” which was a vinaigrette-based coleslaw. Now, never having made coleslaw before, the preconception is that the dressing is mayonnaise-based. However, the apple cider vinaigrette dressing was unique, and a really nice change of pace. It was a hit, as everyone loved the sweet, tart flavor absorbed into the fresh cabbage.
The directions here are pretty straight forward, but a word of advice, if you are going to prepare this recipe, make sure you start the process in advance. It takes 6-12 hours for the cabbage to marinate. For those of you who think that the apple cider vinegar is too pungent, sweeten it like we did, with some honey and a fresh squeeze of orange. You can also add in your own vegetables, like a few kale leaves, for a heartier taste and a more robust color variety. As a final decoration, throw on a few sesame seeds and you have one appetizing, gorgeous, and tasty coleslaw.
The Pimento Mac & Cheese was our final side dish prepared. This is definitely a recipe you will never find out of the box, with a fantastic blend of cream, cheese, macaroni, and pimento peppers. The directions here were fairly clear and, again, easy to follow along. This was also the only dish done exactly by the book. It was absolutely delicious, but the chef said if she had it her way, she would have added a touch more salt and cheese for a delectably gooey consistency. Regardless, it did look great. With golden, melted cheese, creamy pasta, and a touch of red from the pimentos, the presentation was beautiful. It was difficult not to dive in face first.
Finally, on to dessert, the Banana Pudding. Out of all the dishes prepared, this desert was the most stressful. It seemed so easy at first, but again, not all of these directions were dummy proof. Preparing not only banana pudding, but the elements inside, such as custard and meringue, proved to be a challenge. Overall, it took more time to figure out than it should have.
During preparation of the custard, a hidden sentence stated to drain the custard in a chinois. One Google search later, while knee deep in cooking custard, turned out we didn’t have anything like that. Hmmm. It is a fine mesh strainer that gives a creamy consistency to things like custard. These are things that should be in the list of necessary kitchen wares before getting started. Oh well, slightly grainy custard still tastes pretty darn good.
The final touch was the meringue that goes on top. In retrospect, the directions were ok, but it did not stress enough not to add the sugar until after the egg whites started to froth. So, round one failed. On round 2, a YouTube tutorial later, great success! Overall it tasted good, but it will be a mystery if the recipe is average, or the preparation. This Banana Pudding seemed pretty standard, so it may have been the lack of experience.
Overall, we recommend giving this book a try, because everything that was eaten was thoroughly enjoyed. Nashville has got something great going on down there, with incredible soul in their food and a kick in their chicken.