Crispy. Juicy. Flammable. With eyes tearing and taste buds ablaze, let us pay homage to hot chicken.
The Philistines in Buffalo need sauce to set their pullets aflame. In Nashville, all it takes is a cast iron skillet and … um … cayenne? Red pepper? Wizardry?
Perhaps the magic is in the dish’s nefarious origins. One version of the story goes that Thornton Prince, the store’s namesake, was under suspicion of tomcattery. To punish his philandering, his girlfriend rubbed his fried chicken with the hottest spices she could find. Mr. Prince — who maintained his innocence, by the way — loved what she created.
Wherever the flavor comes from, the folks at Prince’s, Bolton’s, 400 Degrees and The Chicken Shack keep it to themselves.
Despite being a touchstone of the city’s food culture, hot chicken is rarely offered at more than three or four places.
At Prince’s, they’ll shoo you away if you loiter too long at the ordering window. The cooks disappear from view at the moment when mere chicken becomes local legend.
While we may not know the secret of spicing the bird, we know the secrets to eating it: Drink lemonade, not soda. Don’t touch your eyes. The bread and pickles are there for a reason. Use them judiciously.
And allow plenty of time for the magicians to work — nothing this good comes quickly.
Nashville’s high herald of heated hen is former Mayor Bill Purcell, a man who allegedly ate a hot leg quarter from Prince’s every day he was in office. Sure, Karl Dean is going build a convention center, but can he pull off a Purcellian lunchtime feat?
In 2007, Purcell started what has become an Independence Day staple: the Hot Chicken Festival. Folks line up at the tents in East Park long before noon to get the free samples. Those not among the first 500 can buy bird for $5 a plate.
The festival, which runs until 5 p.m., also includes entertainment, food options for the faint of heart, an amateur cooking contest and — thankfully for what’s sure to be a hot day — Yazoo beer.