Nashville Hot Chicken Sliders

We get a lot of emails from people, pitching ideas for stories for this site. Some are sent by PR people, and their suggestions run the gamut from “mildly interesting” (“Foie Gras and You: Applying Rudimentary Food Ethics to Things That Are Delicious”) to the numbingly boring (“Chef Smorgasbord has written a cookbook called, ‘100 New Ideas for Gravy!’ Please let me know where to send high-res photos!”).

Nashville Hot Chicken SlidersEvery now and then, though, we’ll get an email from an actual person, someone with a great idea that’s just trying to get their business off the ground, and get people to notice them and what they’re doing. We were lucky enough to be contacted recently by Pete Paulson, purveyor of a product called, “Mr. Charley’s Authentic Nashville Hot Chicken Spice.” Needless to say, we were interested immediately.

We’ve dabbled in the world of Nashville Hot Chicken before, with our copycat version of the recipe served at Prince’s Hot Chicken, arguably the restaurant that most people first heard of, in Hot Chicken’s rapid ascension into trendy food terrorism. Traditionally served on a few slices of hyper-processed white bread, with a few slices of sour pickle to (hopelessly) counteract the heat, what sets Nashville Hot Chicken apart is the thick, spicy, violently red paste that gets applied to the chicken after it comes out of the cast iron skillet. The paste varies slightly from chicken shack to chicken shack, but Nashville’s Hot Chicken experts seem to agree that the basic recipe is about 3 parts cayenne pepper to one part lard or chicken schmaltz.

Nashville Hot Chicken Sliders

On a cross-country road trip, we had the pleasure of stopping in Nashville for some Hot Chicken at Pepperfire, a wood-and-galvanized shack on the side of a nondescript stretch of sketchy strip malls and auto parts stores. It was outstanding, but the chicken we ate there one cloudy afternoon made it clear that there might be more to the spice blend than straight cayenne.

Nashville Hot Chicken Sliders

We received some validation for our recipe in the comments, when someone from Prince’s weighed in with their compliments, and the suggestion that we were overthinking the recipe somewhat. It’s a comment that got in my head, and I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what I could do differently, while making the process simpler and with greater complexity of flavor.

Pete Paulson’s email arrived, just as I was thinking of revisiting the project. I asked him to send a sample immediately.

Nashville Hot Chicken SlidersNashville Hot Chicken Sliders

Though Pete thoughtfully included his recipe for fried chicken, one of my goals was to simplify the process. Since we finally had a pre-mixed spice blend to use, we wanted to find a way to make Nashville Hot Chicken something that we could whip up with whatever ingredients we had on hand, whenever the urge struck.

We bought some bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, opting to de-bone the thighs ourselves so we could keep a layer of crispy skin. After brining for an hour in buttermilk (overnight would be better), then dredging in flour, we shallow-fried the thighs in vegetable oil. While the chicken cooked, we mixed up our Mr. Charley’s Authentic Nashville Hot Chicken Spice according to the package directions, which calls for a 2-to-1 blend of vegetable oil to spice mixture. That’s right: unlike our recipe, there was no lard to render, no fuss, and no hassle.

Nashville Hot Chicken Sliders

After draining the chicken on some paper towels, we brushed the hot, crispy chicken with the spice mixture, then served the thighs on some miniature slider rolls, with a few sweet pickles.

The blend was, in a single word, amazing. The smell that filled the room as we applied the mixture to the chicken was incredible, and instantly called to mind our visits to the hot chicken shacks of Nashville, a sinus-clearing mixture of fruit and heat that had hints of garlic and a bit of sugar to turn the mixture into a chicken-grabbing glaze. Eating our Hot Chicken in slider form delivered the same adrenaline-producing spice and fat in a portable package, with the pickles adding additional sweetness and crunch. Best of all, I was left with one dirty pan, and almost nothing to clean up.

Nashville Hot Chicken Sliders

It’s not often that I get really wound up about a product like Mr. Charley’s. A good Nashville Hot Chicken blend seems like something I should be able to whip up, myself. But I also think that some things, you’ll just never get right. I didn’t grow up eating Hot Chicken; I’ll probably never understand all of its layers of spicy flavor. And now, I don’t have to. It’s all right here, in a tiny little jar that I can have shipped right to my doorstep.

Nashville Hot Chicken Sliders

5.0 from 1 reviews
Nashville Hot Chicken Sliders
 
Author:
Serves: 4
Ingredients
Method
  1. Arrange chicken on a board, skin side down. Carefully cut lengthwise along the bone, making sure to remove any stray bits of cartilage. Cut each de-boned thigh in half, so that you have four pieces in total.
  2. Mix spice blend and vegetable oil into a paste, and set aside.
  3. Heat an inch of vegetable oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add chicken thighs and cook, flipping occasionally, until chicken is golden brown, about ten minutes total. Transfer to paper towels and drain.
  4. Brush both sides of each chicken thigh with spice mixture, then place each piece on a split sandwich bun. Top each sandwich with two slice of pickle, and serve.
P.S. You’ll notice that this isn’t a “sponsored” post. I wasn’t paid to write about this product, and I never promised to cover it on this site. It just happens to be a product that I had great success with and really enjoyed, and I urge you to give it a try and follow the company on Facebook.

Nashville Hot Chicken Sliders

Malcolm Bedell is co-author of the critically acclaimed "Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road," as well as the junk food blog "Spork & Barrel," and "Brocavore," a blog about food trucks and street food culture. His contributions include Serious Eats, Down East, Eat Rockland, L.A. Weekly, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post and his food truck, "'Wich, Please," was named "Hottest Restaurant in Maine" for 2015 by Eater. Finally, he finds it very silly to be trying to write this in the third person.

6 Comments

  1. Just ordered a jar of the Milder Heat version. (No need to kill myself.) I’ll let you know how it goes!

    I tend to shy away from in-bone, skin-on chicken. What do you think of pan-frying breast meat either sliced in half (so it’s thinner) or pounded thin? Maybe breaded with bread crumbs or flour, dragged through egg, then dredged again in flour or bread crumbs? I know this is kind of missing the point — no, completely missing the point — but I’m trying to enjoy the delicious Southern heat while eating (slightly) healthier chicken breast meat. (Non-sarcastic) Thoughts? 🙂

    You guys are downright awesome. Love your posts.

    Steve

    View Comment
    1. Thanks, Steve! Where possible, I always try to steer myself to dark meat, since it’s got so much more flavor. And 9/10ths of the reason I am eating chicken at all is for the crispy skin. That being said, you’ll still get great results using a boneless skinless chicken breast, using the method you describe (and I would definitely do an egg wash).

      View Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Rate this recipe:  

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.