Columbia eateries find success riffing on Nashville hot chicken

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In Columbia’s dining scene, few things are as hot as, well, Nashville hot chicken.

The eye-wateringly spicy fried chicken has been around for decades and has grown increasingly popular throughout the entire country. In Columbia, that’s as true as anywhere, as spots like Village Idiot Pizza are debuting special flavors on their menus and other other eateries feature the dish or are mulling launching it themselves.

The chicken’s ingredients can vary, but revolve around two things: an eye popping amount of cayenne pepper and a hefty amount of sugar to provide sweetness. In its most basic form, it’s served on white bread with pickles. The simple result is a crunchy, sweet and hellaciously spicy chicken that is as much an experience as it is a type of sustenance. It’s no wonder it has garnered devout fans in Columbia, a state away from its true home.

“It’s delicious, it’s really good,” said Spotted Salamander Cafe and Catering chef-owner Jessica Shillato, who offers it as a rotating special. “It’s even my personal favorite fried chicken sandwich. … It’s just hot and sweet and salty.”

Shillato noted that her fried chicken sandwich day, which features a shifting weekly sandwich, is one of her cafe’s most popular days. No other style of chicken sandwich sells out as quickly or does as well as the Nashville hot variation, she reported.

She remembered food service companies attempting to sell her a Nashville hot sauce to use on fried chicken and replicate the dish a couple years ago. That was the first time it was beginning to trend, but she noted it wasn’t exactly popular in Columbia yet.

“Around that time it was popular, it was the first time we did it. We didn’t sell it that much,” Shillato explained. “Then we gave it a year or two, then people ate it a lot.”

Others have noted its rise around town — like Daniel Boan, co-owner of Drake’s Duck-In on Main Street. That restaurant is one of Columbia’s signature spots, offering up fried chicken and biscuits, and has made its bones by changing its formula very little over the years.

Boan and his partner bought the restaurant six years ago and have added things like mac and cheese to the restaurant and taken certain items off, but largely kept the eatery the same since taking it over.

Now, he’s mulling adding a Nashville hot chicken sandwich to the menu.

He said the desire to add it doesn’t stem from looking to capture a trend, but rather that it’s a natural extension of what they already do, a fit for customers who frequently request hot sauce. He also said it’s been commonplace for customers to ask if they’d try a Nashville sandwich at some point.

“I would say it’s likely we will do something in the future along those lines,” he reasoned. “It’s just delicious.”

Nashville hot chicken has been around for decades. It likely arose around the 1930s or so and was ultimately commodified by the founders of Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville, per an article from the Tennessean newspaper.

Black Rooster chef Alex Strickland offers the dish in the form of a sandwich at the West Columbia restaurant. He said he has strived to emulate Prince’s version of the dish as much as possible. His first experience with the dish came at Prince’s, after his former boss Terra owner/chef Mike Davis recommended he explore the spot when he was on tour with his band.

The experience was “one of those weirdly nostalgic life altering food moments,” Strickland explained. The chicken was so hot he almost found it unenjoyable, but the novelty of the space and the quality of the chicken won him over.

“The chicken was so good. It was perfectly crunchy, so, so juicy and like it was just so barebones of an establishment,” he said. “You could tell there was no room for bulls#!t. … It was a Top 10 culinary moment in my life.”

While he was at Prince’s, Strickland inquired if the origins of the chicken were true. He told a worker the story he had heard and has been retold in various publications like the Tennessean. It goes something like this:

One night, a disloyal man was out with another woman and came home late. His partner, aware of what was likely happening, plotted revenge. The next morning, she served him the spiciest fried chicken she could make, and, in a twist, it was painfully spicy but also delicious. So spawned Nashville hot chicken and its originator Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack.

An article in the Tennessean noted that the current Prince’s owner called it “hearsay” and Strickland’s feedback was effectively the same. He recollected that the worker told him, “That’s what everyone says … you can take it how you want.”

Strickland said he believed it’s important to acknowledge the Black-owned Prince’s as the originator of the dish, as other businesses like the White-owned Hattie B’s Hot Chicken have spawned and found much success and acclaim, with some calling it out as form of cultural appropriation.

In the culinary world, though, it’s complicated, Strickland acknowledged.

“It’s such a really good blank canvas,” he said. “If you do it respectfully to not f#$k anybody over, then I think it’s okay. It’s a fine line. Food is weird, man, it belongs to everybody but is also the identity of certain people.”

Its spread to Columbia has come with subtle variations. Some of that is centered around its signature spiciness. Strickland noted that if Prince’s is at a 10 level of spicy, his Black Rooster take is closer to a 5.5 or 6, an effort to make it more palatable to customers.

At Spotted Salamander, Shillato adds bacon pimento cheese, which lends a level of fatty-creaminess to it, she said. Hers too plays things safe in the spice department, compared to her experience eating it at other restaurants, but she said she does sometimes ask her cooks to up the heat when they back off too much.

Village Idiot is one of the latest to embrace a trend. The local pizza chain launched a Nashville hot pizza flavor as its special pizza for the month of August. Owner Brian Glynn said he mulled doing the pizza for almost six months. Strickland noted that he contributed to the recipe at Village Idiot’s recipe, where his partner works and he previously worked.

Glynn noted that he felt his restaurant got as close to the true Nashville hot flavor as possible while incorporating it into a pizza. The recipe includes a ranch base — which he asserted allows the Nashville hot flavor to come through further than with a traditional red sauce — and mozzarella cheese. He estimated that Village Idiot’s comes in at 5 out of 10 on the heat scale

“It’s such a unique flavor for what it is,” Glynn explained. “It’s a pretty good palette to create something on.”

In Columbia, the chicken may be becoming a hit due to the city’s proximity to Nashville and the dish’s eponymous name, which gives it what equates to a Southern seal of approval, Strickland said. Further, Glynn suggested that the dish fits into the type of cuisine that Columbia eaters like.

“I think it really does fit into a lot of what is being done in this town,” he said. “It’s one of those things that’s kind of specific in what it is, but you can play with it, too.”

Cleveland Cooks: Beachland Ballroom Tavern’s gluten-free Nashville Hot Chicken

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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) -The kitchen at the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland has recently undergone a total overhaul with all new equipment. Former Chef Brian Doyle returned to the tavern to reboot the offerings to reflect the changes and bring his experience in gluten free cuisine to the newly revamped menu.

On Cleveland Cooks this week he demonstrated his version of the trending Nashville Hot Chicken.

Gluten-free Fried Nashville Chicken Recipe

Chicken breasts, 4 pieces, pound thin

Brine recipe:

2 hot cups + 2 cups of cold water

Sea salt ½ cup

Sugar 2 Tablespoons

Cinnamon stick 1 each

Whole coriander seed 2 teaspoons

Fennel seeds 2 teaspoons

Bay leaves 3 each

Flour blend:

White rice flour 2 cups

Non GMO Corn starch ½ cup or sub arrowroot

Non GMO Corn meal ¼ cup or sub cracked amaranth or millet

Smoked paprika 1 Tablespoon

Sea salt 2 teaspoons

Fresh cracked black pepper 1 teaspoon

Granulated garlic 1 Tablespoon

Granulated onion 1 Tablespoon

For Frying:

Your favorite oil or fat- about 4-6 cups in a 8 qt pot or fryer machine if you have one.

Procedure:

Bring the hot 2 cups of water plus the other brine ingredients to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes. Then add the cold water and strain to reserve the liquid and discard the seeds etc. Chill the brine to 40º. Place the chicken in the Brine in refrigerator for 12-24 hours.

Then pound the chicken thin.

Set the oil at 350º in a large cooking pot with 8-12 inches of gap from the top so the oil doesn’t boil over.

Meanwhile combine the flour ingredients and blend well. Place the chicken in the flour to coat well. For extra coating go back to the brine and again into the flour. Then immerse into the oil. Cook for approximately 4-5 minutes or until the internal temperature is 165º. Remove chicken from fryer and sprinkle with sea salt and a bbq spice rub blend.

To build a sandwich use your favorite condiments. A good quality bbq sauce combine with mayonnaise and sriracha is a great sauce for this sandwich.

Top with coleslaw or lettuce and tomato.

Copyright 2021 WOIO. All rights reserved.

Travel bites: Soul Shack’s hot chicken packs plenty of heat

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Move over Melbourne, Wellington has a foodie street that may be the world’s tastiest laneway.

Natural wonders, human-made monuments and cultural experiences typically serve as the headline points of interest when venturing beyond borders and hopping over oceans. For some, it’s local delicacies that rise up like Michaelangelo’s David and make the journey entirely worth it.

France has its fries, Belgium has its biscuits and Australia has dark brown yeast spread, but in this series we’ll be highlighting food worth travelling around New Zealand for. Stamp these culinary delights in your passport – just don’t expect pineapple-flavoured lumps.

Visitors to Wellington walking past an unassuming chicken shop may be forgiven for doing a double take at the conversations of the patrons within.

“It’s a level zero for me, thanks.” “Level four? Are you crazy?”

They are, of course, talking about which level of spice they’re choosing for their Soul Shack chicken – a perennially hot (excuse the pun) talking point for foodies in the capital.

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Soul Shack/Supplied Nashville-style buttermilk fried wings are the flagship item at Soul Shack, Wellington.

Since bringing his passion of “casual, fun soul food” to life in the shape of a Porirua food truck, Rick Unuia has led Soul Shack through setback after setback to build it into a household name in Wellington, gaining a cult following in the process. Having occupied hole-in-the-wall type spots around the city centre for a couple of years, Soul Shack has just recently opened the doors to its brand-new shop on Victoria Street.

Out of a small but nonetheless tantalising menu, the Nashville-style buttermilk fried wings are the flagship item. With no formal culinary training, Rick has relied on his passion, his childhood influences, and studious experimenting to perfect his product. The chicken you tuck into at his shop is the culmination of his lifelong love for American soul food and the efforts he’s invested into crafting his original recipe, which has “a little input” from the owners of Belles Hot Chicken (Australia) and Howlin' Ray’s (Los Angeles).

“[That’s] complemented by multiple spice levels, from cayenne to Carolina Reaper, allowing us to deliver varying experiences,” Rick says.

“Varying experiences,” is a modest way to describe the range of sensations you can subject yourself to by trying one of Soul Shack’s wings. The spice levels range from zero to four, with four being the hottest. Spice can be a deceptively subjective concept, so it’s perhaps best to take the following advice with a grain of salt (and a glass of milk): level zero is probably enough to prickle your tastebuds without making you wince, and most people will find that even level one packs plenty of heat.

Soul Shack/Supplied Soul Shack’s spice levels range from zero to four.

If you’re brave enough to try level four, brace yourself and be prepared to shed a bit of sweat, and potentially some tears, while basking in the awe and admiration of Rick, his staff, and fellow diners.

Along with its distinct, homegrown flavour, this competitive aspect to eating Soul Shack’s chicken is one of the chief reasons behind its popularity and cult status, making it one of Wellington’s favourite eating challenges. Rick puts it perfectly: “If you can handle our hottest level – level four – you belong to a very elite group of heat fiends.

“Not many people can handle the level below it either, so level four can present different, somewhat euphoric experiences amongst friends.”

If you’re a fan of fried chicken, especially of the spicy kind, a visit to Rick is a must on any trip to the capital. The achievement of having conquered a level four wing may just be the best souvenir you take home.

Fact file: Find Soul Shack at 120 Victoria Street, Wellington. You can grab a pack of three hot wings for $10, plus a range of other meals and sides. See: instagram.com/soulshacknz

Staying safe: New Zealand is currently under Covid-19 restrictions. Follow the instructions at covid19.govt.nz.