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Nashville-Style Napalm: Comparing Two Hot Chickens

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In the case of Nashville’s specialty chicken, revenge is a dish best served hot.

Nashville-style hot chicken was reportedly invented by an incensed girlfriend as a warning for her unfaithful lover. She spiked fried chicken with fiery spices and served it to her tomcatting boyfriend, Thornton Prince. Prince loved the peppery poultry; the resulting Prince’s Hot Chicken shack, run by Thornton’s niece André, is now a local legend.

With my lips still tingling from a recent visit to Prince’s, I decided to test a northern homage to hot chicken. A new Brooklyn restaurant, Peaches HotHouse, now serves the dish. How would it stack up to the original?

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The spice blend of every hot-chicken dealer is a fiercely guarded secret. It’s safe to say that Prince’s uses cayenne and… napalm? The skillet-fried chicken can be ordered mild, medium, hot or extra-hot. Prince’s cashier instantly made my choice for me: “mild.” I like to think she had my own best interests at heart.

Even the mildest Prince’s bird makes everything on your face run: eyes, nose, sweaty forehead. (Some patrons come prepared with terrycloth towels.) After a few bites, through my mouth’s prickly throbbing, I tasted a vinegary tang and a hint of earthy sweetness. The crust was just thick enough to crunch satisfyingly in my molars; the flesh was lusciously juicy, peeling easily away from the bones. A slice of white bread below the chicken soaked up orange grease.

Compared to Prince’s, Peaches hot chicken is practically health food. The perfectly crisp fried fowl is nearly greaseless, so that the underlying egg bread is missing its purpose in life. The cage-free birds, sourced from an upstate farm, stay virtuously moist after an overnight brining.

Brooklyn natives Craig Samuel and Ben Grossman, the pair behind the HotHouse, offer a three-tiered heat system: regular, hot and extra-hot. After an eye-watering tour of Nashville’s hot-chicken shacks, they emulated Prince’s and another favorite, Bolton’s, as they developed their own secret recipe. 

They’ve achieved their goal of a slow-building, multifaceted heat with a four-pepper blend. Samuel coyly admits that one “whose floral notes belie her underlying fury [is] considered the ‘big dog’ of hot peppers” (most likely habanero), while another originates in South Asia.

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Still, you’ll have to kick up the capsaicins to match the Prince’s heat level, with an order of Peaches hot approximating the Prince’s mild.

No matter where you try hot chicken, it’s best to touch the bird only with your non-dominant hand, since the spices will inflame any sensitive areas. Surely Thornton Prince learned that the hard way.

Prince’s Hot Chicken: 123 Ewing Dr., Nashville, Tennessee, (615) 226-9442.
Peaches HotHouse: 415 Tompkins Ave., Brooklyn, New York, (718) 483-9111.

Guest blogger Jennifer Paull is a Brooklyn-based travel, food, and fashion writer.

Photos by Lyndsey Matthews and Jennifer Paull

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