This is a Nashville delicacy. I’m proud to say that you can’t find it outside my hometown, at least not true versions of it, unless you make it at home. For years, I’ve been talkin’ about doing it and now I finally have. I was so happy with my version that I went straight to Prince’s in Nashville on my next trip home to see how mine stacked up with one of the most famous chicken shacks in town. I gotta say, mine can hold its own. If you like hot food and fried chicken, you’ll love this dish.
1 quart water
1/4 cup habanero hot sauce or another really hot, hot sauce
1/4 cup Kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
8 boneless chicken thighs with skin
1/4 cup canola oil, plus more for frying
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups all-purpose flour
1. To brine the chicken: In a large bowl, whisk the water, hot sauce, salt, and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Submerge the chicken in the liquid and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 6 hours.
2. To prepare the fried chicken: Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the cayenne, paprika, garlic powder, sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a small bowl and reserve.
3. In a large resealable plastic bag or paper bag, combine the flour with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Add the chicken in batches and shake well until all the pieces are evenly coated.
4. Add enough oil to a cast-iron or other heavy skillet to come 1/2 inch up the sides. Heat the oil over medium heat until it reaches 365°F. The oil’s ready when a little flour dropped in bubbles and sizzles steadily.
5. Remove the chicken from the flour, shaking off excess. Carefully place the chicken in the oil, skin side down. Repeat, adding just a few more pieces to the pan. You don’t want to crowd the pan. Keep adjusting the heat to keep a steady sizzle and to maintain 365°F. Cook until browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes, then carefully turn each piece over. Cook until browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes, then continue cooking and turning to evenly brown until cooked through, about 10 minutes total.
6. Crumple up some paper towels and drain the chicken on them. Repeat with the remaining chicken, replenishing and reheating the oil between batches. Transfer to a serving dish and drizzle with the reserved spice oil. Serve hot.
The cut of chicken here isn’t commonly sold in markets, but it works best for this dish. Keeping the chicken boneless helps it cook through before the skin starts to burn, but it stays juicy because it’s thigh meat. Your best bet is to buy bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, then carefully cut the bones out — you can use them for chicken stock.