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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The week I learned about hot chicken

Posted by on 11.14.12 at 10:43 AM

Hot chicken, served right
  • Paul Lowry
  • Hot chicken, served right
I don't remember what I was doing, or reading. Just those words, "hot chicken," somewhere—somewhere on the page. On the Internet. (Am I writing like Peggy Noonan on Mitt Romney? That's just how I feel. About spice, about chicken.) "Hot chicken" is the kind of phrase that will force a wandering, preprandial mind to attention—so concise, so beguiling. So eight hours away, it turns out. Hot chicken is a Nashville specialty, lodged in the gastronomic lore of the place like goat barbecue is in Owensboro, Kentucky. Hot chicken, served most famously at a Nashville vendor called Prince's Hot Chicken Shack, is famously hot. Michael Stern declared it "h-o-t": the full disarticulated-letter treatment. Spice is applied to the bird before it's cooked (cf buffalo wings, which are sauced afterward). Then the hot chicken is presented on a slice of white bread. With a piece of pickle on top. So simple it's elemental: spice, starch, pickle. The American bird.

Far as I can tell, the nearest place to get hot chicken is Ann Arbor—Zingerman's—and only then on Tuesdays. Otherwise Nashville, where, like Hayden Panettiere, it's celebrated—and why shouldn't it be? Yo La Tengo have written songs about it. Lorrie Morgan likes it. In Nashville there is an annual Hot Chicken Festival. I haven't thought about anything but hot chicken all week long.

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