A few years ago, Nashville-style hot chicken was rated one of the most important trends in all of foodservice. From fast casual to fine dining, different variations of this spicy favorite were popping up on menus across the country. And a few years later, they’re still there.
So why do we love hot chicken?
For starters, there’s a large portion of the population that loves pretty much anything spicy. Hot sauce, spicy eggs, cocktails with a kick – people are crazy for foods that make their mouths burn, and there’s some science behind that, too.
When we eat hot foods, our taste buds experience the heat. Hot peppers contain capsaicin, which react with proteins located in our nerve cells. Those cells send messages to our brain that something is wrong, essentially that our mouths are burning, and our brains release endorphins as a natural way to relieve the pain.
Basically, foods like “Nashville Hot” give us a buzz.
The interesting thing is hot chicken has been around for decades. The current version of the dish likely originated at a place called Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville, a place that was recently awarded a James Beard Classic Award with quite the story as to how their recipe was invented.
According to legend, Thorton Prince is the father of Nashville’s hot chicken. He had a reputation for being a bit of a ladies’ man, which wasn’t too popular with his steady girlfriend. Though the exact reason is uncertain – a late night out the night before or just something more systematic – one day his girlfriend decided to take revenge.
She concocted a batch of his favorite meal – fried chicken. This time she added a “devilish” amount of peppers and spices. Instead of falling over in pain, though, Thorton loved it, and the legend was born.
Today, there are many people across Nashville and across the country who have jumped on the hot chicken train. While some just include it as an item on the menu, other operations are making Nashville hot fried chicken the crux of their business.