Nashville Hot Chicken Banh Mi

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What is Nashville Hot Chicken Banh Mi?

In a nutshell, Nashville hot chicken bánh mì is a spicy fried chicken sandwich with a Vietnamese twist. It starts with boneless chicken thighs soaked in buttermilk, double-dipped in flour, and pan fried. The chicken fat and oil mixture is then tossed in cayenne pepper, chili powder, paprika, dark brown sugar and garlic powder and brushed onto the fried chicken. It’s served in a crusty French baguette lined with cajun mayo and topped with fresh cucumber, cilantro, jalapenos and pickled carrots and daikon.

Where’d It Come From?

This sandwich combines the Vietnamese bánh mì with the southern Nashville hot chicken. Being born in Vietnam and raised in southern California where there is a strong Vietnamese community, I’ve eaten bánh mìs my entire life. It was only over recent years did I notice its popularization among more of the general public. Even so, it was difficult for me to find an authentic bánh mì during my years living in New York City. It was one of the main things that made me miss home.

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As for Nashville hot chicken, my first encounter of it was at Hattie B’s in downtown Nashville. It was so spicy, I literally cried through every bite. It hurt so good and was completely worth it. Since then, it too has grown in popularity – even more drastically than the banh mi. It took up a nice segment of the Netflix series Ugly Delicious and can even be found at your local KFC.

Origins of the Banh Mi

The origins of the bánh mì stemmed from French colonialism in Vietnam, which began in 1887 and lasted for a hundred years. During this time, the French brought many of their foods, language and customs to Vietnam. As you can guess, one of the foods they brought with them was the baguette. Over the years, the Vietnamese people began adapting the narrow loaf of bread into something fluffier and more receptive to Vietnamese stuffings – which resulted in something similar to the banh mi we know and love today.

Origins of Nashville Hot Chicken

The origin story of Nashville Hot Chicken is more of a legend than a historical account – making it that much more entertaining. It began with a man by the name of Thornton Prince. Apparently in the 1930s, Prince was quite popular with the ladies. For those reasons, he often stayed out late at night despite having a gal waiting for him at home. After yet another night out on the town for Prince, his lover decided to seek revenge. Knowing his favorite food was fried chicken, she prepared a pile of chicken and drenched it in a fiery concoction made from her homegrown cayenne peppers. Her plan was to make the dish essentially inedible but things went awry when she realized how much her unfaithful man loved the hot chicken.

Though Prince and his lady parted ways shortly thereafter, his love remained for the hot chicken. He ended up replicating the recipe and opened a shack to share the magical creation with others. The Prince family continues to cook up hot birds til this day at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville, TN.

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How Is It Made?

I had no idea how this Nashville hot chicken banh mi recipe would turn out but I was very pleasantly surprised. The creaminess of the cajun mayo and the sweetness of the pickled vegetables balanced out the spiciness of the chicken nicely. And since we used dark meat chicken thighs with the skin on instead of white meat, the texture and juiciness of the chicken resembled that of the traditional bone-in fried chicken.

Makes: 4 servings  | Passive prep time: 1 hour  | Active prep/cook time: 40 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 4 six-inch baguettes

  • 4 skin-on chicken thighs

  • 2 eggs

  • 1 cup buttermilk

  • 2 cups flour

  • 1 tbs hot sauce

  • 3 tbs cayenne pepper

  • 1 tbs dark brown sugar

  • ½ tsp chili powder

  • ½ tsp paprika

  • ½ tsp garlic powder

  • 1 carrot

  • ¼ lb daikon

  • Cilantro

  • 1 medium cucumber

  • Maggi or soy sauce

  • 4 tbs mayo

  • ¼ cup sugar

  • ¾ cup white vinegar

  • ½ cup warm water

  • Jalapenos (optional)

  • Frying oil

  • Salt and pepper

Recipe Instructions:

  1. Remove the bones from the chicken thighs and cut each thigh in half lengthwise into wide strips. Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate for 1 hour.

  2. Next make the pickled vegetables (called “do chua” in Vietnamese). Peel and cut the carrot and daikon into matchsticks and combine in a bowl with a sprinkle of salt and 1 tsp of sugar. Knead the vegetables until soft and there is a pool of liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Strain the vegetables. In a separate bowl, dissolve remaining sugar into water and vinegar and place vegetables into the brine. Let sit for 1 hour.

  3. While the chicken chills and vegetables brine, slice the cucumber into thin spears and slice the cucumber.

  4. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, hot sauce and buttermilk. In a separate bowl, combine flour and 2 tsp of salt.

  5. Cover a large pan with ½ inch of oil and heat on medium. Dip chicken into flour mixture, then buttermilk, and back into flour mixture – allowing the excess to pour off at each step. When oil is hot, fry the chicken for 6 minutes on each side. If you notice it browning too fast, lower the heat. Let chicken sit on rack to cool.

  6. Combine cayenne pepper, paprika, chili powder, dark brown sugar and garlic powder in a bowl. Take ¼ cup of the used oil from the frying pan and mix it into the spices. Take 1 tsp of the oil mix and add it to the mayo to create the cajun mayo. Then brush the remaining oil mix on both sides of the fried chicken.

  7. Strain the pickled vegetables and prep the banh mi. Cut the baguette like a sub (into the center but not all the way through). Spread the cajun mayo on one side of the inner banh mi and put a light drizzle of Maggi or soy sauce on the other inner side. Place a piece of fried chicken into the baguette and top with pickled vegetables, cucumber spears, sprigs of cilantro and jalapeno.

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