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Hot Chicken, Mild Sauce and Cultural Appropriation

National Hot Chicken Day, March 31

March 23rd, 2020 12:00 PM

Hot Chicken at Hattie B's, photo David Hammond

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By David Hammond

March 31 is National Hot Chicken Day.

Hot Chicken is a Nashville original; it's simply fried chicken with varying intensities of chili heat. The Hot Chicken sandwich was said to have originated at Prince's, opened in Nashville by Thornton Prince III in the 1930s. Thornton was allegedly a lady's man, and the story goes that after he came home late one night, his wife grabbed some hot sauce and decided to punish him with a snack of super-spicy chicken. Instead of gagging, Thornton loved it and later started a roadside restaurant selling what would become Nashville Hot Chicken.

 

At Hattie B's, perhaps the most popular Hot Chicken spot in the Music City, they serve the chicken six ways, each one hotter than the last. I tried all six versions, and by far the most foolish was the one with the most heat: it obliterated my taste buds in searing, tongue-numbing discomfort.

 

Although there are dozens of places in Nashville to get Hot Chicken, there doesn't seem to be a single place to get Hot Chicken in Oak Park. Of course, you can approximate the flavor of the Nashville dish by getting a chicken sandwich at, say, Popeye's, and drenching it in hot sauce, which would be a fair approximation. In Nashville, however, the hot chicken is marinated, and a paste of cayenne pepper is applied before and/or after frying.

Prince's is black-owned; Hattie B's, which opened after Prince's, is white-owned. Both Hot Chicken outlets opened years before the charge of "cultural appropriation" was leveled against those who offer the goods and services of cultures not their own. Another example of this is mild sauce. If you're not familiar with mild sauce, it is, as the name implies, not a hot sauce; rather, it's usually a blend of ketchup and barbecue and/or hot sauce with other secret ingredients. Mild sauces vary by location and are found mostly on Chicago's west and south sides at places like Harold's Fried Chicken or Austin's Uncle Remus restaurant (5611 W. Madison).

Earlier this month, an article was published in Block Club Chicago under the headline "Who Owns Mild Sauce? White Chef Bottles Great Black Invention." [https://blockclubchicago.org/2020/03/05/who-owns-mild-sauce-white-chef-bottles-chicagos-great-black-invention/]. Apparently, mild sauce is now being formulated and bottled by a guy who some accuse of cultural appropriation and gentrification, Columbusing and colonization. Comments about this mild sauce product on Facebook include observations like:

 "I'm not surprised at all…they been stealing shit for centuries."

 "Excuse me while I go die of laughter…They done colonized Mild Sauce"

 Charmaine Rickette is CEO of Uncle Remus and daughter of the restaurant's founder. Rickette is on record for asserting that her dad developed mild sauce after he noticed that people combined ketchup with hot sauce to put on their chicken, so her family started producing a sauce that was neither as sweet at ketchup nor as hot as hot sauce. It's wildly popular.

I like mild sauce. Try it on Uncle Remus' saucy fried chicken, which quite honestly I prefer to Hot Chicken.

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