Southern Road Trip - Nashville, Tennessee

*Sorry for posting my bbq road trip out of order, but a dear friend of mine is heading down to Nashville soon, so I fast tracked this post!*

Nashville, home of country music is worthy of a stop on any BBQ road trip. While not as famous for its BBQ, the city does have some excellent culinary options, a lively downtown scene and excellent music (I confess, part of the reason for our stop here was because of my deep love of Nashville, TV series). Don't just take my word for it - several chefs from kitchens in Atlanta and New York had rave reviews and tips on where to eat. 

Here are my must eats in Nashville, TN

This is a Nashville institution, serving up fried chicken, pickles and a few sides since the 1960's. Prince's Hot Chicken is worth the wait, and wait you will, the Prince family stubbornly refuses to batch fry chicken and instead only starts frying your chicken once you order, to preserve the quality of their famous chicken. 

I considered myself a deeply devout Fried Chicken lover and this is definitely in the top 5 fried chicken. 

  • Go straight to the back of the restaurant, where the order counter is (everyone else lingering around is usually waiting for their number to be called) 
  • Bring cash! 
  • If you have 3 or more people, order multiple spice levels (mild, medium, hot and x hot)
  • Get the potato salad and cup of pickles, it will help cut the heat and are delicious
  • Order more chicken than you think you want, unless you are lucky enough to be in Nashville often, who knows when the next chance you'll get to have some Prince's

Prince's Hot Chicken is hands down the best meal I had in Nashville, it is the kind of meal that makes you dream of food in your sleep. In fact, it is the kind of meal, that makes me want to pack my bags, move to Nashville and work for the Prince Family and have regular access to that delicious chicken! 

This is a southern classic, famous for their biscuits. Loveless cafe is worth a detour, but be forewarned the droves of tourist can make the wait for a table well over 2 hours, so it is best to come with a book in tow. 

While the biscuits are good, I regretted not sampling more of the menu (Fried Chicken, Ham and red eye gravy). The best way to enjoy the Loveless cafe is to come with 4 or more people and try one of their Family Style breakfasts, which let you try a bit of everything. 

Jacks in on the main drag in downtown Nashville, it is an institution in this town and if you ask around, this is the one most people are apt to recommend. 

**Okay, so first of all, I'm a bit of a BBQ worshipper, having lived in Georgia for the better part of 1 year, I fell in love with BBQ. So fair to say, I'm more than a bit critical of BBQ joints**

So, Jack's is on this list because it is an institution and is you want to get an idea of the range and styles of BBQ in the south, this helps fill out the picture. Overall, the ribs were good - tender and juicy, but a bit light on the smokiness and not quite fall of the bone. I've had better and I've had much worse. To be fair, if they were selling these ribs anywhere else other than the South, people would pretty much lose their minds. The pulled pork was okay and definitely worth a try. I'd skip the brisket if you've ever been to Texas though, a bit dry and under seasoned.

Overall, I decided that Jacks made my list because of a number of things, the decor and atmosphere is bang on, location is great, the menu offers a sample of a bunch of different style of BBQ from St. Louis, to Texas and they have an amazing self serve BBQ sauce section that lets you try out almost every style of BBQ sauce. 

Other recommended places

When planning any trip, there are always more places than there is time or physical room in my stomach to eat. However, here are a list of places which I really did want to go to, but couldn't fit in. 

Catbird Seat - was one of the most recommended restaurants by chefs. What they are doing here is innovative and challenges the misconception that southern food is not refined. I absolutely wanted to dine here but due to demand, reservations were not available, even though I tried booking 30 days in advance. 

The Pancake Pantry - this is another Nashville favourite, famous for their sweet potato pancakes. This is popular with the tourist and locals alike so expect a long wait. 

Arnold's Country Kitchen - only open from Monday to Friday from 6 am - 2 pm and the lines are long. Was definitely on the list but we didn't get into Nashville early enough on Friday to make it there. But this was a huge regret of mine, I love a good meat and three! 

Moroccan Chicken anyone?

I've had this recipe in my repertoire for years, it has evolved over time but is one of those tried and tested recipes that whenever I am lacking inspiration or time I go to. This recipe can be turned into a quick dinner, if you use chicken breast, 40 minutes, seriously) or lazy dinner in a slow cooker. 

Moroccan Chicken (*adapted from epicurious); 4 servings

  • 1 Lemon or preserved lemon
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, halved, thinly sliced (ciseler)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced finely
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric 
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups low-salt chicken broth
  • 4 pieces of chicken, thighs and legs or breasts
  • 1/2 cup green olives
  • salt and pepper

1. In a mortar and pestle or food processor, combine garlic, spices and 1 tbsp of olive oil, add 1 teaspoon of both salt and freshly ground pepper. Combine until it forms a paste. Slather on chicken making sure the chicken is evenly seasoned. Marinate for as long as possible, ideally overnight but at least 20 minutes.

2.  Heat a dutch oven or a large frying pan with olive oil, sear the chicken well on both sides   and then set aside. 

3. In the same pan over medium heat, saute the onions until slightly softened, but not fully cooked. Add the chicken back to the pan and add the chicken broth until the chicken is halfway covered. Add the green olives and lemon and then simmer on low-medium heat until chicken is fully cooked (this will be faster for the chicken breast, about 20 minutes and longer for the legs about 30 minutes). 

4. When chicken is fully cooked, remove and discard lemon, strain the sauce and reduce in a saucepan, until doubled. Serve the chicken with couscous and some sauce drizzled over! 

Now, if you have a bit more time, I would suggest you try making this same recipe but braising the meat for longer, if you do that, you get this great Moroccan Pulled Chicken - with the exact same ingredients, but you have to use chicken legs, otherwise it won't work. Do steps 1 - 3, but ignore step 4 above. 

4. Simmer the chicken on low heat, cover with a lid or aluminum foil to lock in the moisture. After 30 minutes, remove the lemon (if you leave it in the whole time it makes the stew a bit bitter). Check and make sure there is enough liquid, you want it to come up about halfway. Keep braising the chicken until you can pull the meat away with a fork. This should take about 1 hr in a pan/dutch over or 2 1/2 hrs if you use a slow cooker. 

5. Remove the chicken with tong and place in a large bowl. Strain the sauce and reduce until doubled. Meanwhile, using your finger roughly pull the meat off the bone. You want large chunks because when you add it back to the sauce and heat it up it will continue to shred. Discard the bones and skin. 

6. Add the shredded meat and olives back to the sauce. Heat through and serve with couscous or in some pita bread! 

Couscous Recipe

Basic Couscous Recipe
1 cup couscous 
1 1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
Salt and pepper 

 Optional Add-in
1/4 cup crushed pistachios
1/4 cup of pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup of diced cucumber
1/4 cup of dried unsweetened cranberries
1/4 cup sultanas (Note - soak in earl grey tea for a few minutes, it helps to rehydrate them and wash off some of the excess sugar)

1. In a kettle or pot, bring water to a boil. 
2. In a medium mixing bowl, add dry couscous, olive oil and salt and pepper. 
3. Pour boiling hot water over couscous and cover with cling film/plastic wrap. Let stand for 2 minutes and then fluff with a fork. Add in any of the optional add-ins and then serve. 

Hell has not frozen over....but

Anyone who knows me or has spent more than 5 minutes in my presence KNOWS that I am a devout carnivore. Like Homer Simpson, I rever the Pig as a magical creature who has given us many gifts, not least of which is Bacon, Canadian Bacon and Ribs. But I don't just love the meat trifecta of poultry, beef and pork, I love all forms of food. While I am no Anthony Bourdain, I do relish trying new and adventurous dishes, from roasted guinea pig to deep fried cockroaches.

However, recently we had a lecture by Chef Tim discussing food safety and sustainable food and my carefree life as an ignorant consumer came to an end. It occurred to me for the first time that as a chef, it is part of my responsibility to know where my food is coming from, how it is feed and handled from the farm until it comes into my hands. As a normal consumer, I was perfectly content to ignore the farm to table movement and relished my 0.99/lb chicken specials. Alas, as a chef, knowing if your beef is fed grass or grain will affect the taste, texture and cooking method that you apply, so you really do need to know.

At FCI, all of the teachers are extremely passionate and Chef Tim, was certainly no exception. Perhaps it was his heartfelt belief in the subject matter or matter of fact lecture style, but somehow he managed to do what I thought was impossible, compel me to join the sustainable food movement. I think it was his discussion on Salmenella and Chicken that I found particularly disturbing. To paraphrase Chef Tim:

"Salmonella is a naturally occurring bacteria which in small quantities may not make you ill. But due to extremely unsanitary conditions at industrial farms, and the large doses of antibiotics and steroids given to the animals, the levels of salmonella in the United States Chicken supply have skyrocketed. In the early 1990's only 20% of the United States chicken had toxic levels of salmonella. A study in 2000, found 91% of chickens tested in the Unites States had levels of salmonella, which could make you sick if not cooked and handled correctly."

I don't know about you but that terrified me. I couldn't eat chicken for days. For perhaps the first time I understood that our insatiable demand for meat, no....that my insatiable appetite for meat and willingness to ignore how food was farmed and handled has contributed to current state of industrial raised meat. Now I am not saying that I will stop any of my friends while walking on the street and tell them that I am becoming vegan, but I do think that I owe it to myself, to learn more about how the food I love is handled.

Well it is dinner time, so I am off to practice my habillage ("dressing" or preparing poultry) skills on an organic grain fed chicken and make a roasted chicken dinner.

Bon Appétit