Nashville Hot Chicken Salad Recipe

This Nashville hot chicken salad is, as you might imagine, inspired by the similarly-named chicken dish. Nashville hot chicken, which originated back during the Great Depression, was once a regional specialty but in more recent years has gone nationwide to the point where there are now a number of hot chicken chain restaurants specializing in this dish. While whole pieces of hot chicken often come with a side of white bread and pickles, recipe developer Feta Topalu reenvisions the dish in the form of a green salad topped with boneless chunks of Nashville-spiced chicken and pickles.

The heat level of this salad as moderately spicy, something Topalu feels is in keeping with how the dish is traditionally served, if not the legend that it was originally created to punish a straying spouse with enough hot pepper to make a grown man cry. If you like your chicken really hot, feel free to amp up the cayenne and use a super-hot hot sauce. If you prefer it milder, though, you can reduce or even omit these ingredients.

Gather the ingredients for the Nashville hot chicken salad

Making the Nashville-style chicken tenders requires boneless, skinless chicken tenders, all-purpose flour, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, buttermilk, hot sauce, smoked paprika, chili powder, and brown sugar, along with some vegetable oil for frying. For the salad, you'll need nothing more than green lettuce, grape tomatoes, a red onion, a carrot, pickles, and ranch dressing.

Step 1: Season the flour

In a shallow dish, mix together the flour, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper.

Step 2: Combine the buttermilk and hot sauce

In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and hot sauce.

Step 3: Flour the chicken

Dip each chicken tender into the flour mixture, shaking off any excess.

Step 4: Dunk the chicken in buttermilk

Then, dip the tender into the buttermilk mixture.

Step 5: Flour the chicken again

Finally, dip the chicken back into the flour mixture, ensuring that it's evenly coated.

Step 6: Heat the oil

Heat the vegetable oil in a deep fryer or large pot over medium heat.

Step 7: Fry the chicken

Fry the coated chicken tenders in batches until golden brown and cooked through, about 5–7 minutes per batch. Make sure not to crowd the pot — this will allow for even cooking.

Step 8: Drain the chicken

Remove the chicken tenders from the oil and place them on a wire rack to drain the excess oil.

Step 9: Season some of the leftover oil

After frying, carefully remove ⅓ cup of the vegetable oil from the pot and place it into a small bowl. Whisk in 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, the smoked paprika, chili powder, and brown sugar until well combined and the sugar is dissolved.

Step 10: Coat the chicken in seasoned oil

Brush the hot oil over the chicken tenders and set aside.

Step 11: Build the salad

Arrange the green lettuce leaves on serving plates. Top the lettuce with cherry tomatoes, red onion, carrot, and diced pickles.

Step 12: Dress the salad

Drizzle ranch dressing over the salads.

Step 13: Top the salad with chicken

Divide the hot chicken tenders between the salads and serve immediately.

Can I make this chicken salad with cuts besides tenders?

Nashville hot chicken is usually made with bone-in parts — our own Nashville hot chicken recipe calls for wings, while breasts, drumsticks, and thighs can also be used. None of those pieces will work too well for this recipe, though, since the chicken used to top a salad needs to be boneless.

Topalu likes to use chicken tenders for ease of preparation, but if you prefer, you can use boneless, skinless chicken breasts. If you don't mind a little extra effort, you can tenderize the breasts with a meat mallet before cutting them into strips to make them more closely resemble tenders. If you prefer dark meat, you can also use this same, pound-and-slice technique on boneless, skinless thighs. Yet another option is to use a plant-based chicken substitute, then dip it in a buttermilk substitute made by stirring a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice into some type of non-dairy milk.

How can you customize this Nashville hot chicken salad?

Besides playing around with the heat level of the salad to suit your taste, there are a number of other alterations you could make to this dish without changing the essential character. For starters, you can change the salad base to romaine or iceberg in place of the leafier style that Topalu prefers.

As for the vegetables, you can omit or replace any of the ones used here with whatever vegetables you enjoy in a green salad — avocados, bell peppers, and cucumbers would all work well here. If you're not a pickle fan, go ahead and leave those out of the salad, or replace them with olives or pepperoncini. Nor must you stick with ranch as a salad dressing, either, as you could lighten things up with a vinaigrette or turn this recipe into a hybrid hot/Buffalo chicken salad with blue cheese.

Nashville Hot Chicken Salad Recipe
5 from 17 ratings
For a lower-carb approach to a classic Nashville hot chicken sandwich, try a vegetable-forward salad format with the same homemade buttermilk fried chicken.
Prep Time
20
minutes
Cook Time
10
minutes
Servings
4
servings
green salad with fried chicken
Total time: 30 minutes
Ingredients
  • 1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken tenders
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 2 + 1 teaspoons cayenne pepper, divided
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ¼ cup hot sauce
  • 3 cups vegetable oil, for frying
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 large head green lettuce leaves, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 16 ounces grape tomatoes, halved
  • ¼ red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot, cut into matchsticks
  • ½ cup diced pickles
  • ½ cup ranch dressing
Directions
  1. In a shallow dish, mix together the flour, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and hot sauce.
  3. Dip each chicken tender into the flour mixture, shaking off any excess.
  4. Then, dip the tender into the buttermilk mixture.
  5. Finally, dip the chicken back into the flour mixture, ensuring that it's evenly coated.
  6. Heat the vegetable oil in a deep fryer or large pot over medium heat.
  7. Fry the coated chicken tenders in batches until golden brown and cooked through, about 5–7 minutes per batch. Make sure not to crowd the pot — this will allow for even cooking.
  8. Remove the chicken tenders from the oil and place them on a wire rack to drain the excess oil.
  9. After frying, carefully remove ⅓ cup of the vegetable oil from the pot and place it into a small bowl. Whisk in 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, the smoked paprika, chili powder, and brown sugar until well combined and the sugar is dissolved.
  10. Brush the hot oil over the chicken tenders and set aside.
  11. Arrange the green lettuce leaves on serving plates. Top the lettuce with cherry tomatoes, red onion, carrot, and diced pickles.
  12. Drizzle ranch dressing over the salads.
  13. Divide the hot chicken tenders between the salads and serve immediately.
Nutrition
Calories per Serving 1,458
Total Fat 118.0 g
Saturated Fat 13.2 g
Trans Fat 0.6 g
Cholesterol 80.0 mg
Total Carbohydrates 70.0 g
Dietary Fiber 6.9 g
Total Sugars 14.9 g
Sodium 1,588.9 mg
Protein 33.5 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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