Every town has its own crazy food, if you look for it. Nashville has the usual array of Southern specialties, but there are also a few "only here" items, chief among them being Hot Chicken. It is not just spicy fried chicken. Keep reading.
If you grew up here, you have surely had Hot Chicken in the wee hours of the morning. Most of the establishments which serve it (including Prince's, the originator) stay open all night. It is a food that seems most compelling when one's judgment is impaired by alcohol or other substances. I've had it in my head to veganize this, and last night was my first try. I'm quite pleased with the results. With a little fine-tuning, I may enter a vegan version in next summer's Music City Hot Chicken Festival. You can still set yourself on fire with no animal cruelty and no cholesterol!
Non-Nashville people, in order to understand Hot Chicken, you need to watch this film. Sorry for all the meat in it, but it's a very well done film and will teach you what you need to know. Once you have educated yourself about the subject in general, here's how to make your own vegan version at home:
First you need vegan meat. I made Joanna's Chicken-Style Seitan Cutlets, which worked well. You want your vegan meat and your breading to be very plain. You will be adding enough flavor in due course. (There is at least one place in town that marinates the meat in hot pepper sauce before frying, but that is insane overkill.) Joanna's cutlets are quite thin when made as directed, which results in a high breading-to-gluten ratio. If you are going to make your Hot Gluten really really hotttt, you may want a more substantial cutlet to help balance it. You could make a thicker version of Joanna's recipe, or go with something like the DEOTS chicken-style seitan, or the Chickpea Cutlets from Veganomicon, or even steamed tempeh.
Once you have your vegan meat, dredge it in self-rising flour. (If you don't have self-rising, you can add 1 1/2 t baking powder and 1/2 t salt to a cup of all purpose flour.) Don't go adding seasoning to the flour - plain, plain, plain. Heat up some oil in a cast iron Dutch oven and fry away. You will see mine above. When done, put the fried gluten on a brown paper sack to drain.
Here comes the hot part. You need a hot pepper paste, which you can make in advance. I tried two versions. First, I veganized this year's winning recipe, by simply subbing vegan shortening for the lard. Then, on impulse, I made a second paste out of 3 T Indian chili powder (which is mostly ground red peppers), 1 T + 1 t coconut oil, 1/2 t salt, and 1/2 t unrefined sugar. The second paste did not taste Indian or coconutty at all. It still delivered the same knockout blow as the cayenne paste, but with a little more grace. See photo above.
Put on gloves. While the fried gluten is still hot, gently rub on the desired amount of paste. Fingertip action works well. You don't want to break the breading. Try to be very even - no remaining globs of paste (as such a glob would kill you if you suddenly met it in your mouth). Use much less than you think you need to. Traditionally, you want the whole thing to be dark red, and this happens pretty quickly, even with a very light application. Warning: Even "Mild" hot chik'n is "Hot" by any other standard.
Place your Hot Gluten on a couple of pieces of bread. We used french bread as that is what we had, but that is an outrageous heresy. Spongy nutrition-free white bread of the Wonder Bread / Bunny Bread sort is traditional. After applying hot paste to the first side of the gluten, you can flip it onto the bread to work on the second side, so that some of the hot red greasiness of the first side runs into the bread. Finally, throw a few slices of cucumber pickle on top. Some people go for a spicy pickle, but that's c.r.a.z.y. Regular pickles will be fine. There is a contingent that believes in mayo, so feel free to apply a little Vegenaise if you see fit. I didn't get a photo of our assembled Hot Gluten - it was (appropriately) late and it went fast!
Enjoy carefully, and with respect. As Ms Andre says in the film, "It's a cleansing, and we need it."