Nashville has always, and will forever be, the country music capital of the world. Even though I had never been there before, I knew this was true as soon as I arrived on Interstate 40 from Memphis. Signs sprinkled with music notes welcomed me to the "Music Highway," and no matter how often I scrolled through the radio stations, the only music mixing with the air conditioning was country.
But I wasn't going to Nashville for the music. I was going to meet two former college roommates. We hadn't chosen Nashville for any specific reason other than it was the centrally located point for all three of us.
My plan was to search out all the hole-in-the-wall eating joints in town, and come back with glorious recipes and food ideas. The problem, though, is that we only had one sit-down meal the entire weekend. We were busy. We checked out the Red Bull Flugtag—Flugtag means "flying day" in German—which started in San Francisco in 2002 and is hosted in various cities throughout the world. In Nashville, people built large objects that were never meant to be flown and ran them off the end of a runway into the river. We watched this curiously unique declaration of humanity until thunder and lightning chased us back to our car.
We had time to sample the nightlife (and the after-hours nightlife) of Nashville. The Ultra Velvet Lounge, despite what its name might suggest, was not a strip joint. It was actually a very cool dance club that opened at 1 a.m. for the people that just didn't want to go home to face their Advil.
Before we hit Ultra Velvet, we gathered for our one sit-down meal. We went to Jackson's Bar and Bistro, where we found a nice patio with very little room. I had to move my chair out of the sun, and ended up with my elbows on the table of the couple next to us. I think the guy was trying to make a good impression; he didn't say a word to me.
Trying to be somewhat adventurous, I asked our waitress what the "Chicken Feather Caesar Salad" was. She said it was a Caesar salad with flash-fried chicken tenders in a spicy green-chili-pepper sauce. I ordered it. When it comes to spicy foods I am definitely a wimp, but being married to a Southerner has helped me somewhat. I'm used to bottles of hot sauce everywhere throughout the house, including (among other places) the breakfast bar, our dining room table and my husband's bedside table.
My salad arrived in a wooden bowl. The chicken "feathers" looked like pulled pork, but each bite was the perfect combination of crunch and heat. The lightly dressed lettuce was the cool that completed the experience. We finished our meal and took a picture to solidify the memory.
Wanting to recreate the memory, the day after I arrived home I found a recipe for chicken with green-chili-pepper sauce, which I adapted for my tastes. I went for a sweaty, post-workout shopping trip to Kroger for two items: limes and tomatillas. The limes were easy enough to find, but the tomatillas were a completely different story. I cursed at the jalapeños and green peppers for their un-tomatillas-ness. Just as I was about to admit defeat, I saw them. Green, small, tomato-looking, and sheathed in a brown papery husk. I dumped eight in a plastic bag and darted to the checkout line.
The key to tender and juicy chicken is baking it at a low temperature. Watch it closely so it doesn't overcook and harden. The sauce can be made ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator until needed.
4 medium chicken breasts
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon oregano
¼ cup olive oil
Juice of one lime
Rub chicken with spice mixture and place in hot, greased skillet. Cook on each side 2 minutes. Remove from skillet into baking dish; pour olive oil and lime juice over chicken. Place in 200 degree oven. Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until done. With two forks, shred into bite-size pieces. Toss with green chile sauce (below).
GREEN CHILE SAUCE
½ cup water
8 tomatillas, husks removed
½ medium white onion
2 jalapeno peppers
¼ cup fresh cilantro
3 cloves garlic
Juice of one lime
Salt to taste
Slice tomatillas in half, and place in small pot with water and sliced onion. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, or until tomatillas are tender. Add tomatilla mixture, jalapenos, cilantro, garlic, lime juice, and salt to blender. Blend until smooth. Strain sauce to remove seeds.