Each year, one of my favorite assignments (Editor's note: Wait — you take assignments, Ken?) is to take readers on a vicarious taste tour of all the new eats and treats coming to the Carnival Midway at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Don’t worry, I won’t miss a bite. But let’s do something a little different this time. Instead of giving a few highlights and brief descriptions of all the new food items, how about a deep dive into the one product that has me sticking a napkin into my collar and waiting outside the gate for opening night February 28.
It’s the Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich that will be sold at Biggy’s stand on Circle Drive (restaurant row), across from the Mutton Bustin’ pen at the Carnival.
You can’t miss Biggy’s — just follow your nose until you see mastodon-sized turkey legs and burgers so large you have to assume there’s a bottom bun.
“One day last year at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, I went for lunch at a restaurant in Rice Village. I ordered a Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich. It was pretty good, but I thought we could make a better sandwich here at Biggy’s stand,” Dominic Palmieri — the “Midway Gourmet” who’s in charge of eight food stands for Ray Cammack Shows at the Carnival — tells me.
Hot off the presses
“Many considerations went into our decision to bring a Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich to the rodeo in 2023. First, we had to consider our guests. We know that Texans prefer beef and pork items. Would a chicken item be popular enough for us to introduce it? In Houston, chicken is the other ‘other white meat.’ So right off, we had to decide was a Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich worth the risk?”
Palmieri and his staff of mad scientists tested several variations of a Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich back at Ray Cammack Shows headquarters near Phoenix, Arizona. When his taste-testers – kids, teenagers, office ladies, parents, managers, human resources people, rollercoaster assemblers – all agreed that one sandwich was best, Palmieri set off to find vendors who could deliver enough product to meet the expected demand in Houston.
Nashville goes Biggy
Biggy’s take on a Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich starts with a hefty 6-ounce, skinless, white meat breast filet. For point of reference, that’s about 35 percent bigger than the piece of chicken found on Chick-fil-A sandwich.
“The name of the stand is Biggy’s – so we had to make our sandwich big,” Palmieri says.
Next assignment: the Nashville Hot Sauce.
“We melt sweet cream butter and add garlic, cayenne, salt, and pepper and we cook that down. That’s the base for our sauce. It has buttery, spicy, garlicy components that seep into the nooks and crannies of the double-thick fried chicken,” says Palmieri.
The slabs of chicken are marinated in buttermilk and dragged though flour. The chicken is cooked for nine minutes in 350-degree, clear vegetable oil. The chicken is pulled from the fryer with tongs and immediately dunked in Biggy’s proprietary Nashville hot sauce.
“By dipping the fried chicken in the sauce while it’s still sizzling and super crunchy from the fryer, the sauce is absorbed into the breading of the chicken. We don’t just put sauce on top of the chicken, the sauce covers the top and bottom and all around the chicken,” Palmieri notes.
About that slaw
The chicken breast, sopping with Nashville hot sauce, goes on a toasted brioche bun supplied by several local bakeries. Cole slaw and extra-thick dill pickle slices top off Biggy’s Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich.
“Our homemade cole slaw is slightly sweet and slightly vinegary. It’s sort of like a Carolina-style cole slaw. The coolness of the cole slaw balances out the spicy of the chicken filet. If the cole slaw is too sweet, it would overpower the chicken. If it’s too acidic, it makes the chicken too spicy. So it took us some time to get the cole slaw just right. The last thing we want Is a sandwich so spicy that you can’t catch your breath.
“I’m confident that we have the perfect Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich. When you take that first bite, you’ll notice the flavors, the buttery rich sauce and crispy chicken. When you take that second bite, you’ll sense the spicy flavor. And when you take the third bite, the heat is exactly where you want it. By this time, the sauce is dripping down your chin and you’re loving it. We innovate and push the limits of flavors and textures. We don’t want to sell you a food item, we want you to have an amazing eating experience,” Palmieri said.
The Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich will be available at Biggy’s stand for $15.