Nixon’s chicken refers to a specific style of fried chicken that became strongly associated with former US President Richard Nixon. The dish originated from Nixon’s frequent visits to a fast food restaurant called Sam & Harry’s in California during his political career. Nixon was said to be particularly fond of the fried chicken served at this establishment. Over time, the fried chicken recipe served at Sam & Harry’s became informally known as “Nixon’s chicken.”
While the origins of Nixon’s chicken can be traced back to this particular restaurant, the dish is now more broadly understood to refer to a general style of fried chicken featuring a crispy seasoned coating with spices like black pepper and garlic powder. So why is this style of fried chicken so closely linked to Nixon? Let’s take a closer look at the history and origins of Nixon’s chicken to understand this unique culinary connection.
The History of Nixon’s Chicken
Richard Nixon grew up in Whittier, California in the 1920s and 1930s. During these formative years, Nixon developed a strong affinity for Southern-style comfort foods, especially fried chicken. This fondness for crispy, juicy fried chicken stayed with Nixon as he entered politics and began his rise to the national stage.
In the late 1940s, a restaurant called Sam & Harry’s opened up near Nixon’s hometown. The restaurant specialized in fried chicken dishes, which immediately caught Nixon’s attention. Nixon became a frequent guest and would regularly order the fried chicken during visits to California throughout his political career.
The chefs at Sam & Harry’s tweaked and perfected their fried chicken recipe over the years to cater to Nixon’s preferences. They added ample black pepper and garlic powder to the breading to give it an extra zing. According to legend, Nixon would eat up to three whole chickens in a single sitting!
As Nixon’s political stardom grew, so did the reputation of Sam & Harry’s Nixon-approved fried chicken. The dish was mentioned in several national newspapers and magazines in the 1960s and 1970s as Nixon’s favorite food. Soon, “Nixon’s chicken” became shorthand for the fried chicken served at Sam & Harry’s.
Food writers drew attention to the generous seasoning and the ultra-crispy, craggy coating that shattering upon biting into the juicy chicken meat. These qualities became synonymous with Nixon’s chicken and differentiated it from other fried chicken recipes. By the time Nixon resigned from the presidency in 1974, the connection between him and this specialty fried chicken was cemented in the public imagination.
While you can no longer order Nixon’s chicken from the original Sam & Harry’s (the restaurant closed in the 1980s), the unique style lives on thanks to the many recipes and tributes it has inspired. The combination of spice, crunch, and juiciness makes Nixon’s chicken a cherished staple of Southern California comfort food history.
Key Characteristics of Nixon’s Chicken
So what sets Nixon’s chicken apart from other fried chicken recipes? Here are the key characteristics that define this dish:
Nixon’s chicken stands out first and foremost because of its signature breading. The coating provides a shatteringly crunchy texture and robust seasoning. The breading contains:
- Spices like black pepper, garlic powder, paprika, salt, and onion powder
- Buttermilk for a tangy flavor and moisture
- Eggs for binding and richness
The breading ingredients are seasoned generously, especially with black pepper and garlic powder. This gives the crust a pronounced kick. The buttermilk and eggs lend both flavor and improved adhesion of the crunchy coating.
Nixon’s chicken is always deep fried for maximum crunch factor. The chicken is submerged in hot oil (around 350°F) for 8-10 minutes until golden brown. Frying in small batches is key to prevent crowding and uneven cooking. The oil must reheat between batches to maintain ideal frying temperature.
Nixon’s chicken uses quality, fresh chicken parts. The most popular pieces are the wings, drums, thighs, and breasts. Using bone-in, skin-on parts is preferred for the best flavor and texture. The bones and skin protect the meat during frying. Chicken tenders can also be used for boneless Nixon’s chicken.
In addition to the zesty breading, Nixon’s chicken is known for producing succulent, well-seasoned meat. The spices permeate the meat during frying. Using high-quality chicken ensures a moist, tender interior infused with flavor. The juicy meat provides a nice contrast to the crunchy exterior.
Nixon’s chicken embodies the comfort and familiarity of homemade Southern cooking. It has a certain soulful, nostalgic quality. The use of simple ingredients, time-tested frying methods, and old-fashioned seasonings produce chicken with authentic home-cooked appeal.
How to Make Nixon’s Chicken
Here is a great recipe for recreating the essence of Nixon’s iconic fried chicken:
- 1 whole cut up chicken or 2-3 lbs chicken parts (breasts, wings, thighs, legs)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons black pepper
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 large eggs
- Peanut or vegetable oil for frying
- Rinse the chicken parts and pat them dry thoroughly with paper towels.
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, black pepper, garlic powder, salt, paprika, and onion powder until well blended. Set aside.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and eggs until combined.
- Dip each chicken piece into the buttermilk mixture until evenly coated. Let any excess drip off.
- Transfer the chicken parts to the seasoned flour. Turn and press to completely coat all sides.
- In a heavy skillet or Dutch oven, heat 2-3 inches of oil to 350°F.
- Working in batches, fry chicken for 8-10 minutes, flipping once, until deeply golden brown.
- Drain the fried chicken on a paper towel-lined plate before serving hot.
Be sure to allow the oil to reheat back to temperature between batches. Follow proper deep frying safety precautions. Serve Nixon’s chicken straight away while hot and crispy. Pair it with classic sides like coleslaw, biscuits, and mashed potatoes. Now you can enjoy a taste of presidential history with this irresistibly crunchy, peppery chicken.
Why Nixon Loved His Fried Chicken So Much
Nixon’s passion for fried chicken actually reveals a fascinating glimpse into his personality and psyche. Here are some of the reasons behind Nixon’s special hankering for his namesake chicken dish:
Comfort Food Appeal
For Nixon, fried chicken evoked feelings of comfort, nostalgia, and familiarity. Growing up during the Great Depression, Nixon had fond childhood memories of family meals featuring fried chicken. The dish represented happier times of stability and homemade family cooking. This comfort food effect endured into Nixon’s political career.
Connection to His Southern Roots
Although Nixon was born in California, his family roots reach back to the South. His paternal grandmother brought beloved Southern recipes like fried chicken from Mississippi when she settled in California in 1920s. So for Nixon, Southern specialties like fried chicken tied him back to this family heritage.
The high demands of being president did not curb Nixon’s appetite for fried chicken. In fact, Nixon may have craved it even more during difficult times as a source of stress relief and satisfaction. The rich flavors and textural appeal provided a sense of reward and reliability amid uncertainty.
Political Image Strategy
Nixon was said to be mindful of cultivating an “everyman” persona during his campaigns. His enthusiasm for humble comfort foods like fried chicken helped cast him as down-to-earth. Being publicly associated with a beloved staple like fried chicken boosted Nixon’s broad appeal to the American public.
At the end of the day, Nixon simply had a genuine taste for fried chicken! The spice, crunch, and juiciness perfectly aligned with his culinary preferences. Nixon returned time and again to Sam & Harry’s craving the flavors and experience of his favorite chicken dish.
So Nixon’s chicken obsession arose from a mix of nostalgia, heritage, stress management, political strategy, and sheer personal enjoyment. This reveals some of the deeper motivations behind his namesake fried chicken recipe.
The Enduring Legacy of Nixon’s Chicken
Although Nixon resigned in disgrace from the presidency in 1974, the legacy of Nixon’s chicken remains strong in American food culture. Here are some of the lasting impacts:
Celebrity Favorite Dish Status
As one of the most famous “presidential foods,” Nixon’s chicken holds an elevated status alongside dishes like Jefferson’s vanilla ice cream and Lincoln’s cornbread. The connection to Nixon brought national recognition to the dish.
California Cuisine History
Nixon’s chicken provides a fascinating story thread in the history of California cuisine. This fusion of Southern-style chicken with California sensibilities helped inspire gourmet fast food and California comfort food.
Pop Culture Reference Point
References to Nixon’s chicken have endured in everything from newspaper comics to movies and TV shows. The dish remains a pop culture emblem of Nixon’s identity and historical era.
Inspiration for Restaurants
The original Sam & Harry’s may be gone, but Nixon’s chicken menu items and decor themes still appear in restaurants from San Diego to Disney World. Nixon’s chicken continues influencing SoCal and Southern comfort food joints.
Unique Fried Chicken Variation
Chefs who aim to pay tribute to Nixon’s chicken legacy have helped codify the prep method and flavor profile. The dish spawned a distinct sub-style of peppery, garlicky, crunchy fried chicken.
So even though the original Sam & Harry’s is no more, the concept of “Nixon’s chicken” lives on in its status as a presidential favorite, California classic, pop culture icon, nostalgic restaurant theme, and distinctive fried chicken technique.
Nixon’s chicken is a unique fusion of Southern traditions and California cuisine tied intrinsically to Richard Nixon’s identity. The dish originated at a restaurant near Nixon’s hometown that catered to his specific taste for fried chicken. Nixon’s chicken features a signature peppery, garlicky breading, a crispy-juicy fried chicken technique, and a comforting flavor profile.
While enjoying blocks of fried chicken helped Nixon relieve stress and cultivate a down-to-earth image, he also simply loved the zesty flavor. The association with Nixon made his namesake chicken famous nationwide. Today, Nixon’s chicken remains a celebrated part of California food history with an enduring pop culture legacy. Chefs continue recreating the presidential flavors and crunch that Nixon craved to bring a taste of history to fried chicken lovers.