I came as close as I have gotten to duplicating the Gus's Fried Chicken recipe. Here follows the latest, updated recipe:
#1 2020 (Your Baseline Recipe Before You Start Modifying It For Your Personal Tastes)
24 hour marinade of the following slurry of water, cornstarch and spices. This long period in the fridge tenderizes the chicken breast(s). . Begin the day before you plan to fry the chicken.
(Increase these quantities, depending on how much chicken you plan to make)
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast cut into three pieces (or, your standard bone-in chicken pieces like Gus’s does. I went with boneless chicken breasts for this recipe because they are a challenge and I thought this would be a good recipe starting point)
¼ cup (4 tablespoons) all purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 cup water (Note: The recipe used to be for buttermilk, but I got to thinking that water might add to the crunch. Feel free to try either buttermilk or water and then decide.) (Note: 1 ½ cups is too much. On my first go, I actually ended up with 1 ¼ cup water and poured off a little water in the morning that had gathered on top of the marinade and that is how I came up with the 1 cup measurement).
Marinade for 24 hours In the refrigerator, keeping everything refrigerated to protect against bacterial growth. Remove the chicken from the marinade/batter and if everything goes well, the batter/slurry will cling to the pieces. You may need to agitate the batter/slurry to assure that it coats the chicken pieces.
Fry at 325-350 F. Use a neutral vegetable or corn oil. I’ve become a big fan of sunflower oil as it has a high smoke point, but, yeah, vegetable, corn, peanut oils are fine if that is what you have. I do not recommend canola oil as it smells like frying fish and adds an unpleasant fish taste to fried foods.
Note, when the exterior crust looks perfect, the interior may still be uncooked. Especially if you are doing a variation with other chicken pieces or really large chicken breasts. It is the curse of these huge chickens that they sell now. If you decided to go with a whole chicken, do your best to buy a 2.5-3 lb chicken as this will allow the interior to cook
If it isn't spicy enough, "salt" with Tony Chachere creole seasoning. Next time you make it, increase the amount of cayenne, and/or, add chopped whole serrano chiles or habanero chiles to the marinade.
The long marinade has the effect of making the chicken very moist; even the chicken breasts. Though, as we all know from Kenji Lopez-Alt's articles for Serious Eats, "brining" or long marinades will change the texture of the chicken meat, making it more homogeneous (what Mike Logan, a friend of mine, calls "hammy" in reference to the texture of smoked hams).
I still finish the chicken in the oven to assure that it is cooked throughout.
Temptation may be to make a thicker batter. But I think that for the crispiest crust, a thinner batter is the way to go. Just enough so that it clings.
I used to remove my chicken pieces from the marinade batter with tongs. But I found that this scraped away some of the batter. Now, I just spear the pieces with a fork and drop them into the hot oil.
You can test the quality of your batter by pouring some into the hot oil and frying it up crisp. Taste it and adjust seasonings. If it is too spongy tasting instead of crisp tasting, it may have been too thick and will need to be thinned slightly.
If you've ever had really good Korean fried chicken, that is similar to the Gus's recipe.
A local Korean chicken place (Toreore) uses this brand of extra crispy batter mix for theirs. You may wish to find it online and buy some to try: Shirakiku brand Extra Crispy Tempura Batter Mix.
Here follow my previous notes, comments and riffs as I continued to work on a Gus's Fried Chicken recipe over the past several years.
But First: Comments from First Hand Experiences From Readers" of this Blogpost:
A. "I have few "first person" notes on your recipe...
The chicken is delivered custom prebrined and drained from the processor smelling strongly of dill pickle juice (the neon green hamburger slice variety). The chicken is then rotated into large tubs, ice mixed in, and then into the walk-in cooler. The next day, that chicken is then put into a "batter tumbler" (drained but ice left in) with buttermilk and a bag of "Sophie's Mix" which is as far as I can tell, cornstarch, AP Flour, kosher salt, black and white pepper, garlic and onion powder, and lots and lots of cayenne pepper, probably some paprika for added red color. The chicken tumbles until completely coated and batter viscosity adjusted with small amounts of ice water (taking account for liquid that will purge from chicken and melted ice but also some loss from evaporation. Back into tubs into walkin for another 24hr period. The next day that chicken is then ready to fry. It's tossed with a touch more cayenne and so that all chicken is coated with batter and then fried in peanut oil at 375°F. To my memory this is the best I have for you from working at the Austin Gus' for about a year or so. The photos you posted look strikingly similar to their chicken but most people don't know about the pickle brine since it doesn't happen in house. I just always got a strong odor every morning when the chicken truck deliveries were being taken in. Hope that helps."
B. "There's no real magic trick to their recipe. They use a batter made mostly of buttermilk, cornstarch, and assorted spices. Mainly cayenne, hot sauce, black pepper, paprika, garlic, and salt. Might be a bit of onion mixed in there. The shake mix is mostly the same stuff. They fry it in peanut oil and add the shake to it a couple times mid fry. It is definitely fried in peanut oil, no other oil will produce the same result.
But on the whole, it's a fairly straightforward process. Just a matter of paying attention to what you're doing when deep frying. Given the daily throughput, I'm assuming that they do not pre-marinade the chicken, just are careful about the batter and shake during the frying process. You could get similar or better results from soaking the chicken in a thinner version of the batter in the fridge for 24 hours, because that would soften the meat up and ensure better heat transfer.
But the main thing is to ensure consistency of the batter on the surface during the fry, checking it multiple times and adding shake for flavor, in order to keep it hot enough for long enough to ensure it's fully cooked instead of still cold inside. Basically double or triple fry with additional batter and shake each time you check it. With thin enough batter, additional batter won't over thicken it.
You also need to cook each type of piece separately. Breasts are going to take longer and somewhat more attention than drums or wings, for example. Wouldn't be surprised if they have different pre-set times and/or sections for each type of piece. - Otto M (Reddit)
C. "I went to the original Gus’s many times and I knew Gus and Terrence (Gus’s oldest son).
They most definitely cooked in peanut oil and there’s likely cayenne in it (Terrance’s chicken was hotter than Gus’s) but the mixture was strange. And they most definitely did not pre-soak the chicken - it was mixed up in a tub with the “batter.” Right before cooking.
The “batter” (if you could call it that) looked like the pink slime in the underground river from ghostbusters 2 - that’s the best way I can describe it. It dripped off the chicken with the consistency of syrup but had a pink hue.
People would try all sorts of things to try to get the recipe including calling saying they were the hospital and someone was having an allergic reaction
Gus was a no frills man and would kick you out for cussing or putting your feet on the bench across from you (which was easy to do because the booths were so small in the shack). He was an old ww2 army vet. He used to call the recipe “the grave recipe” because he was taking it to his grave and not even his sons had it.
He finally started getting older and have his two sons the recipe but Gus refused to sell it. He once told me church’s had offered him 500,000 and he turned it down because he had heard the Coronel (KFC) had gotten more and that his chicken was way better than the Colonel’s recipe.
Gus finally passed and after some time his sons franchised - the first one being downtown. They still mixed the “batter” in mason and sold it to the one downtown.
Funny thing, the one downtown was terrible when it opened. But there was a fire at the original in Mason (one of several) and while it was being repaired and brought up to code, the sons came down to the original and told the couple that ran the franchise all the things they were doing wrong (they since divorced, the wife kept the one downtown and the husband opened the one on mendenhall - the second franchised location).
Since then a company formed here in Memphis finally bought the recipe from Gus’s sons and it now sits in a vault like the original coke recipe. That company handles all franchising and sales of the “batter.”
Gus was one of a kind - I don’t think I ever saw him smile. If he wasn’t cooking he’d sit in his spot (usually the booth closest to the kitchen), in a perfectly ironed white or blue shirt sleeve shirt, hand on his cane. His hair was white and he still wore it in a same short 1950s style.
He had zero tolerance for anyone not abiding by the rules of his tiny restaurant. That was his domain. They sold 40s of 2 or three domestics and the only sides were beans, dirty rice, and white bread.
The service took forever and a day. Each son and Gus had their own chicken when they were cooking and that was their profit for the day on sales during their cooking shift.
Remember the place was very small and wide open - the “kitchen” was just a couple of fryers right behind the cash register.
After Gus passed they’d shut the restaurant down when Judge Judy was on - if you were in there you were good but the screen door would be locked and there would often be a line forming outside while everyone - wait staff (all family) and cooks alike watched.
Another fun fact - the second gus’s wasn’t the one downtown. For a short time one of Gus’s sons ran one in Jackson, TN. This was way before the franchise agreements.
Lots of memories from that place. IMHO the original will always be the best and the one downtown is as close to the original as you can get. All others are good but not great (I’ve been to a couple that should be shut down due to quality." -Benefit of Mr. Kite (also Reddit)
(Special Note to My Readers: Also, be sure to check out my other Gus's Fried Chicken postings as these have additional information on spices for this recipe) (Update August 2017: Be sure to see my more recent posts on the recipe and photos from my August 2017 visit)
Today, I came as close as I have gotten to figuring out the Gus's Fried Chicken recipe.
I started this blog back in March of 2013.
It is not
the Saveur Magazine recipe and it is not
the Nora Jones recipe (the two most common recipes that show up when one does a search on the Internet).
The secret is that it is a slurry. You may want to think of it as a batter, but I think slurry is almost a better description since the cornstarch doesn't really fully blend in with the buttermilk (you need to keep stirring as it does separate out if left sitting). You have to mix corn starch and buttermilk to the right consistency, and then add just the right amount of paprika, cayenne, garlic powder, salt, etc. followed by just enough Louisiana hot sauce to make it work. Too much hot sauce will affect the crispness. It needs to be a slightly thicker batter ( I would describe it as crepe batter consistency, or, a slightly thinner pancake batter). (Although: I also want to try a straight hot sauce and cornstarch experiment, an icewater and cornstarch experiment, and also a whole milk and cornstarch experiment in the future).
I switched to Canola oil for a while ("Canadian oil low acid"), ignoring my personal opinion that Canola oil gives food a fishy smell and taste. But I am back to recommending Crisco oil or peanut oil as my personal preferences. I just don't like Canola oil.
So, here is what needs to come together for this to work.
The important thing is:
Buttermilk - 1 1/4 cups buttermilk to....
Cornstarch - 1 cup corn starch to make the basic slurry
(experiment with reducing the amount of buttermilk to corn starch to make a thicker slurry)
(note: I've tried a water and corn starch slurry but wasn't pleased with the results. I haven't tried a water and egg with corn starch slurry though…the egg would add viscosity)
Update August 2017: It appears that a critical component is a 24 hour soaking in the slurry.
And then you will want to season to taste (I have specifically not given guidelines here as I want you to do your own homework; use your best judgement. Everyone's taste buds are different)
Paprika (this will help darken the chicken, giving it some color; I will usually do 1/4 tsp)
Cayenne (this will add heat; I will usually do a 1/2 tsp)
Black pepper (this will add heat; I will usually do a 1/2 tsp)
White pepper (this will add heat; I will usually do a 1/2 tsp)
Garlic powder (personally I just use a pinch because, for me, garlic powder adds an aftertaste to the chicken; but that is just a personal bias)
Salt (go easy on the salt; you can always add salt at the table)
Louisiana hot sauce (start off with 8 dashes per above buttermilk/cornstarch slurry)
MSG (most commercial chicken has some MSG in it; start off with 1/4 tsp and adjust to your preference with the next batch that you make)