May 1, 2017

Gus's Fried Chicken Recipe - 2017

(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)


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) and it turns out it is also important to leave the skin on the chicken to help the crispness. (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)

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)







113 comments:

  1. your right about the sluury but theres one thing missing , a little flour!

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    1. My theory, after testing with different ratios of all purpose flour and corn starch is that the original recipe probably did not have any all purpose flour. Also, some sources indicate that the batter is "gluten free", hence no flour. Having said that, I believe that a little flour wouldn't hurt if you want to experiment with that option. The current challenge for me is getting the spicing right. The question that needs to be answered is "Why was the Gus's fried chicken slurry bath that I observed so red? What does the red come from? Paprika? Chili powder? Cayenne pepper? Louisiana hot sauce? Food coloring?

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    2. I overheard our waiter reassure an old woman by telling her that "it just has a little cayenne to give it some spice."

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    3. The secret is to use RICE flour.

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  2. Viscosity. But now I am starting to ruminate about viscosity. If you look at the ingredients on a typical "cultured buttermilk" label, you will see that it is a witches brew of thickening agents such as carageenan and guar gum. I'm starting to wonder if one really needs buttermilk? Could one make a viscous solution with water and some of these thickeners? Would that result in some a similar end product sans buttermilk?

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  3. I'm always somewhat suspect about commercially-derived fried chicken recipes that use cost-added ingredients like buttermilk. True, the original "commercial" source was just one place in Mason, Tenn., but my guess is that the slurry is spot on, although not with buttermilk. I've made your recipe and it is absolutely the closest I've encountered to Gus. I've tried it with water and it is still great. I've substituted cheap finely ground black pepper for Louisiana hot sauce, because the hot sauce has vinegar, which is redundant with buttermilk, and hot sauce is another added expense that I am going to guess is not present in many recipes. I saw the chicken being breaded/floured at Prince Hot Chicken in Nashville, and there was a big container of Tone's cayenne pepper on the counter-cheaper.
    I also admit that it's been a few years since I've has Gus's so I may be completely off base, but another trail I've been on for years is the recipe for Harold's Chicken Shack, and I think Harold and Gus may share a common parent. They both have a cracking/crackling crust that is not like any other.

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    1. Wow, Otis. What a great (and thoughtful) comment. It is so cool to hear about your own experimentation. Like you, I was constantly ruminating on "What would someone in Mason, Tennessee, have available to them, circa 1960's?" Thanks! And if you come up with some ideas, please let me know. (They are franchising out a Gus's to Austin, Texas and that's only about 2 1/2 hours from Houston so I will be able to drive up there and try the chicken again real soon. After my experiments, I will have a better handle for reverse engineering it when I get to taste it again.

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  4. Update - January 2014. I returned to the kitchen and this recipe. I increased the amount of chile powder and did a buttermilk and cornstarch slurry. The result was a very crispy chicken but it still does not have the "heat". I can taste the spice but it just isn't hot enough. Hence, wanting to play around with a hotter chile source than cayenne. Additionally, I wanted to try the water/cornstarch slurry option that was suggested by one of my readers. After doing the basic buttermilk/cornstarch recipe I switched and made up a new batter. The water/cornstarch slurry was much thinner as it didn't have the buttermilk's viscosity to contribute. It was a thinner, smoother batter. It didn't hold its crispness as well and got soft fairly quickly. Again, as noted above, even with extra cayenne, it isn't spicy enough yet. I am thinking I need some chopped chiles as I really don't want to just keep adding Louisiana hot sauce unless someone confirms to me that this will make a difference.

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    1. do you think that White pepper could be a play in the recipe? I eat at Gus's once a month and I see them fry the chicken, but it's a wet batter....

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    2. try adding a little habanero powder along with the cayenne

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  5. Jay, thanks for the update...Do you think white pepper could be a key play in the spice also? I lived about 1 hours from the front street Gus's restaurant. I normal eat at Gus's once a month......I have watch them fried the chicken and it is a wet batter and it red..i can see the spices in the crust of the chicken but not inside the chicken....

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    1. I really do think that white pepper plays into it. You've observed the same thing that had me scratching my head, namely, "why is the batter so red?". Some of my first experiments had to do with just pure Louisiana hot sauce. Then, Lousiana hot sauce and paprika. I have come close but I can't get that same color of red that I remember. I also remember that when the chicken came out it was really dark at Gus's and my first thought was that they had burned it. But it was delicious. So that is one of the things that pointed me toward paprika as a colorant along with the hot sauce. Because, if you just deep fry with a corn starch batter, it is going to look kind of sickly. It never really gets super brown. Now, there is another trick I've picked up over the years to add "heat". As you know there are hot chiles that are very fleshy like jalapeño and serrano. Then there are the arbor or Japanese or Thai chiles that have a thin skin. I've thrown a bunch of that type into a little water in a saucepan and simmered it down into a very hot chile elixir that I can add to dishes for pure heat and no flavor. Another thing that I've thought about, similar to how we do crawfish, is to dust the finished fried chicken with an extra hot New Mexico style chile powder just out of the fryer and just before serving.

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    2. "arbol" not "arbor". Darn spell check!

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    3. Jay, there is a place in Baton Rouge Louisiana that is called the chicken shack, I visited there last year, and they have the same taste as Gus's chicken, expect the crust on the chicken cook greases, but the flavor is about the same. You can tell the batter is wet. It look like it hold the grease...but the secret to the taste is very hard to get. If you ever in that area you should look them up,..but the chicken do taste the same...I was surprised to taste it and it taste like Gus's chicken....

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    4. I did a quick search and found this recipe which has a nice dose of cayenne. Not sure if it is the same "Chicken Shack" but the recipe looks decent:http://www.tastebook.com/recipes/2129076-Chicken-Shack-Fried-Chicken

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  6. I added the extra cayenne pepper but it didn't have the heat at ALL.....something is really missing from this recipe....it's almost taste like it didn't have any red pepper..I added 2 tablespoon of cayenne pepper and cooked 3 chicken legs and not hot at all....I wonder should I have added the chilie.? and recommendations?

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  7. It's frustrating isn't it? I am completely happy with the crust but the heat aspect has been elusive. I've been dusting the finished, fried chicken with cayenne or Tony Chachere's to get the heat up. I may get back to some experiments in a couple of months, trying such things as blends of black pepper, white pepper and cayenne. Or trying to simmer really hot chiles in a little buttermilk to create a hot chile enfused wet bath. I'm taking a break from fried chicken for a while as I am working on pizza recipes for my new 14" x 16" x 3/8" piece of fabricated steel that I had a friend make in his shop after reading an article at Modernist Cuisine. Theirs sells for $90. Mine cost $5. I am using the Peter Reinhart pizza recipe from Fine Cooking magazine.

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    1. Ok....sounds very interesting with your pizza project. Well, I will keep trying the fried chicken at least for 2 more months until I get close. But if I get the heat up, I will be sure to post for you to see. Good luck on your pizza project.

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    2. Chili paste?

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  8. My co-workers, upon hearing of my retirement asked me to make them one last batch of fried chicken. I reverted back to a simple soak in buttermilk and then a coating of flour that was seasoned with a little salt and a heap of black pepper (someone had told me that Gus's uses a lot of black pepper). I didn't make a slurry with cornstarch and buttermilk this time. But one thing that I did do….I had a bottle of Tabasco style hot sauce in the fridge but this one was from the Yucatan, was green from being an habanero based sauce. I generously doused the buttermilk before adding the chicken which I allowed to marinate for at least one hour. These were boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I can tell you that I could taste the hot sauce. It was spicy enough in the fried chicken but not insanely spicy. Hence, my thought that chopping and soaking fresh chiles, habaneros or ghost peppers in the buttermilk, will add some desired heat to the final chicken. The chicken was deep fried in peanut oil, and then when the crust was a golden color, I transferred them to a rack on a pan and finished the cooking in the oven at 300F until the centers were done, in order to keep a golden color. Unlike cornstarch, when you use flour, some of it will settle to the bottom and keep browning so it is always a good idea to have a second pot that you can strain the oil into and then pour it back after a few batches.

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  9. Have you tried marinating the chicken overnight in buttermilk with seasoning in it. Spearing the chicken to allow infiltration of the spices. Pepper, cayanne, hot sauce, some garlic and onion powder? Then make your slurry out of the buttermilk.

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    1. Thanks. That really does help.

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  10. Just a guess, but I'd say red color = ketchup

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  11. Jay, I think you're right on the money with the cornstarch. When I ate at Gus' in 2012, I noticed a certain pearly translucence in the batter that I've seen in orange chicken/General Tso chicken as found in Americanized Chinese restaurants. Usually some manner of cornstarch contributes to that translucence when deep fried. Although I didn't see that translucence throughout the crust, which is what made me suspect that Gus' used some combination of cornstarch and flour. Still, this is a fascinating read and I will stay subscribed to the updates on this thread.

    In related news, ate the chicken from Willie Mae's Scotch House in NOLA a month or so ago, and it was similar but lacked some of the crunch and heat...I think I prefer Gus'. Still Willie Mae's has very good fried chicken and is worth checking out.

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    1. great comments...I had the opportunity to eat at Willie Mae's and the chicken was good but the crust was greases. there was no spicy taste. Willie Mae's do use a wet batter when frying her chicken just the ingredients is a secret. I prefer the Gus's chicken too. I lived 1 hours from the gus's on front street in Memphis. I also think sometimes they don't marinate the chicken long enough because you can buy it one day and it so hot your nose will sweat and then other days it not hot as all... I wonder what spicy to Popeye chicken use...it's spicy...

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    2. You are so right about the marinate, I have purchased chicken on day is it is very hot that it make your nose sweat and then on other days, it not hot or spicy. I live 1 hour away from the one on front street. I also have tried Willie Mae's and it was greasey.

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  12. Here's another experiment that we should all try. I haven't done it myself but plan to. I want to take maybe a half cup of buttermilk and process it in the blender with two jalapeño chiles. And then let the chicken pieces soak in it. Maybe some black pepper too. With the intention of increasing the spicy heat level of the chicken before soaking in the buttermilk and cornstarch slurry. If anyone tries this please let me know the results.

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    1. Siracha* sp sauce

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  13. AnonymousMay 31, 2014

    When we ate at Gus's I asked one of the cooks about the batter. She said that there is no flour in their batter.

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    1. Thanks so much for contributing this confirmation. I had also heard that there wasn't any flour, hence, my path toward corn starch with good success. Now, when we were recently in Austin, I could taste a slightly different quality to the crust and they let me know there that there was some wheat flour in their version. Also, someone had commented earlier that there was a little wheat flour in the original. I still proceed with the assumption that it is a corn starch and buttermilk slurry. I will be reporting soon on my results from the jalapeño buttermilk bath mentioned above.

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    2. Use rice flour--that's the key to it.

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  14. For any of you readers who have posted here as yourselves or even as "anonymous". If you are ever in Houston, would love to invite you over for some fried chicken. Regards, Jay.

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  15. AnonymousJune 03, 2014

    I made fried chicken yesterday using my Magafesa pressure fryer. It was delicious as expected. I used a considerable amount of ground black Tellicherry pepper in the batter. I also used some crushed red pepper in the brine, then used the brine liquid in the batter along with some poultry seasoning and salt. I've heard that "The Colonel" used Tellicherry pepper in his famous recipe.

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    1. I have heard that the original recipe had a whole lot of black pepper in it.

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  16. AnonymousJune 09, 2014

    Just moved to little rock and eat at Gus often and I too notice the batter being red and wet but I just can not crack the code #frustrated!!!!

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  17. AnonymousJune 10, 2014

    The redness comes from the paprika they add to the batter. They also marinate the chicken in a hot sauce mixture which is the reason for the additional heat which is not found in the batter.

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    1. Thank you! I suspected as much. Today, I experimented with processing several serrano chiles with a little buttermilk and then marinating the chicken for 24 hours before dipping the pieces in the corn starch slurry. It really didn't add that much heat. I started realizing the the typical vinegar Louisiana style hot sauce is critical to the flavor.

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  18. Jay,

    I think it may be the TYPE of paprika you're using. Maybe a HUNGARIAN paprika may do the trick.

    All Hungarian paprikas have some degree of rich, sweet red pepper flavor, but they range in pungency and heat.

    The eight grades of Hungarian paprika are:

    különleges ("special quality"; mild and most vibrant red),
    csípősmentes csemege (delicate and mild),
    csemege paprika (similar to the previous but more pungent),
    csípős csemege (even more pungent),
    édesnemes ("noble sweet"; slightly pungent and bright red),
    félédes (semi-sweet with medium pungency),
    rózsa (mildly pungent and pale red), and
    erős (hottest and light brown to orange).

    In the US, what is marketed as Hungarian sweet paprika is usually the édesnemes variety.

    Try one of these Hungarian paprikas to see if it will give you the RED color AND the HEAT you've been searching for. Let us know and GOOD LUCK! :)

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    1. Jackie, that is fantastic information! Thank you for sharing. I learned a few years back to always for for the sealed vacuum packed paprika from Hungary instead of the wretched grocery store types. But I had no idea that there was such a wonderful diversity. A friend of mine is going to Leipzig with plans to go east, too and I am sending him this list for shopping. - Jay

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    2. Jackie, your information on paprika is going to make it into the book that Robb is working on. I am currently recipe testing a bunch of chili con carne recipes for him. Your information was really helpful. Thanks.

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  19. The only way I've found to add heat to fried chicken is to steep the cooking oil with pepper flakes or similar pepper. The heat from the pepper is infused in the cooking oil prior to frying. When you fry chicken, the long time in the oil sucks all the heat out of the pepper (fish fries fast so heat is retained). Capsaicin (the heat) is oil soluble and get diluted and dissolves in the oil. So if you load up the oil with heat it balances out. I have used 1/2 cup of pepper flakes in 1 gallon of oil, simmering and then straining out the flakes. I got a feeling they used the same oil over and over until the seasoning balance out in the oil, in other words the oil got hotter and hotter until it matched the heat in the batter. And the cooking oil is probably largely chicken fat over time. In the old day people reused stuff over and over. I know duck fat makes the best french fries in the world. My two cents, anyway.

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    1. One other thing I should have added above is, the oil turns a dark red from the pepper flakes.

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    2. So pleased that my fried chicken blog has become a way for us to talk about Gus's and how they do it! Thanks again.

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  20. Wow, so I guess I'm not the only nut that has been trying to figure out this chicken! The cooks do not know what is in the batter. Only the immediate family knows how to make it and they bring it premade to the sites. I have been working on this for 5 years and I have figured out how to duplicate the batter. I have not been able to figure out how to keep the heat in the batter after frying though, or what they use for that slightly creole flavor. I always thought getting the chicken to be hot would be the easy part. Not the case, the hot oil always kills the heat.

    Here is what my batter looks like
    http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v636/rrrr/2014-02-16_18-34-32_603.jpg
    http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v636/rrrr/2014-02-20_19-42-20_614.jpg
    http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v636/rrrr/2014-02-20_19-46-38_222.jpg

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    1. Here's one of the batter before frying

      http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v636/rrrr/20141105_164826.jpg

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    2. Underdog, I looked at your pictures and it look just like the chicken at Gus's, those black specks like black pepper. Hot did it taste.?

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  21. Jay, I'm glad you started this blog, I have been off for a while busy with work, but still interest in the receipt....

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  22. Can't log into my Google acct sorry about being annon. My name christina, my thought was what about chili paste or the siracha sauce spelling sorry a soak for 24 hrs then after a wet dip let it set up in the fridge quick reset .fry n hold for a few minutes at 300degrees? Never had the chicken I'm a massachusetts girl who gas a love food food science and a dream to own a mobile catering business...you know a food truck with culinary sexyness attached to the product :) I'm a Canadian to :)

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    1. Hi Christina! Thanks for your comments!

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  23. * REwet in the slurry then fry after it set up on a rack in the fridge* has a love* (auto correct I apologize)

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  24. not sure if my post worked, but i will try again: i wanted to suggest a variation on your recipe above. replace a percentage of buttermilk with vodka as this will evaporate faster and therefore lead to a crispier product. also double fry for added crispiness. lastly, it might help to put baking powder on the skin of the chicken overnight in the fridge before dipping and frying?

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  25. Have you ever experienced any issues with the evaporating alcohol flaming up? Or with curdling of the buttermilk from the alcohol? Instead of double frying, I like to finish it in the oven to maintain crispness, if not serving immediately. When baking powder is added to flour,the baking powder creates very tiny air bubbles on the surface of the battered chicken when it is placed in hot oil. The bubbles expand the surface area of the batter, breaking up its thickness, which results in a lighter, crispier fried chicken. But I think that helps with wheat flours but not corn starch slurries that much since there isn't much if any gluten to develop. Traditionally, vodka added to flour keeps the gluten from developing as much. So it is advantageous if you are making a pie crust. I am not sure what effect it will have on corn starch. Would like to know your recipe.

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  26. I am also experimenting but have narrowed down. Marinating the chicken day before ... coat chicken in cayenne pepper hot sauce buttermilk take directly out of marinade season with cayenne black and white pepper crushed red pepper and coat in slurry slurry is seasoned in above and salt add Dashs of oregano I fry in peanut oil I do get red coloring it's great. If u go to Nashville you have to eat hot Hattie b's it's life changing fried chicken

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  27. I wrote a bug long feedback post, but lost it when it asked me to log in. Will try writing in a slightly shorter version.

    I have never had Gus' chicken but have always wanted to.I see all the discussion on spice level and I know that Gus' chicken is supposed to be spicy to almost hot on occasion.

    I make cajun wings, that creates a sauce with a similar profile to what is described here. (Black pepper, cayenne, paprika, garlic salt and hot sauce) It has half a pound of melted butter, 4 TABLE spoons of Black Pepper, 3 of Cayenne and 2 of Garlic salt and red pepper flakes. It also uses a lemon to provide acid, which I suspect is present in Gus' as well somehow. Despite all that spice the butter and acid make the wings spicy to hot similar to how Gus' is described.

    Looking at your recipe, you are not really adding any spice at all. I suspect the reason the batter is red is because there is a TON of spice in it, probably several table spoons of cayenne, paprika and some hot sauce. All that corn starch is going to really cut down the concentration of spice. I suspect that like the wings I make, black pepper > paprika=cayenne > garlic and salt. (salt>>garlic). I would think something along the lines of 2, 1, 1, 1 might be a good starting point and go up from there. My guess it is much higher. Salt is probably much higher than you think as well since it is a 50s recipe and there is likely some acid from hot sauce. Salt in the batter will be much more balanced than doing it at the table. Salt brings out the other spices. When they say "well seasoned" on Top Chef, they mean so salty that it is right on the edge of being too salty. Black pepper and salt are still likely the main flavorings of Gus' chicken

    Just my thoughts, but I do think that the red colored batter is because there is dramatically more spice in the chicken than you think. What does that slurry cover? 6 to 8 pieces? would not surprise me if each piece of Gus had a teaspoon or more of salt and pepper and half that or more of cayenne and paprika which also puts it in the multiple tablespoons of each range,

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing this terrific information with us. I really enjoyed reading it!

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    2. Thank you so much for the information, very helpful. I have been trying for the last year to break the code on gus's chicken..LOL I live in Jonesboro Arkansas and visit Memphis on the weekend and always stop in to pick up a 3 piece. Just great chicken. I saw on a website they are taking the business to other states. I live in Chicago now and found out one it coming here in the summer downtown, They have a chicken place here called Harold's but its not like Gus's. I can't wait, but I will try the recipe and see what come of it. Again thanks for sharing....

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  28. i grew up within 5 miles of mason tenn and i can assure you the folks there did not have access to some of the ingrediants mentioned when they came up with this recipe. i think maybe some are over thinking this process. if someone truly breaks this recipes down we will find out they are basic common products mixed very well. just my 2 cents.

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  29. This blog is great, thanks to everyone for their input! Gus's is the bomb. I have tried fried chicken all over the country and nothing comes close. After some experiments, I'm guessing the spice, which is zesty but not too hot, is a result of overnight marinating in seasoned buttermilk (Cajun hot sauce, paprika, salt, black pepper, garlic powder), then a dry dredge of flour (or corn starch if all the gluten/flour free reports are true) seasoned with cayenne, black pepper, salt, paprika and possibly garlic powder. Then the chicken goes into the seasoned wet batter for the final layer of flavor, and probably cooked at a lower temperature than you might think (325?) for longer to fully cook the chicken and get that super-crispy crust that retains all of the juice. Still working on it but when I get it right I'm opening my own chain of restaurants! Haha

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    1. Exactly. Rice flour? I just can't see it. Corn starch? Absolutely. Even spices are super expensive so I can't see super expensive paprika being used.

      This is talent and love that made this chicken. I endeavor to come even slightly close to this amazing dish.

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  31. Did anyone think of the Goya seasoning that has red color? If use use a lot of it, the food turns orange/red depending on the amount used.

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  32. There are 2 things that I've found. In the Youtube video below, a cook describes the chicken preparation process. It is definitely marinaded for 1 - 1 1/2 days.

    https://youtu.be/kFLNsFFsA4k?t=1m50s

    2) On the Gus's website, under the franchise tab, they say "We begin by using quality chicken which is treated to our special preparation techniques before being marinated in our proprietary batter."

    This, with the information in the video, tells me the chicken could be seasoned and possible "prepared" first, then put into either a seasoned slurry or even a more generic slurry for marinating.

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  33. I just moved to Vegas from living in Little Rock Arkansas for 8 years. Having had both the original and Gus's in Little Rock...it's killing me to not be close to either. I appreciate this blog, I'm a caterer and foodie...I've decided to try a variation of these receipes for my family prior to Thanksgiving...my greatest guess will come from my tasting the chicken and comparing the flavor profiles...I'll keep you all posted!

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  34. Jay, have you tried marinating the chicken in a dried red chili-infused oil for about 48 hours, and then frying in more of that oil? While they wouldn't have had dried Thai red chili peppers back when the original recipe was made, that's a relatively powerful pepper that is cheap at Asian markets these days. Also, I bet they had equivalent chili peppers back then (the diversity of produce from farms back then was *much* greater than today).

    Put into a food processor or a Vitamix/Blendtec blender, and turn it into very small particles (include the seeds and turn them into small particles). Spread it in a pan, pour copious oil over it, then simmer (but do not burn) for 15-30 minutes to bring out the flavor into the oil; do this outside if you can, because it really lingers in enclosed spaces. Anything you marinate in it or cook in it can pick up its punch. If you store the oil after simmering it, it will pick up even more of a kick. If this works, then I imagine in the original recipe they would have ground up the chili peppers in a mortar and pestle or equivalent.

    Dried Thai red chili peppers are 23 times hotter than jalapenos, but 3 times less hot than habaneros. But in their dried form they are commonly easier to find than dried habaneros, but drying your own is pretty straightforward so if Thai peppers don't impart enough heat then you can try again with dried habanero-infused oil.

    The only other technique I can think of to dial up the heat throughout the chicken is tenderizing the chicken so the marinade infuses throughout the meat.

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  35. I just ate at the one in Chicago last night and was blown away. I remarked at how juicy it was and I wondered if they put it in a brine for a day or so. I then started reading your blog about it and now I'm wondering if they add chile peppers of some kind to the brine. That way the chicken would absorb the heat that way. Or maybe hot sauce to the brine.

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    1. I think you could be right on point with your statement. Make sense. it's simple for a recipe that was created back in the 60's

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  36. I ate at the one in Chicago Sunday and I watch as they brought out more chicken to fry. the container had dry flour on it. It's is a marinade. I watch the guy turn the chicken over and over In the container. It's was very light color red. I think the chicken is marinade in buttermilk with hot pepper in the buttermilk with some flour and maybe corn starch. I think the chicken is marinade for over 24 hours.

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  37. I believe that the post by the person who lived near Madison, Tennessee is spot on. Again, buttermilk is expensive and does nothing for flavor of fried chicken. And I am sure that despite the company's description, the chicken is not "marinaded." Wet marinades make any kind of flesh soft and flaccid, and chicken skin will not crisp if it is marinaded. That said, the chicken at Gus is probably pre-seasoned for a while with salt and spices, and then perhaps dusted with flour before being immersed in the kind of cornstarch slurry that Jay identified.

    For any fried chicken recipe, think about what considerations a chicken shack owner would have in terms of cost vs. yield. Spices. Cornstarch. Maybe flour. Oil. Chicken. These are all common and relatively inexpensive ingredients. It's never about esoteric stuff, but IMHO it is all about what the originator invented and how that is followed.

    If any of y'all are music fans and if you've ever heard Jeff Beck, it's all in his fingers and not in his equipment. He takes basically the same Fender Stratocaster anyone can buy and makes magic with it. Same deal with the chicken-less is more.

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  38. ...and just one more thought. The couple of times I had Gus chicken in Memphis, the heat was almost certainly NOT from chile or cayenne-type hot pepper at all. I remember thinking at the time how the amount of heat in finely ground black pepper is so often overlooked. It was like Szechuan peppercorn without the numbness.

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    1. The comments that Otis Reverb has made are spot on. There is a great article at the Serious Eats Food Lab site by Kenji where he tries to duplicate the Chik Fil A sandwich and uses it as an opportunity to show how the texture of a chicken breast changes when it is brined or marinated. When "non buttermilk" soaks were first proposed to me I tried them out but eventually decided that even if Gus's isn't using buttermilk, for the home experimenter, buttermilk's viscosity really does help with the crunch. Whole milk causes crusts to brown really quickly cause of the higher sugar content so even though most central Texas fried chicken picnics default to a milk/water soak, I don't , preferring buttermilk to allow the chicken to cook more before the batter goes too dark. Also. adding really hot chillies to the buttermilk before the soak really helped with the heat.

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  39. Variation. February 2016. For 2 1/2 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, place the chicken in a container with a cover and add 1/4 cup buttermilk, two finely diced jalapeño chiles, about 50-75 grams, and 1/4 tsp of Tony Chachere or equivalent Cajun seasoning. Cover, shake and allow to sit for two or more hours. If frying within a few hours, you can leave it out at room temperature. Otherwise, refrigerate the chicken. Make the slurry as per above.

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  40. Update February 2016. I did a batch first with no paprika in the final slurry. The chicken crust was crunchy but was very light in color. I added paprika. Paprika definitely causes the chicken crust to brown. But. I also discovered that paprika, being dried and ground chile peppers also works a little like a sponge, resulting in a slightly less crunchy crust. Longer frying time, resulting in a reddish brown crust, in order to get some of the crunch back. Soaking the chicken first in the buttermilk and chillies as noted above added the desired heat to the chicken as hoped for.

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    Replies
    1. Jay, I tried the recipe you posted. I used a green jalapeno pepper fresh from the grocery store. I didn't get heat as expected. I wonder did I used the wrong pepper.? Please advise

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  41. Jay, I'm going to try what you previous posted. I will advise. Sounds very close and interesting.

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  42. Jay, I'm a little confused on which pepper to use. Should I soak the chicken in buttermilk with ground chile peppers and let fry longer time? with paprika,. Please advise

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  43. Jay, I tried your recipe and I didn't get the hot taste....

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  44. Hello, Someone told me Popeyes used white pepper for heat. Maybe a dry brine of Salt and white pepper, then air dried in fridge for crispiness per cooks illustrated. A quick bath in the buttermilk, paprika, cornstarch salt, pepper and more white pepper may do the trick. Oh and followed with a coat of cornstarch as someone saw the chicken in a tray with a dry ingredient.

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    1. AnonymousJune 09, 2016

      This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

      Delete
  45. I recently was able to try gus's for the first time a few weeks ago while in Memphis for a Batchelor party, and it might be the best thing Iv ever eaten! I have been wanting to attempt it myself and I will be using everything iv read from this blog. My one question is where does that hint of sweetness come from? Unless I am crazy, it seemed like either a brown sugar, honey, or a mix of the two that added a slight sweetness to compliment the heat. Thanks in advance for your help!

    Trevor Mallard

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  46. AnonymousJuly 24, 2016

    One point that has not been mentioned yet if the fact that capsaicin is soluble by milk/buttermilk. Milk contains casein, a fat-loving substance has a detergent effect on the capsaicin, like soap has on oil. The buttermilk is probably keeping the heat from attaching to the chicken.

    My educated guess is a brine is definitely used, but not a dairy based brine. The juiciness and internal spice is definitely osmosis related.
    I surmise after a spicy brine, it is dried and dipped into the spiced cornstarch blend, then fried.

    Chef & Culinary Educator.

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    Replies
    1. That's what I was thinking also. Though with the buttermilk/cornstarch slurry I got a crust that was close to Gus's. We may never know for sure.

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  47. My name is Guy and didnt know how to signup or get on this blog list . Last sentence above If you meant slurry than yes.
    Im going to try cooking some chicken tomorrow, regular and boneless.
    I will lightly salt and lean more on the white pepper for the dry marinade. Probably mix some chili powder ,cayenne and paprika and marinate it dry.
    Was also thinking of adding the spices to a little cornstarch and sprinkling on the chicken. After dry marinade 3-24 hours will than put in slurry and fry.
    If you notice the food network video of Gus he is really lathering the chicken. It would be difficult in my opinion to dust at this stage than fry. If you did dust it , how do you do both sides, would be very messy.
    In the video when Guses frying it looked like it was a higher temp, but ive also heard there are benefits to longer lower cooking temperature.
    My fryer is small, so 325 will quickly drop.

    Questions, i believe the chicken should be out of the fridge a bit, maybe close to room temperature. What are your thoughts?
    On the slurry batter ive read for example with a tempura batter the key to crispness is very cold batter.?

    Should this slurry batter be cold ?

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    Replies
    1. I think you are right. Room temperature sounds right to me, too. And you are right about tempura batters typically being very cold. My mom used to make hers with ice water.

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  48. I used a cast iron skillet and chicken fingers were great. With bone in chicken the tempurature dropped too quick. The chicken got too dark and the bottom of the skillet left a few burnt marks. Fried chicken wasnt a success, but the fingers were
    I used buttermilk and cornstarch even amounts. I did a drymspice and cornstart marinade for 5 hours.
    I used a mix of these ratios 1 salt 1/2 pepper 1/4 paprika 1/4 cayenne. I put 5tb in a 6 cup buttermilk. Plus I added some cayenne and hotsauce to the batter

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  49. I really appreciate everyone's comments and experiences. We have been to Gus' twice but I need to be able to make this until I open the first Canadian Gus' location. �� I have one thing to note that could be useful to you foodie detectives. The boned pieces of chicken are much much hotter than the chicken strips version (which is still amazing, but milder). It could mean that when in the brine, the skin absorbs more of the heat than boneless flesh?

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  50. I have eaten at Gus's probably at least 75 times in 12 years. When I go I always look in the kitchen from standingg at the cashier. The chicken is in a black container and the chicken is a wet batter with no flour on the chicken. The batter is red. It don't look like a heavy batter, very light. I used to live 60 miles from the one in Memphis o n front street. I now live in Chicago and you can see them fry the chicken. I have been working on this receipe for a year now. I think it a brine with peppers crush up in water.

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    Replies
    1. I know that pepper in water would hold more of the capsacain heat as dairy can sometimes reduce the heat of chillies. That is why one sees recommendations to take yogurt if the dish is too spicy. Personally, yogurt never seemed to help me with the chilli heat.

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  51. Has anyone ever used crushed spicy pork rinds in the batter?

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  52. Hi Jay -

    Thanks for putting so much time and research into cracking the code of the best fried chicken in the world! I've been scrolling through the blog, got a little overwhelmed, and thought I would ask - any final conclusions on getting it right? Maybe an updated recipe? Thanks!

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  53. I wonder is there any more information or update on the final recipe for this chicken? I wonder would frying the chicken in mayonnaise with cayenne pepper and white pepper would be the source?

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    1. Of course there is. I even mention my later supplemental updates above.

      Mayonnaise is an interesting idea. But think for a second. What is mayonnaise? How is it made? That may give you some clue as to why or why not it might or might not be useful.

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    2. ok, I understand what you is saying about the Mayonnaise. Egg and oil....

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  54. what about a good tamale recipe
    bf

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    1. I am very proud of the recipe that Robb Walsh and I developed for The Tex-Mex Cookbook and recommend it to you. Most tamales recipes are for very large quantities and I wanted to do one that: was designed for just 2 dozen and also, one that uses Maseca para Tamales dry nixtamal as this is more readily available. Of course, here in Texas we have better access to fresh masa for tamales in the grocery stores. Also, please check out the many many videos on youtube for making tamales. They will get you started. Here follows, though, my notes for instructions on making tamales, that I am currently working on:

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    2. Basic Tamal Recipe – Savory – 2017
      Jay Francis

      This is a basic tamal recipe with easily accessible ingredients to get you started in learning the techniques. Once you are comfortable with making tamales, you will want to progress to using freshly made masa and lard. For now, though, we will be using Maseca brand masa for tamales and Armour brand lard.

      Your best store options in Houston will be the HEB Mi Tienda grocery stores or the Fiesta chain of grocery stores.

      Meat Filling for Tamales
      5 pounds of boneless pork shoulder (aka pork butt), halved if needed in order to fit into the slow cooker, rinsed before being placed in the slow cooker. (Approximately $13 at time of this writing)
      1 medium white onion, skinned and halved (7 ounces, 200 grams)
      1 tbs. garlic powder, and more to taste for broth later, if desired (Bolner’s Fiesta brand out of San Antonio is readily available and a good choice)
      1 tbs. salt
      3 rinsed, seeded and stemmed pasilla chiles (1 ounce, 30 grams approximately)
      8 cups of water
      Slow cooker set on high to cook the pork for 8 hours


      The recipe is built around a 5 lb. bone in pork shoulder (aka pork butt), which is the smallest that one can typically find in the grocery stores mentioned above. You may not use all of the meat and it can be reserved for making tacos, or a future batch of tamales.

      Here is your opportunity to dust off that slow cooker that you have on your shelf, as a slow cooker really takes the work out of making the pull apart tender meat filling and also the pork broth that will be used in the masa (alternatively, you can cook this in a covered pot on the stove until tender, or, in the oven). Plan to put all of the mentioned ingredients in your slow cooker just before bedtime, set on high heat; on a Friday night and it should be ready the next morning.

      The reason that we specify “bone in” is to pull the gelatin out of the bones, resulting in a richer broth.

      Time wise, we are talking about 8 hours. When done, allow the mixture to cool for easier handling and remove the meat from the broth. Pour the broth into a large measuring cup and refrigerate the broth. Then shred the meat, separating it from any fat left. When the meat is prepared, taste it and add salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste. Tex-Mex style tamales tend to be very garlicky so feel free to add as much garlic powder as you like at this point. This will be the meat filling for the tamales.

      Refrigerating the broth will allow the fat to rise and solidify making it easy to separate. Remove the layer of fat. In a blender place the three pasilla chiles and process until pureed very fine. Add the chile puree to the broth. Once these steps are done, taste the broth and add salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste. You may find that you like your tamales very spicy and a combination of both types of pepper will achieve your desired flavor. You may like a saltier or less salty tamal and here is where you can achieve your final adjustment before preparing the meat filling in the masa.

      When ready to prepare the tamales, warm the broth in a microwave. Stir. Check seasonings one last time and correct as needed for your personal taste.



      Masa for Tamales
      1 ½ tsp salt
      4 cups dried masa harina – Maseca for Tamales, or, Bob’s Red Mill Nixtamal
      1 tsp baking powder
      3 ½ cups warm broth from the simmered pork
      1 cup lard at room temperature – Armour brand hydrogenated lard recommended for your first time, then, consider fresh lard once you get a feel for the final consistency of the masa

      24 corn husks soaked for at least two hours in warm water, any corn threads removed. Don’t skimp on price here. Find ones that look really clean and don’t have a lot of visible corn threads.

      Substitution: xxx lbs. freshly made masa for tamales (available at HEB’s Mi Tienda grocery stores and some Fiesta grocery stores)
      Additional note: Mi Tienda also sells prepared tamale masa with lard already added

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    3. In a bowl, add the salt, masa harina and baking powder. Pour in ½ of the warm broth and begin combining, adding more broth until all is used. Let rest for 10 minutes to thoroughly hydrate. The dough will be fairly wet as the final tamale dough will be the consistency of a thick cake batter, not that of a masa ball for making tortillas. The wet dough will activate the baking powder at the same time.

      Transfer the masa to a heavy duty mixer such as a Kitchen Aid or equivalent with the whisk attachment and a set to a slow mixer speed setting of no more than 2 in order to protect the motor (same settings as if kneading bread dough). Begin adding the lard spoonful by spoonful. Beat the mixture for 10 minutes allowing air to incorporate. As noted above we are looking for the consistency of a thick cake batter. At this point in time, turn off your mixer.

      Taste the masa. If it needs more salt, add salt to taste. If this recipe is too bland, consider adding cayenne pepper and black pepper to the broth, to taste, for your next batch. But for the first time, stick with this recipe until you get a feel for how much heat you want.

      Next, spoon a ball of the masa into a glass of water. It should float. If it doesn’t, beat in additional lard until you can float a ball of the masa.

      You are now ready to begin the tamal making process.

      In a tamales pot, add water to the water line and heat to a boil. Alternatively, place a steamer in a regular pot filled with water just below the steamer level and bring to a boil. Alternatively, utilize the steamer pots sold in Chinese grocery stores for steaming dim sum.

      Spoon two tablespoons masa onto the soaked corn husk. Fill with 1 tbs. of the meat mixture. Lift the husk over the filling and butt the opposite edges of the masa. Roll the husk around the tamal and secure by folding the un-filled end or by tying the ends with a string made by stripping a small length of a corn husk.

      Delete
  55. ben cooking fried chicken 1/2 flour 1/2 cornstarch
    for years

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    1. Excellent. Even after all the experiments and later postings on this topic, corn starch truly seems to be the magic bullet for the Gus's Fried Chicken.

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  56. what make s the chicken so dark brown
    seems like old dirty oil to me
    more chicken to the oil

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    1. I agree, the chicken batter is very dark at Gus's. When it was first served to me, I was convinced that they had burned it. I suspect it is all that red hot sauce that they have in their recipe. Because, if you've ever been to a Chinese restaurant and noted how light the color of the corn starch fry batters are, you will react as I do to the darkness of the Gus's batter. But it tasted pretty good and didn't taste burned!

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  57. Cody Walker JrFebruary 04, 2017

    Well written. Thank you. Will try this recipe and update

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  58. So I finally had Gus Chicken at the new place in LA. It was very good, but probably not the relevatory experience I was hoping for. Here are some impressions from my tasting. First, I believe the chicken is very heavily brined. The spice flowed through the entire piece into the chicken. In terms of spice I think it is salt pepper paprika and cayenne mainly but there was something else. I am thinking maybe something like cloves maybe splash of vinegar, but there was something else there. I look forward to having it again at some point.

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  59. This is close. Try using cornflour instead of corn starch but ad a couple of tablespoons of corn starch to the mix. I increased all of the peppers and MSG to a full teaspoon. I increased the paprika to a teaspoon and used Hot Hungarian paprika. I eliminated the garlic powder and used I teaspoon of garlic salt. The egg does not work well. The chicken comes out to crunchy. I think I got it a little closer to Gus's in Nashville. I too live in Houston(since 1989) I fry different types of Fried Chicken from all over the USA and even the world. Chicken from El Salvador, Korea, Ohio, Nashville, Buffalo, Los Angles, New York, Georgia, New Mexico, Mississippi, I even try to make chicken like the Barbeque Inn- Harder than Gus's I can tell you.

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    1. Houston? We should get together and fry some chicken! You can reach me on Facebook if interested. I have four chicken breasts right now to try your recommendations. But I do have a question. By Corn Flour, do you mean Maseca? I ask because ( I speak Spanish ) one time I was chatting with the ladies doing the frying at Toreore before it closed and then reopened and sneakily asked them about their batter and they said "maseca, that is nixtamalized corn masa". So I tried it without success. There is even one of my posting where I show different types of flours that I tested out one Saturday. There is no egg in Gus's Fried Chicken. The gluten is definitely developed.

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  60. Hello Jay. Let me start by saying thank you for starting this blog. I have been working on breaking the "Gus's Code" since I first ate at one in Tennessee, many years ago. Fortune finally smiled on me about a year ago, and they opened one in Fort Worth. I was there the day they opened and a small group of us have frequented it at least twice a week since then. We loves us some chicken... lol. We always sit at the counter, as it's easier to find space. From that vantage point, several things are readily noticed. First, as mentioned before, the chicken is brought out in large plastic containers. The pieces are coated in a very thin batter/slurry that is a light to medium pink color. Yet, upon being cooked, is a dark reddish brown color. There appears to be an oddity in the way it is cooked, as well. Perhaps some of the cooks in this thread can shed some light. They move the pieces from one fryer to another. Thicker breast pieces always go through 3 different ones, and smaller pieces like wings only go through 2. They both end up in the same one. The person cooking is all about watching the clock. Every so often, he/she moves a batch from one fryer to the next. When the breasts are in the second fryer, a random piece is pulled and a temp is taken. Once the magic number is achieved, all the breasts are moved to the 3rd and last fryer. No other temp checks have been observed. We have only recently noticed this, so I don't have any exact numbers yet. We hope to have the times nailed down within the next couple of weeks. Another noticed thing came from a little experimentation. I ordered a breast, and before my first bite, I removed all the the breading. Digging down half way into the meat, I tasted the chicken. The heat is in the meat. After eating a piece of bread, I switched to the breading. Tons of flavor, but not much heat. Not sure what that proves, but I suspect that the brining with peppers idea is right. As was mentioned in a previous post, the heat isn't always the same. Some days are significantly spicier than others. I believe this gives more credence to the brining with pepper angle as well. Fresh peppers vary wildly in heat range. I have bought type M jalapeños that were scorching hot, only to return a week later to buy some that were barely hotter than banana peppers. Could explain the heat shift...

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  61. I can't wait to try this. As Memphians, my family can't get enough Gus's. They'd be SUPER impressed if I could pull off a homemade spread. So, I have what may seem like a silly question. I'm a decent enough home cook. But I don't often attempt fried chicken because the few times I've tried the slurry isn't right and I can't get/maintain my oil to the right temperature. So now that you've given me the right recipe for a coating, can you give me the Dummy Instructions on how to fry this chicken? Obviously I can google how to fry chicken but you've clearly made enough batches of this particular recipe that you've got the street cred that I know will steer me in the right direction. How important is equipment? Deep fryer? Good enameled Dutch oven? What temperature? Thermometer? I always either undercook or burn chicken. Help me. Again -- I'll scope out your blog for tips on chicken in general but how different is this recipe than frying any other chicken?

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    1. Hi Mandy.

      With pleasure. Before tackling the Gus’s recipe, I recommend you make the Donald Link recipe at least once (see my blog for recipe). Then, do the John Besh recipe at least once (also see blog for recipe). Then, tackle the Gus’s recipe.

      But for all practical purposes, people say to deep fry (meaning so the chicken is completely covered) at 350 F. When you first put the chicken in, if it is cold, it’s gonna drop the temperature of the oil. So most people say to heat the oil to around 375. You’re going to need a candy thermometer or other to watch your temperature and vary the stove flame, unless you have a deep fryer already. Now, one problem that I have is that the chickens these days are really big and when you achieve that nice brown crust they may still be a bit raw in the center. What I do is watch for the color that I want, golden brown or just a little darker. I then “finish” the chicken in a 300 F degree oven until the internal temperature is around 150-155 F. I hope that helps. Frying chicken is harder than it should be because of the size of the chickens these days.

      Note: I got to use a friend’s T-Fal fryer and it wasn’t good. Too shallow and it never got up to 350 F. The Breville deep fryer looks like a good choice, but I haven’t tried it. I am using a 6 quart pot filled with oil.

      I fry my chicken parts separately. Drumsticks together, wings together, thighs together. Breasts cut in half and fried together. But check out the John Besh and Donald Link recipes first.

      Additional note: the thermometer that I use and love is the: Lavatools Javelin Pro PX1 in the color of your choice. Mine is blue. www.lavatools.co

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  62. Hi Mandy.

    With pleasure. Before tackling the Gus’s recipe, I recommend you make the Donald Link recipe at least once (see my blog for recipe). Then, do the John Besh recipe at least once (also see blog for recipe). Then, tackle the Gus’s recipe.

    But for all practical purposes, people say to deep fry (meaning so the chicken is completely covered) at 350 F. When you first put the chicken in, if it is cold, it’s gonna drop the temperature of the oil. So most people say to heat the oil to around 375. You’re going to need a candy thermometer or other to watch your temperature and vary the stove flame, unless you have a deep fryer already. Now, one problem that I have is that the chickens these days are really big and when you achieve that nice brown crust they may still be a bit raw in the center. What I do is watch for the color that I want, golden brown or just a little darker. I then “finish” the chicken in a 300 F degree oven until the internal temperature is around 150-155 F. I hope that helps. Frying chicken is harder than it should be because of the size of the chickens these days.

    Note: I got to use a friend’s T-Fal fryer and it wasn’t good. Too shallow and it never got up to 350 F. The Breville deep fryer looks like a good choice, but I haven’t tried it. I am using a 6 quart pot filled with oil.

    I fry my chicken parts separately. Drumsticks together, wings together, thighs together. Breasts cut in half and fried together. But check out the John Besh and Donald Link recipes first.

    Additional note: the thermometer that I use and love is the: Lavatools Javelin Pro PX1 in the color of your choice. Mine is blue. www.lavatools.co

    Jay

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  63. Just one thing to remember because I've heard several people say to try many different spices, flours etc, but this chicken recipe was created in Mason TN many years ago so I would say the the recipie used very basic ingredients.

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  64. This article your very interesting.
    Thank you for giving me more information.
    dig this

    ReplyDelete