December 31, 2017

Gus's Fried Chicken Recipe - More Ruminations on Gus's Fried Chicken

November 17, 2017, I came as close as one can get to duplicating the Gus's Fried Chicken recipe. Here follows the latest, updated recipe:

Gus’s Fried Chicken
#1 November 17, 2017

1 lb (one) boneless skinless chicken breast cut into three pieces
1 cup corn starch
¼ cup (4 tablespoons) all purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup water (note: 1 ½ cups is too much. 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)

Marinade for 24 hours (begin time: 12:30 p.m.)
Fry at 325-350 F. Note, when the exterior crust looks perfect, the interior may still be uncooked. It is the curse of these huge chickens that they sell now. Try your best to buy a 2.5-3 lb chicken.

Previous Discussions on Gus's Fried Chicken Recipe:

It is 2017. My previous posts on Gus' Fried Chicken covered my observation that the closest that I could come to the thin, crackly crust would be with a slurry built of buttermilk and corn starch. Is that what the original Gus did back in the 50's? I'm not sure. But it is the closest that I have come in my home kitchen. I never truly cracked the spicing. I could never get the chicken spicy enough, and that was with trying different chiles, black pepper, buttermilk soaks, etc. (see my previous postings).

More recently (actually March 30, 2017 marks the date) I came across a recipe that I had not seen before that calls for an ice water batter with a 50/50 corn starch and flour mix, description of a thin batter to dip the fried chicken in, resulting in a (so said) thin, crispy crust. The writer, Diane Unger, writing for Cook's Country advised: "Ordinary water worked best, bringing to mind some of the Civil War-era-batter-fried chicken recipes I'd researched. Presumably, times were hard and water was fine." Well, this comment sent me in a whole new direction. You see, I was scratching my head, thinking about "what ingredients would have been available in mid 50's, early 60's Tennessee for the recipe? Had someone in the Vanderbilt family spent time in Korea (Korean war era) and learned about the batters used for Korean fried chicken? Maybe not, I'm thinking now after reading her recipe and comments.

Because now, I had Diane Unger mentioning the Civil War.

And so, I began searching through vintage mid to late 1800 cookbooks for batter recipes. So far, I have not turned up anything (I've looked through many vintage African-American cookbooks now without finding any fried chicken batter recipes...just dredge and fry recipes) and hope to contact Diane Unger for some recommended sources. But it would make sense that persons living in Tennessee might have family recipes passed down from that era. Example follows:

Her recipe, published in Cook's Country and republished in the Best Ever Recipes publication called for a brine of sugar, water and salt and then a batter of water, AP flour, cornstarch with baking powder, paprika, and cayenne pepper.

Diane Unger Interview on YouTube

Landing On Love : a website with photos showing preparation of the recipe

Amos Schorr: Low Gluten Flour: In terms of pure crispiness, yes. But you also need to take into account the thickness of the crust itself. Korean-style fried chicken, for example, uses pure cornstarch, and that gives it an incredibly crispy, incredibly thin crust. But American fried chicken is different. It's meant to have a thicker, better seasoned crust.

Chris Young:   Hi @Chris Young. Thank you for your response. I apologise for persisting with the question: why did @Grant Crilly recommend using bread flour for the fried chicken recipe, especially considering how the recipe on Modernist Cuisine's website also recommends using cake flour? I understand that batters and coatings don't work according to one-size-fits-all. However, if you can elaborate on batters and coatings for deep frying and detailed aspects, it will be extremely useful then. Thank you. I think it would have to do with the size of the grains. Cake flour is a finer grain, and bread a little larger. I reckon a larger grain can absorb more milk, and would allow for a thicker coating. Also, cake flour typically is high in starch content

John Fisher, et. al.:   John Fisher@Ellen Hi, any chance you could get an answer for us on this. Which flour will yield the crispier crust, pastry, AP or high gluten? Hi @Saad & @John Fisher: Just had a chance to talk with Grant about this:"The question is, do you want crispy or crunchy? If you want crispy go with the starchier option (rice flour etc.), if you want crunchy, you need high-protein (bread flour).

I've used a combination of cornstarch and rice flour with good results.

That is what I use for crispy chicken wings. Low gluten high starch.

I don't have the answer. However, I would like to point out that in their fish & chips video, the guys coated the fish (dipped in Methyl-cellulose) with cake flour. However, (as you mentioned) in the fried chicken video Grant commented on how using cake flour would result in a soft and spongy coating.

(Here follow my original notes from previous years. But I recommend you go back and read the original posting and the supplements here in my blog.)

Gus's Fried Chicken Recipe

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 have to mix corn starch and buttermilk to the right consistency. 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.

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)

The Cynical Cook's Blog and Comments on Gus's Fried Chicken


  1. Looking forward to cracking the code.

  2. Just a thought! The thought of the slurry got me to thinking of putting yeast in the batter just like fish and chips. It was one gentleman in the last post that had pictures of his chicken and it almost looks exactly like Gus' fried chicken.

  3. I didn't see any bubbly action in the Gus's batter that would indicate yeast. I've heard that the batter comes to the restaurant pre-made at a central location to keep it as a family secret. My guess is that yeast wouldn't work in the batter.

  4. Buttermilk brine in hot sauce, followed my a spicy Cajun seasoning. Dip in seasoned slurry mixture, let rest then in another bowl mix eggs and hot sauce together. Dip chicken in mixture then another coating of the slurry mixture.

  5. That is a great suggestion. Adding spiciness and heat at several different phases sounds like a winner. Thanks! I plan to try this in the first quarter of 2015 for sure. One comment though. I and some others suspect that the original Gus's recipe was created in the 50's at a time when the available ingredients were limited. So I've always looked for simplicity. In other words, "what was available in 1950's era Tennessee "off the shelf". Eggs were available for sure. But I am not sure that a costly ingredient like that would have been part of the recipe. Also, indications are that they make the batter at a central location. Eggs in the batter would require refrigeration. Now, I've tried the Dookie Chase and some other Louisiana recipes that use milk and eggs for the batter. They are good, but different. When you work with flour, the addition of water is going to cause the gliaden and glutenein to develop. That's what happens with bread. Using eggs which have less water will cause less gluten to develop. That's why you see a lot of cookie recipes that call for butter (with only 30% water) and eggs. The cookies stay crumbly. With fried chicken, milk and buttermilk work on that flour and gluten gets developed. More so with milk based batters. I've had some amazing chicken in Central Texas with a milk based batter. But it is only crispy for a short time. Then the crust gets soggy. That doesn't happen with buttermilk. Plus, using corn starch, which doesn't have gluten is probably what gives the Gus's recipe its crackly crunch.

  6. I am just giving suggestions by no means am I an expert. I think from the reports of some people that the chicken is sometimes hotter on some days than others. I reason that this is because at times they are busier than others and can not let the chicken marinade longer than other times. So I believe that one or two day marinade is key. The first may be a dry marinade with a Cajun seasoning such as, "Slap your mother" hot seasoning for a day but then a wet seasoning with hot sauce and buttermilk and maybe JalapeƱos. However, I believe that marinade mixture may be the same mixture that they fry it in. So you state corn starch witch may indeed be correct but could very well be potato starch. Mixture may have had dried eggs because the government rations. Flour was rationed before that time but I believe that they had plenty of potatoes.

  7. I live in Arlington,TN and my secret for Gus' Fried chicken is I hop in my car with at least a 1/4 tank, drive down hwy 70 to Mason about 10 miles, place an order for a half chicken plate and a 40, sit down and enjoy with some blues playing on the juke box. This is the easiest recipe.

  8. Love this! Going to prepare today. Thanks!


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