Saveur (Issue #11)
Swimsuit season be damned, we're on a fried chicken tear right now.
For the past three weekends, we've somehow managed to have fried chicken for lunch at a different place every Saturday. And we're not talking your run-of-the-mill fast food chicken. We've been eating some quality chicken. In fact, we've been eating some of the best fried chicken we've ever had.
One of those meals was in Memphis. We touched down in the Land of the Delta Blues a couple weeks ago for Zach's stepsister's wedding. We actually have several good friends in Memphis, and we go whenever we can. We love Memphis -- it's a really great town, with some really great food.
People think of Memphis a BBQ mecca, and rightly so. There are tons of good barbecue places, and a few really terrific ones.
But if you think Memphis is all just ribs and sauce, you're missing out. There's at least one other must-have meal in the city, one that will just maybe change your life.
That meal is a plate of fried chicken from Gus's.
Gus's is an iconic Memphis experience. Started in the 1950's in the nearby whistle-stop town of Mason, TN, there are now a handful of restaurants in the Gus's empire, including the one in downtown Memphis that we visited.
As you can see in the photo, Gus's isn't fancy. It's just a juke joint with a kitchen in the back, serving chicken on Styrofoam plates and sweet tea in plastic cups. It's loud and crowded, and the service is slow. But the aroma of their amazing chicken fills the whole block -- and it makes the inevitable wait-time for a table almost unbearable!
The chicken is just phenomenal. It's not fancy or unique, exactly -- just perfectly cooked with a knockout blend of spices. It's classic fried chicken done just right.
We wanted to know if we could replicate it back home, and we were thrilled to find a recipe for Gus's in an old back-issue of Saveur. Gus wouldn't give up his recipe to the magazine, so instead they've approximated his recipe below.
As we said, the recipe -- or at least Saveur's version -- is a blueprint for classic fried chicken. Soak it in buttermilk, dredge in flour and spices, fry in peanut oil.
Our at-home version ended up being delicious. The meat was juicy, and the salt and spices were spot on. We served it just like Gus does, with baked beans, a slice of white bread and plenty of hot sauce on the side.
Was ours as good as Gus's? No way. For that, you're going to have to get yourself to Memphis. But until you do, this is a pretty nice stand-in.
Other posts you may find of interest:
- Fried Chicken Cook-Off: Thomas Keller vs. Clay's Mom
- Korean Fried Chicken
- Crispy Baked Fried Chicken
3 1/2 lb. chicken, washed and cut into 8 pieces
1 qt. buttermilk
3 cups flour
2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1. Place chicken in a nonreactive pan and add buttermilk. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or as long as overnight.
2. Combine flour, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper in a large plastic bag, and shake to mix.
3. Heat 3/4" peanut oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.
4. Meanwhile, shake each piece of chicken in bag of seasoned flour until well coated. When oil is very hot but not smoking, add chicken, largest pieces first, skin side down. (Work in batches if your skillet is small.) Reduce heat to medium, and cook, turning once, until chicken is golden brown and crispy, 12–15 minutes per side. Drain chicken on paper towels.