I hope all of you BONizens had an absolutely fantastic Texas Independence Day this past Saturday. My friends and I celebrated by BBQing several racks of beef ribs over six hours (because you can't cook that inferior pig slop on Texas Independence Day), enjoying several Texas brews, and listening to fine Texas artists like Townes Van Zandt, Willie Nelson, Hayes Carll, and the Old 97s, to name a few. Before all of these festivities began, however, I sat down to one of my favorite breakfasts: Chicken Fried Steak and Eggs. And, in the theme of Texas classics, let's talk about how to make a perfect chicken fried steak.
It probably didn't take long for most of you to realize that I'm incredibly picky about my BBQ. Well, take that passion and multiply it tenfold when it comes to chicken fried steak. Words can't describe my agony and disappointment when I am served a pre-breaded, flash fried chicken fried steak smothered in gravy made from a box. In fact, I'm so particular about the entree that I almost won't order it in a restaurant anymore because it is never "right." Almost every eatery makes it; few make it well. The sad thing is that chicken fried steak is not a hard dish to cook, so let's put those mediocre establishments in their respective places.
First you need to get the right cut of beef. I find that round steak works just fine for purposes of this meal. You often see higher end restaurants advertise things like "chicken fried ribeye," and I firmly believe this is ridiculously silly. The way this dish is prepared completely masks the rich flavors of the ribeye and negates the need for a tender cut of beef. Save yourself a few bucks and get a cheaper cut.
Once you have your beef, take a meat tenderizing mallet and beat it senseless on both sides until it is flattened out. Be liberal with your swinging, but be sure you don't tenderize the steak so much that it's falling apart. Once the steak is sufficiently tenderized, season it. Not seasoning the meat is one of the major mistakes restaurants make. I can't tell you the number of times I've sat down to a chicken fried steak with beautiful breading and amazing gravy only to find the meat itself is bland. As I mentioned above, we're not dealing with a rich cut of meat here, so help it along with some good seasoning. I like to keep things simple with garlic salt, onion powder, and black pepper.
While the seasoning is resting on the steak, it's time to make up our batter. I use a mixture of eggs and whole milk (yes whole milk; get your wimpy 2% and skim out of my kitchen). I eyeball the amounts and don't have a particular ratio, but the goal is to get the batter thick enough to stick to the meat but thin enough to actually dip the steak into it. Additionally, some people get creative with their batters and add things like beer, but I like to keep it basic in this regard.
Once your batter is made it's time to make a decision. How thick do you want the breading on your steak to be? If you want a really thick batter you need to coat the steak in flour, dip it in the batter, and finally coat it with another layer of flour. If you want a thinner breading, dip the meat into the batter then flour it. Regarding the flour, I season my flour in addition to the steak as a little bit of flavor insurance because the batter will wash some of the spices off the steak.
Now that the steak is prepped, pour several tablespoons of vegetable or peanut oil into a frying pan and heat the skillet on the stove over medium-high heat. The amount of oil should be enough to fully cover the bottom of the pan but not enough to make the oil come over the top of the steak once the steak is in the pan. Once the oil is hot, place the steak in the pan and cook it until done, flipping once. You'll know it's time to flip the steak when you can see juices from the meat appearing on the top side. Once you have a golden brown crust on both sides, remove the steak and start making the next batch or move on to the gravy.
I don't know why so many people insist on making gravy from a box. You've spent this much time and effort crafting the perfect chicken fried steak, so isn't it worth it to go the extra mile and make the gravy homemade? Of course it is.
Thankfully, gravy is not that difficult, either. There should be a little bit of oil and the drippings from the cooked steaks in the same skillet you've been frying the meat in. Add a few spoonfuls of flour to the skillet and stir the flour around the pan on medium heat. The flour will absorb the remaining oil and will brown during the process. Once the flour is a light to deep brown color and all the oil is absorbed slowly pour whole milk into the pan until the pan is ¼ to ½ full, stirring constantly. Stirring constantly is the most important step to making good gravy. If you don't stir constantly while the milk is cooking down and thickening, the flour will ball up and leave you with lumpy gravy. Nobody likes lumpy, so stir that gravy until your arm can't take it anymore and you're left with the smoothest, tastiest gravy the state has ever known.
The traditional way is to serve the chicken fried steak smothered in your homemade cream gravy, but I go against the grain a little on this one. I fully believe a good chicken fried steak should be able to stand on its own, so I always opt for the gravy on the side. However you choose to serve it, this meal will be better than most you'll ever find in a restaurant.
I know many of you probably have a multitude of tips and tricks for cooking this meal, and I can't wait to hear about them, but that's the classic broken down to its simplest form.
The Old 300 would be proud.