I’ve heard it said there are actually only three food groups in the great state of Texas: Tex-Mex, Barbecue and Chicken fried steak. While the former two are popular, chicken fried steak is generally considered by the locals to be the (unofficial) state dish of Texas. Affectionately known as CFS by Texans, every single city, town, and village in the state prides itself on having their own recipe. Some of course will be better than others and Texans have a unique way of rating restaurants that serve CFS. Restaurants are rated by the number of pickup trucks that are parked out front. You should never stop at a one pickup place, as the steak will have been frozen and factory breaded. Two and three pickup restaurants are only slightly better. A four or five pickup place is a must stop restaurant and the CFS will be fresh, tender and smothered with a good, thick country gravy.
CFS is quite similar to wiener schnitzel and in fact German and Austrian immigrants to Texas are generally the ones credited with the origins of the dish. Instead of using veal which was not easy to locate in the state, these new Texans made it with the much cheaper and more available cuts of beef. Since these cuts of meat available at the time were generally tough, the now popular process of tenderizing, battering, frying and covering it in gravy was created to make the dish more to their liking.
The name Chicken fried Steak comes from the simple fact it is traditionally made the way one would cook authentic southern fried chicken, namely in a good old cast iron frying pan with hot oil. The dish is simple and uses ingredients that were generally found around the kitchen and was a popular dish to make during the years of the great depression when poor cuts of meat were all most could afford. Some people might wonder why CFS is made using fairly cheap cuts of beef, the simple answer is that using high quality beef to make this dish would not only be a waste of a good steak but would also deprive you of the cleansing therapy derived from the act of beating the heck out of pieces of defenseless beef.
The gravy that CFS should so generously be covered in is known sometimes as country gravy or cream gravy, but the name most associated with it is sawmill gravy or just gravy as Texans would call it. It’s a combination of the drippings from the steak, flour, milk, salt and a generous amount of black pepper. It’s popularity dates back to the depression when it was used to cover nearly everything as a means of both stretching a meal and adding flavor.
Before I explain how to make this piece of American culinary history, a word of warning from a fellow blogger. “The preparation of CFS is a violent, messy and even dangerous affair. You should not be the type who is afraid of small hunks of meat being flung from your tenderizer and sticking to the wall. Nor should you be adverse to being covered head to toe in a paste like mixture of flour and grease. Lastly, you cannot be afraid of hot oil splattering and the screechy sizzle you hear as you flip the steaks over in the pan. Be patient and in the midst of this bloody battle, this culinary chaos, you will ultimately find both the beauty and order that is a plate of chicken fried steak smothered in thick sawmill gravy”.
- 4 half pound cube steaks (or sirloin/round steak)
- 2 cups flour
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 2 teaspoons black pepper (coarsely ground)
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- peanut or vegetable oil for frying
- Pound the steaks with a meat tenderizer until nearly double the original size(or you can have the butcher run them through the tenderizer when you buy them, but why?).
- In a large bowl combine all dry ingredients.
- In another large bowl mix eggs with the buttermilk.
- Using a cast iron frying pan add enough oil to fill about halfway up the side and heat over medium (When a drop of water makes the oil sizzle, it’s ready for frying).
- Take one of the tenderized steaks and first coat with flour mixture, Dip into the egg mixture and then back into flour again, coating both sides.
- Take the coated steak and place it in the frying pan. It’s ready to turn over when you see the red juices begin to cook out on the top of the steak (about three to four minutes). Now gently turn it over using a fork (a spatula can cause the oil to splash).
- Cook another five minutes and place the steak on paper towel to drain.
- Repeat this process for the remaining steaks. Retain about 2 tablespoons of the oil used to cook the steaks in the pan.
- Place the cooked steaks in a warm oven if you wish while making the gravy.
- 2 tablespoons of pan drippings from frying the steaks (Many Texans use bacon grease)
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 1/2 cups half & half cream or milk
- 1 teaspoon black pepper, coarsely ground
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Combine flour with the pan drippings, mixing continuously with a whisk over medium heat for about 2 minutes to create a roux.
- Whisk the cream slowly into the roux making sure all lumps are gone.
- Mix in salt and pepper.
- Reduce heat to low and simmer, continuing to stir with the whisk until mixture has thickened (approx. 2 minutes).
Cover the steaks with a generous amount of gravy. Serve with mashed potatoes and veggies of your choice.