If you have never heard of a ‘Chicken-fried Steak’ before, you may quite likely be as mystified as I was when I came across it for the first time. For the uninitiated, this particular culinary delicacy, originating in the American South, consists of a steak that is battered, or breaded, and then deep-fried (or pan-fried in lots of fat) much the same way as is Southern-fried Chicken.
My first, and thus far only, experience with this dish was at a roadside restaurant in Virginia during a road-trip to Florida my wife and I undertook a year or so before we were married. It was served, as I recall, with some sort of potato (whether mashed or fried I can no longer say) and a veggie of some sort. It was also topped with a creamy, white gravy that is more or less traditional in the south. The steak, I thought was pretty decent, but I really didn’t care for the gravy at all and, for this experiment, I think I will give that particular addition a miss…
While I was thinking about trying this dish, I had a hard time deciding on battered or breaded, and I decided to go with a process that lies somewhere between the two. My idea was to use an egg wash, as one would for breading, but give the steaks a double dredging nicely seasoned flour to yield an extra thick coating somewhat like a batter.
As for the frying, I briefly considered the deep-fry method but then decided to go with pan-frying with lard and just a touch of bacon dripping for added flavor. Purists may insist that this actually makes the dish a ‘Country-fried’ rather than a ‘Chicken-fried’ steak, but the consensus on this is far from clear and I am not going to take a firm position one way or the other…
- Two small Beef Steaks;
- 1 cup Flour;
- 2 tsp. Garlic Salt (or plain salt if you prefer);
- 1 tsp. Ground Black Pepper;
- 1 tsp. Celery Seed (optional);
- 2 eggs, beaten (you may need a third depending on the steak and egg size).
This is not a dish where you will want to use a very expensive cut of steak and, thus, a bit of tenderizing will be in order. If you like, you can do as I have done and first cut a series of cross-hatched incisions about a quarter way through the thickness of the steak on each side.
To begin, mix together the flour and the seasonings in a deep dish and then coat the meat on both sides. Next, use a meat mallet and pound the steaks well, making sure to work the flour mixture into the flesh as it gets tenderized.
Pour the beaten egg into a shallow pan and dip the steaks into it, turning to coat both sides. Now, dredge the steaks in the flour, pressing well to form the first coat. Repeat these steps again and, if you have sufficient egg leftover, do it a third time. Set the steaks aside on a sheet of waxed paper for the time being.
When you are ready to cook, heat a generous amount of shortening or other cooking fat in a frying pan (adding a little bacon fat as well, if you like) and brown the steaks nicely on each side. Use a moderate flame and allow coating to get just a bit crispy at about the point same that the meat is cooked through. Finally, remove to a paper-towel lined platter to remove excess oil and then serve when ready.
By the way, you will notice here that I am frying one steak at a time in a small pan rather than both together in a larger one. This is so that I can get sufficient depth of cooking fat while using a minimal amount.
In lieu of the more traditional white gravy, I put a little apple sauce on the side for an interesting little flavor fillip and served the steaks with potatoes mashed with scallions, parsley and butter. My wife and I really enjoyed it (although it really needed a bit more green vegetable as well), and all I can say is that I am surprised it took me so long to try cooking this very homey meal myself. I won’t be doing this with filet mignon anytime soon, but this is a nice basic recipe to have one’s repertoire for the cheaper cuts. In truth, I think I can improve on this present version with a little tweaking and maybe some of you will like to play around with it too…