Crispy and covered in gravy, chicken fried steak is a delicious and filling Southern delicacy. Essentially a thin beef steak that’s battered and fried, a piece of chicken fried steak resembles a large fried chicken cutlet. In the South, chicken fried steak is a beloved recipe, common at restaurants and home kitchens.
Country Fried Steak vs. Chicken Fried Steak
Many historians trace the origins of chicken fried steak to German immigrants in the 19th century. When these immigrant came to the South, they brought with them Wienerschnitzel, a breaded pork or veal cutlet pan-fried in butter. The phrase “chicken fried steak” appeared as early as 1914 in ads for the Phelp’s Dining Room and Cafeteria in the Colorado Springs Gazette.
While many cooks use the terms interchangeably, some believe there are stark differences between the two. A common consensus is that chicken fried steak is deep fried, while country fried steak is pan fried. Another distinction is the gravy — country fried steak is served with a brown gravy, very different than the peppery white gravy of chicken fried steak.
In Texas, there are also three distinct versions of chicken fried steaks. In East Texas, the beef is dipped in egg wash before it’s coated in seasoned flour. In Central Texas, the flour is replaced by bread crumbs. Finally, in West Texas, the meat is cooked without an egg wash (sometimes this is called pan-fried steak).
Generally, the most common cuts used for chicken fried steak is a lean cut, such as top round, eye round, sirloin tip or cube steak (essentially a top round that’s sold pre-tenderized, hammered with meat tenderizer). Originally, chicken fried steak was created as a way to utilize cheaper cuts of beef. Although any lean cut of beef is suitable, feel free to use more luxurious cuts like tenderloin or strip steak.
The flavor of battered and fried beef is very different than grilled steak or broiled steak— producing a combination of soft meat and crispy coating. The crust of chicken fried steak will resemble Southern fried chicken instead of Korean fried chicken or Japanese fried chicken. Use all-purpose flour and a neutral frying oil for the best results.
Chicken Fried Steak with Cracked Pepper Gravy
(By Chef Shaun Garcia. From Soby’s New South Cuisine cookbook)
Born and raised in the South, Chef Shaun Garcia has fond memories of chicken fried steak. “It always takes me back to the simple time in life. It makes me think of my grandmother and her hands preparing chicken fried steak. Times have changed and our version is a little more refined than in her days, but this is a dish I know you’ll enjoy as much as I have.”
For Chicken Fried Steak
- 2 lbs beef tenderloin
- 2 cups flour
- 2 cups milk
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
- Vegetable oil
For Cracked Pepper Gravy
- 2 tbs oil, reserved from frying
- 3 tbs flour, reserved from the steaks
- 2 cups chicken broth
- ¼ cup whole milk
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- Cracked black pepper
- For the chicken fried steak: Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place the flour in a pie pan. Pour the milk and buttermilk into another pie pan.
- Cut the tenderloin along the grain into six ½-inch thick slices. Season each piece on both sides with the salt and pepper.
- Using a meat mallet or needling device, tenderize the meat, until each slice is ¼-inch thick.
- Dredge the meat in the flour, then in the buttermilk, and finally in the flour again. Repeat for all the pieces of meat. Set aside the remaining flour for the gravy.
- Add enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom of a 12-inch cast-iron skillet 1 inch deep and set over medium-high heat.
- Once the oil begins to simmer, add the meat in batches, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Cook each piece on both sides until golden brown, approximately 4 minutes per side.
- Place the cooked steaks on a wire rack set in a sheet pan and put in the oven. Leave until all of the meat is browned. Season again with salt and pepper.
- For the Cracked Pepper Gravy: When all the meat is cooked and holding in a warm oven, drain all but 2 tbs of the oil from the skillet.
- Whisk in 3 tbsp of the flour from the dredging. Add the chicken broth to deglaze the pan. Simmer, whisking constantly until the gravy comes to a boil and begins to thicken.
- Add the milk and cream. Simmer, whisking constantly, until the gravy coats the back of a spoon, approximately 5 to 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Finish the Dish: Pour the gravy over steak as desired. Dust with freshly ground black pepper as desired.
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