Who doesn’t like CFS (chicken-fried steak)? Our older daughter, Carol, for one. That is a surprise since she has roots in East Texas and Shreveport (There are credible claims that Shreveport is actually just an extension of East Texas)
She loves steak, but she believes that all that bread stuff just spoils a good piece of meat. I certainly agree with her point of view when some fancy pants restaurant does a chicken-fried rib eye or tenderloin. In that setting, I just want the real thing.
Chicken-fried steak, on the other hand, is a food of the people: a piece of round steak usually tough as a boot unless it is cooked for hours can be turned into a fork-tender delicacy through systematic pounding, breading, and frying. It becomes a distant relative of the more elegant Wiener schnitzel and veal alla Milanese.
Then there are the required accompanying mashed potatoes. They serve as the base for pouring on the cream gravy. In many a roadside diner they come from a box or are lumpy, having sat for hours in a steam table. Really good mashed potatoes raise the stakes (No pun intended) to something bordering on ethereal.
Finally, there is the cream gravy. No self-respecting CFS appears on the table without a good lacing of cream gravy. Unfortunately, many versions of cream gravy resemble, in both taste and consistency, library paste. In fact, you could probably use it as such when it gels on the plate in a white, immobile blob. But again, there are few things as tasty as a well-made gravy studded with bits of crispy crust and a rich flavor from the fond of the cast iron frying pan.
My mother – who had never been to Texas until I was an adult – made a great CFS. She had her own little secrets. She pounded the floured raw meat with a saucer. She used crushed saltine crackers for the breading. And after browning the meat in a hot skillet with plenty of oil, she simmered the steaks for a half-hour or longer until the meat was tender. Then she raised the heat to get a crisp, brown exterior. I’ve never mastered those final steps, so this version relies on thin steak to be tender.
For mashed potatoes, I have used Sarah’s recipe as printed in the San Francisco Chronicle. For the gravy, I have used the decades-old recipe from our family cookbook.
Steamed broccoli with btter makes a good vegetable accompaniment.
Chicken Fried Steak
- 1 pound round steak, thinly sliced (cubed beef should NOT be considered an acceptable substitute)
- salt and pepper
- all-purpose flour
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 large egg (I wound up using a double yolked jumbo)
- 1 sleeve saltine crackers
- peanut oil for frying
- Trim any fat and silver skin from the steak and, if necessary, cut into serving-sized pieces. Season with salt and pepper.
- Dredge the pieces of steak on both sides with flour. Using the edge of a small plate or saucer, pound each steak in one direction and then at 90°. Turn over, and repeat the pounding process.
- Combine the buttermilk and egg in a pie plate, mixing vigorously to make sure the egg is completely incorporated. Individually, dip each floured steak in the mixture and then transfer to a second pie plate filled with crushed cracker crumbs.
- Coat both sides of each steak generously with the cracker crumbs, making sure that the meat is completely covered. Transfer to a drying rack.
- When you are ready to cook the steaks, heat the largest cast iron skillet that you have over a medium-high flame. Add about 1 inche of peanut oil (canola is also good) and heat until the oil is shimmering but not smoking. If you have a thermometer, heat to 350°F.
- Add enough steaks to fill the pan. Fry for a few minutes on one side until browned, about 5-10 minutes. Then turn and fry on the other side. If you are cooking in batches, transfer to a warming plate in a 170°F oven until all of the meat is cooked. You will also need to keep warm while you make gravy.
- Make gravy according to the following directions. Then serve immediately while still warm with mashed potatoes and cream gravy.
- 2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes (about 5-6 medium potatoes), peeled and quartered
- 1 cup milk
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 2 sticks (½ pound) unsalted butter, softened
- salt and pepper to taste
- Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with heavily salted water. Bring to the boil. Then reduce to a brisk simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are pierced easily with a kitchen fork. Overcooked is better than undercooked. Drain.
- Transfer to a potato ricer in batches. Rice the potatoes into a medium saucepan. Over low heat, stir the potatoes with a wooden spoon until excess water is boiled out, about 2-3 minutes.
- Combine the milk and cream in a small pan and heat until they are just at a simmer.
- Add the butter to the potatoes and stir until completely incorporated. Stir in the milk/cream mixture slowly while stirring until the desired consistency is reached. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if needed. Serve immediately. If you are serving with chicken-fried steak, you will want to make a well in the middle of each serving to hold some of the gravy.
- ¾ cup milk
- ¼ cup cream
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons flour
- pan drippings from fried steak
- ¼ cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
- salt and pepper
- In a jar with tight lid (a pint Mason jar works well) combine the milk, cream, chicken stock, and flour. Cover and shake until the ingredients are well mixed. Set aside.
- Drain all but 2 tablespoons of the cooking oil from the pan used to fry the steak. Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping loose any brown bits.
- Over medium heat, stir in the milk mixture, shaking it first to make sure it is well mixed.
- Stirring constantly, incorporate any loosened brown bits and bring the mixture to a low boil, continuing to cook until the gravy is thickened. If too thick, dilute with a little bit of milk. If too thin, stir in a bit of Wondra flour, stirring vigorously to prevent lumps. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately. Be sure to make a well in the middle of the heap of mashed potatoes on each plate to get some extra gravy; Put some gravy on top of the steak, too, if you want to feel real down-home.