I'm not sure exactly where the urge came from, or even whether I've had chicken fried steak in the past decade, but for some reason a week ago it started to sound really good. For help I turned to Lisa Fain of the Homesick Texan (also our Serious Salsa bureau chief), whose love for the dish is impressive. "While many foods hold sway over my heart, none (except for my beloved refried beans) reigns supreme more than chicken-fried steak." Can't argue with that.
The name comes from the cooking process. Simply, it's breaded and cooked in much the same way you would make fried chicken in a skillet. I have some experience with that. This isn't aggressive deep-fat frying, but the more gentle art of frying over moderate heat in a skillet. Think a lazy afternoon and not the back of a fast food restaurant. It takes longer, but the outside becomes perfectly crisp and crunchy, while the inside remains wonderful juicy. It's an incredible transformation.
The beef is top round, which is pounded very thin with a meat mallet before being dredged and fried. Round is the perfect choice, not because it's terribly tender and flavorful, but precisely because it is neither. Pounding the living daylights out of it and then frying it in oil adds some life to this boring cut. The cream gravy is also another example of remarkably cheap ingredients (flour and milk) transforming into something luscious and decadent. I'll be having this again very soon.
- 1 1/2 pound top-round steak, cut into 4 even pieces
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
- 2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- Vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 cups milk
Preheat the oven to 200°F. Using a meat mallet, flatten the pieces of round until each is roughly ¼-inch thick.
In one large bowl mix together the flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, and the cayenne. Crack the eggs into another bowl and whisk together with the buttermilk.
Pour enough vegetable oil into a large cast-iron skillet to come up halfway up the side. Turn the heat to medium.
Add one piece of the flattened meat to the flour mixture and toss until coated. Remove and shake off excess flour. Dip into the egg mixture, and then remove and let the excess drip off. Toss beef back in the flour and coat both sides. Set dredged beef on a sheet pan repeat with remaining pieces of beef.
When the oil is hot, add as many pieces of beef as will fit in one layer, usually two. Cook until the bottom of each has turned a nice golden brown, about 4 minutes. Flip and cook until the other side is golden, another 4 minutes. When done, transfer the chicken-fried steaks to a wire rack set on a sheet pan. Set sheet pan to the oven to keep warm. Repeat frying process with the rest of the pieces of beef.
Now it's time to make the gravy. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the oil from the skillet. Heat over medium and add two tablespoons of the flour from the dredging process. Stir constantly with a whisk until the roux starts to turn a dark brown.
Reduce heat to low, and slowly stir in the milk, making sure to get rid of any of the clumps of flour. Season with salt and plenty of pepper and cook until slightly thickened. It should easily coat the back of a spoon. You can thin it out by adding some more milk or water.
Serve the chicken-fried steak with the cream gravy right on top.