Friday, March 23, 2012

Cowboys, Germans, and a Short-Order Cook

Most people know that Texans are passionate about their barbecue, Tex-Mex, and chili; but, they also LOVE their "Chicken Fried Steak!" Don't believe me? Well, in 2011, Governor Perry put it into law, by declaring October 26 the official Texas Chicken Fried Steak Day, "to pay homage to that shared legacy" with "special deals and related activities." Not sure what a Chicken Fried Steak is? Chicken Fried Steak is when you take a sorry cut of beef, pound it, batter it, fry it, and serve it with cream gravy. Mashed potatoes and green beans are classic sides for this rib-sticking meal. The origins vary widely from the good ol' cowboy and his chuckwagon, a mistake by a short-order cook, or created by German settlers, who settled in the Texas Hill Country in the mid 1800s. Being a native Texan myself, I'll give it to the Germans! After all, it bares a striking similarity to their beloved schnitzel

Chicken Fried Steak

Serves 6


For the steak
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 large egg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
6 cube steaks (about 5 ounces each), pounded to 1/3-inch thickness
Canola oil, for frying

For the cream gravy
1 medium onion, minced
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups whole milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper


For the steak
Measure the flour, 5 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, and the cayenne into a large, shallow dish or bowl. In a second large, shallow dish or bowl, beat the egg, baking powder, and baking soda. Stir in the buttermilk (the mixture will bubble and foam).

Set a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Pat the steaks dry with paper towels and sprinkle each side with salt and pepper to taste. Drop the steaks into the seasoned flour and coat well. Shake off excess flour from each steak, then, using tongs, dip the steaks into the egg mixture, turning to coat well and allowing the excess to drip off. Coat the steaks with flour again, shake off any excess, and place them on the wire rack.

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position, set a second wire rack over a second rimmed baking sheet, and place on the oven rack. Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Line a plate with a double layer of paper towels. Meanwhile, heat 1-inch oil in a large (11" diameter) Dutch oven over medium-high heat to 350 degrees. Place as many steaks as fits in the oil and fry, turning once, until deep golden brown on each side, about 5 minutes. Transfer the steaks to the paper-lined plate to drain, then transfer to the wire rack in the oven. Bring the oil back to 350 degrees and repeat the cooking and draining process (use fresh paper towels) with the remaining steaks.

For the cream gravy
Carefully pour the hot oil through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean pot. Return the browned bits from the strainer along with 2 tablespoons of the frying oil back to the Dutch oven. Turn the heat to medium, add the onion and thyme, and cook until the onion has softened and begins to brown, 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the flour and stir until well combined, about 1 minute. Whisk in the broth, scraping any browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Whisk in the milk, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cook until thickened (the gravy should have a loose consistency-it will thicken as it cools slightly), about 5 minutes.

To serve
Transfer the chicken fried steaks to individual plates. Spoon a generous amount of the gravy over each steak. Serve immediately, passing any remaining gravy in a bowl.

This recipe for "Chicken Fried Steak" is from The New Best Recipe, by America's Test Kitchen.

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