Deep brown, enrobed in a golden crust, and served with rich cream gravy, chicken fried steak is the quintessential Texas dish. I grew up in Texas, and some of my fondest childhood memories center around my family's twice-weekly visits to Luby's, a Texas-based cafeteria chain. I loved to pick up my tray and walk down the line, lingering before each selection and handpicking my dinner. And what I picked the most often was chicken fried steak.
Just how chicken fried steak should be made is a subject of spirited debate; Texans are known for their fiercely held opinions, after all, especially when it comes to their most beloved foods. It was with some trepidation, then, that I approached developing a recipe for chicken fried steak to accompany SAVEUR's special steak issue (#103, June/July 2007). Could I live up to my Texas credentials?
My first step was to choose the right piece of meat. Some Texans opt for beef round, but the inexpensive top blade chuck steak (also known, appropriately enough, as chicken steak) suited my needs better: pounded thin with a mallet (an essential step in the process of making chicken fried steak), it's a tender and tasty cut. My next goal was to create a substantial crust with lots of nooks and crannies to soak up the gravy. I achieved that by dredging the steak repeatedly in paprika-spiked flour and eggs beaten with buttermilk and worcestershire. Sure enough, the steak fried up beautifully and turned an inviting golden brown.
No self-respecting Texan would eat chicken fried steak without cream gravy, and since I love the rich tang of buttermilk, I decided to add that to my gravy. It proved problematic, though: on my first try the heat curdled the buttermilk. So, I settled for using regular milk, which doesn't curdle so easily, during the thickening process and added a little buttermilk at the end, to lend that tangy note without the risk of curdling. A couple of shots of Tabasco didn't hurt, either. The result? A chicken fried wonder sure to make any Texan proud.