Growing up, I remember going to Chili’s restaurant with friends and my favorite dish to order was their Chicken Fried Steak. It’s not exactly the healthiest dish so ordering it was always a reason to splurge and cast any healthy meal choices for the day. It’s been ages (years?) since I had Chicken Fried Steak, because I don’t particularly fry food very often. Not until I visited Texas, did I begin to have a craving for chicken fried steak. I came across this darn good recipe and I don’t think I’ll ever go out for Chicken Fried Steak and Gravy again. Making it from scratch and learning the ‘secret’ to a crisp batter is enough to keep me making it in my own kitchen from now on!
Oddly, there’s no chicken involved in this recipe. I’m not sure how the name came about but I learned that making something ‘chicken fried’ doesn’t just mean dredging in flour or dipping in egg. Oh no… it takes a little more than that to get it just right! What I did learn was the secret to perfecting chicken fried steak is the oil temperature. It’s absolutely key to get the oil to 375 degrees before frying. As the oil heats up, cube steaks are seasoned and dredged in lightly seasoned flour. The steaks are then dipped in a mixture of whisked egg, buttermilk, baking powder and baking soda. After resting on a cooling rack to remove any excess egg mixture, the steaks are dredge in flour once again before frying to a golden brown.
But that’s only half the deliciousness. The other half is the gravy! Some of the drippings from frying is used in the gravy, imparting additional flavor. Minced onions, dried thyme and minced garlic are sautéed in the drippings. Flour is added to thicken it up and then chicken stock deglazes the pan. Milk is whisked in and in no time, a thick, creamy, flavorful gravy is ready to top your steaks and mashed potatoes. I would recommend doubling the gravy recipe, especially if you plan on serving the steaks with mashed potatoes!
Chicken Fried Steak & Gravy
recipe from Cook’s Illustrated
3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 large egg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
6 cube steaks, pounded to 1/3 inch thickness
cooking oil for frying
1 medium onion, minced
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
Getting the initial oil temperature to 375 degrees is key to the success of this recipe. An instant-read thermometer with a high upper range is perfect for checking the temperature; a clip-on candy/deep-fry thermometer is also fine. If your Dutch oven measures 11 inches across (as ours does), you will need to fry the steaks in two batches.
For the steaks: Measure the flour, 5 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, and cayenne into a large shallow dish. In a second large shallow dish, 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 flour and shake the pan to coat. Shake 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 the 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 the sheet on the oven rack; heat the oven to 200 degrees. Line a large plate with a double layer of paper towels. Meanwhile, heat 1 inch of oil in a large (11-inch diameter) Dutch oven over medium-high heat to 375 degrees. Place three steaks in the oil and fry, turning once, until deep golden brown on each side, about 5 minutes (oil temperature will drop to around 335 degrees). Transfer the steaks to the paper towel-lined plate to drain, then transfer them to the wire rack in the oven. Bring the oil back to 375 degrees and repeat the cooking and draining process (use fresh paper towels) with the three remaining steaks.
For the 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 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 is beginning to brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the flour to the pan and stir until well combined and starting to dissolve, 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 (gravy should have a loose consistency—it will thicken as it cools), about 5 minutes.