Chicken-fried steak might just well be the national entrée of Texas. Dinner plates laden with fried steaks, potatoes, and gravy are as much a part of the lone Star State’s persona as tumbleweeds and cowboy hats. Though historians stand divided on whether the dish appeared first as a chuckwagon creation or a takeoff on German Wiener shnitzel, all agree that chicken-fried steak a fine way to enjoy some of the less tender cuts of beef.
What Is Chicken-Fried Steak?
The dish begins with round steak that has been pounded with a meat mallet or run through a cubing machine. Thus tenderized, it is breaded, fried, and served with cream gravy made from the pan drippings. On this last point, Texas cooks are adamant, because it separates chicken-fried steak from country-fried. “This is not brown gravy, it’s cream gravy,” says Annetta White of Austin’s Broken Spoke restaurant.
Mashed or fried potatoes on the plate are a must, but beyond that, the side dishes become a free-for-all of choices with fried okra, fried whole ears of corn, green beans, coleslaw, greens, and biscuits among them.
“At my parents’ house, no vegetable except mashed potatoes goes on the plate unless mom requires it,” says Vanessa McNeil Rocchio of our Test Kitchen. Vanessa is a Texan who, as a teenager, made it her mission to find a great chicken-fried steak recipe. “My Dad wanted to have chicken-fried steak at home, but we didn’t know how to do it,” she says. “Then i visited Austin, which has lots of places that serve it, and I met someone who worked in one of the kitchens. He told me the secret is crumbled saltine crackers—they give chicken-fried steak a great crust.”