~ My Ultimate Chicken-Fried Steak-Fillet Sandwich ~
The French have a pretty-sounding phrase, "comme-ci comma-ça" (kohm-see kohm-sah), which I use a lot. It's a to-the-point way of saying something is "so-so", "neither good or bad" -- it's tolerable. That pretty much sums up my general feelings about chicken fried steak: its taste and texture are passable. To use another one of my favorite expressions, "it is what it is": a thin, tough, budget-friendly, pounded or cubed or forked, beefsteak. I don't sit down at the table with high expectations for CFS nor do I leave the table disappointed. Comme-ci comma-ça.
A bit about chicken-fried steak: The tenderized steak, most-commonly a store-bought tenderized cube steak taken from the round, is dipped in an egg batter, dredged in seasoned flour (or sometimes breadcrumbs), then, pan-fried in almost the same manner as Southern fried chicken. After frying, it's removed from the skillet and a peppery cream- or milk-based gravy is made in the pan drippings (cayenne pepper or cayenne pepper sauce are commonly used for "heat").
When served for breakfast, chicken-fried steak is commonly served with hash browns and toast. When served as a dinner entrée, mashed potatoes and biscuits are on the ticket. That said, a popular modern-day midwestern variation is to serve it on a hamburger-type roll with a basket of French fries and gravy, which, in my kitchen is by far the overwhelming favorite.
The origin of chicken fried steak is debated. Southerners will show you recipes dating back to the 1830's & '40's with Mary Randolph's 1838, The Virginia Housewife, containing one of the earliest recipes for veal cutlets prepared in the style of chicken-fried steak.
Texans claim it came to them earlier than that via German and Austrian immigrants from Europe, who arrived in America and brought their Weiner schnitzel recipes to Texas. Lamesa, the seat of Dawson County on the Texas South Plains, claims to be the birthplace of chicken-fried steak. According to legend, the dish was created by accident in 1911 in Ethel’s Home Cooking Restaurant, when then cook, Jimmy Don Perkins, placed steaks into fried chicken batter after he missed a comma in a waitress’ order for “chicken, fried steak,”. The town hosts their annual "Lamesa Original Chicken-Fried Festival & Cook-Off" the last weekend in April -- register now!
The first time I encountered chicken-fried steak was in Texas and I assumed it was a Texas take on a Southern dish. What's not disputed: Our early settlers, out of necessity, shared, learned and/or developed methods for making undesirable, tough cuts of meat palatable.
Cube steak in to and out of the mouths of babes:
A bit about cubed round steak: Being a grownup is hard. My mother peddled cube steak to my brother and I under the name "funny steak". For a period of years, her schtick worked well for her. If memory serves me correctly, my little brother giggled at his "silly steak" during dinner while my mom pandered to him encouragingly with every forkful. I just sat there and ate it. I found it to be just plain odd in a silly steak sort of way -- the word "funky" hadn't been invented yet.
Ideally, a cube steak is a round steak that has been run through an electric tenderizing machine called a "cube steak machine" (which was invented in 1941). It pokes enough cube-shaped imprints slightly through the surface to render it hamburger-esque in appearance. This leads most people into thinking it must be tender, but, it's not -- what the cube steak machine does do is render it uniquely chewy. Now for some potentially bad news. Sometimes cube steaks are made up of tough, stringy meat scraps that couldn't be sold otherwise (trimmed from tough round steaks of course), that have been knitted together in a cube steak machine. Cube steak advice: Watch your butcher cube the steak or read the label carefully.
My Ultimate Chicken-Fried Steak-Fillet Sandwich:
The cube steak has never been my favorite plate of steak, so, when I decided to make chicken-fried steak at home, I reached for the stars: fillet mignon. Once pounded, it cooks in about the same amount of time a cube steak cooks, and, more importantly, it's super tender. (Sometimes referred to as "minute steaks" cube steaks fully cook in about 3-3 1/2 minutes per side, fillets take 4-4 1/2 minutes per side for medium rare.) That said, this once-in-a-blue moon indulgence isn't going to break my budget -- one fillet makes two large sandwiches, which is plenty for the hubs and I. I admit, this is definitely a different take on traditional chicken-fried steak, so, for authenticity, or more importantly budget constraints, if you want to substitute 4, 4-ounce cube steaks to make my recipe for these sandwiches, you have my blessing. I even cooked that raw cube steak (three photos up) to show you it works beautifully (see above "cooked" photo).
2 6-8-ounce, 1"-thick beef fillets (beef tenderloin), nicely trimmed of excess but not all fat, sliced lengthwise to form 4, 1/2" thick steaks
freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, for pre-seasoning the meat
~Step 1. Note: Freezing the steaks for about two hours will make them very easy to slice in half. Here's how I do it: Remove the steaks from their packaging, pat them dry in a few paper towels, wrap them in plastic wrap and freeze for 2 hours (no longer than that). Remove steaks from freezer, slice as directed and place the four 1/2"-thick steaks between two large layers of plastic wrap. Lightly-pound with the flat-side of a meat mallet to a thickness of about 1/4". Lightly season the tops of the pounded steaks with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.
2 extra-large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
6 tablespoons Wondra quick-mixing flour for sauce & gravy (a granulated flour that won't clump)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper sauce, more or less, to taste
~ Step 1. In a 1-quart bowl, whisk together all ingredients as listed. I like to use my old-fashioned hand-crank egg beater to do this.
2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
~ Step 1. In a 2-quart bowl, stir all ingredients, as listed, together.
For the creamy gravy/sauce:
pan drippings from steak
2 tablespoons Wondra flour
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper sauce
additional milk, to add at the end if you want a thinner sauce
~ Step 1. In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the cream, milk, sea salt and cayenne pepper sauce. Set the liquid mixture aside, along with the Wondra flour, until the chicken-fried steak has been, dipped, dredged, fried and is out of the skillet, about 10-15 minutes.
Ready, set, go. Three easy steps: Dredge, fry, &, make gravy!
Melt the butter into the oil in the skillet over medium-high heat.
~ Step 2. When skillet is hot, using your fingertips so as to disturb as little coating as possible, gently lift and place each steak into the butter mixture. Sauté, turning only once, until steaks are golden and crispy on both sides, 4-4 1/2 minutes per side for medium rare, adjusting the heat as necessary to keep the steaks sautéing without burning the coating. Remove steaks from skillet and return them to the rack.
~Step 3. Sprinkle the Wondra flour over the pan drippings. Stir until flour is smooth, 8-10 seconds. Add the seasoned cream and simmer until nicely-but-not-overly thickened, 1-1 1/2 minutes. In the event your cream does thicken a bit to much, stir in a bit of extra milk.
You will have 1 1/2 cups of slightly-thickened, nicely-spiced sauce and four crispy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside steaks. Serve chicken-fried steak on a plate drizzled w/sauce, a couple of sides and a knife and fork, or: place your steak on a bun with some sauce, lettuce and tomato.
My indulgent face rests its case -- it's in your hands now!
Special Equipment List: paper towels; plastic wrap; cutting board; chef's knife; flat-sided meat mallet; 1-quart bowl; hand-held hand-crank egg beater or whisk; 2-quart bowl; spoon; 1-cup measuring container; wire cooling rack; 12" nonstick skillet; fork; spatula
Cook's Note: I demand that only the best be served with this hum-dinger of a carnivorously-decadent steak sandwich. You can find my post ~ Do You Want (Perfect "French") Fries with That? ~ in Categories 2, 4, 15 20 or 21.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)