Chicken Fried Steak
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According to Jerry Flemmons, who wrote travel pieces for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in the ‘70’s, “there were three major food groups in Texas: Barbecue, Tex-Mex and Chicken Fried Steak.” Chicken Fried Steak, also known as CFS and Pan-Fried Steak, is a famous Texan favorite take on German Wiener Schnitzel (but also similar to Italian & Latin Milanesa, and Scottish Collops).  This steak dish acquired its name because its preparation is similar to that of Southern Fried Chicken but it actually has its likely roots in imported German cuisine. In the 1830’s a wave of German immigrants lead by Friedrich Diercks, (A.K.A. Johann Friedrich Ernst), settled in central Texas and brought their native Schnitzel along with them. Chuck wagon cooks and ranch wives, natural  frontier cooking copycats, likely attempted their own schnitzels. As they “adopted” and “adapted” their less refined pan fried steaks, the dish likely evolved into Chicken Fried Steak, which is a very flavorful way to use a tougher cut of meat.

Varieties

As with any dish widely copied from another culture, there are many variations of Chicken Fried Steak. In Texas, for example, there are Three Broad Categories of Chicken Fried Steak, which range from flour and steak to Southern influenced versions that include flour, bread crumbs, milk and eggs.

Culinary Uses

In general, Chicken Fried Steak is made from a piece of Round Steak, Cube Steak or Swiss Steak (usually about ¾ inch (19 mm) thick with little connective tissue) which is Tenderized, coated in a Simple Seasoned Flour (sometimes with Bread Crumbs added as in Central Texas) and then Pan Fried. The steak can be cut into small round shapes or made into giant platters, depending on the chef’s sense of Flair. Other versions are really just elaborating from this basic theme.

Chicken Fried Steak, which was first mentioned in print, to the best of our knowledge, around 1914, is often confused with Country Fried Steak. At Smart Kitchen we try to differentiate between the two styles and for instructional purposes, we use the presence or absence of an Egg Dip, Egg Wash, or Egg Batter, as a distinguishing feature.

We don’t want to argue about it with the East Texans or the Central Texans but do want to clarify what makes the two different so that we can teach how to make both. Our thought process is based on Three Broad Categories of Chicken Fried Steak, where the original cowboys out in West Texas did not have access to fresh Milk and fresh Eggs. The farmers in East Texas, closer to the Old South, had domesticated and foraging hens and cattle. They could employ fresh eggs and milk to upgrade their Chicken Fried Steak to one with a “Southern-Style” crust that more closely resembled the preparation of “country-fried,” Southern chicken. 

The second major differentiator between Chicken Fried Steak and Country Fried Steak is the gravy. Brown Gravy, used for Country Fried Steak, won’t easily be found west of the Sabine River that separates Texas from Louisiana and the Old South. In Texas, White Gravy is preferred on their Chicken Fried Steak, even those made with a bit of “Southern Style” egg wash crust.

Again, we are not interested in fighting about it and will be happy to call each one what you like, but our goal is to define and simplify so that we can illustrate and discuss different cooking techniques such as Smart Kitchen’s Country Fried Steak Recipe or Smart Kitchen’s Chicken Fried Steak Recipe, both of which will dress up your tougher cuts of meat and stick to your ribs.

Originally, the Chicken-Fried Steak was created to make tough, inexpensive cuts of beef appetizing. The most authentic recipes continue to use tougher cuts like those from the Round Primal Cut, which can be manually Tenderized with Pounding or mechanically tenderized as a Cube Steak or Swiss Steak. Less traditional Chicken Fried Steak recipes use tender cuts of meat from the Rib Primal Cut, or Sirloin Primal Cut to take their product to the next level. Which direction you choose should depend on your tastes, your menu planning and your budget.

The bulk of the Chicken Fried Steak recipes out there, top the CFS with some type of Gravy. Peppered Milk is often specified as an ingredient for traditional gravy.

Different regional variations all have their own preferred gravies, including Brown Gravies (if you are not a dyed in the wool Texan) or even Sweet Gravies where sweet additions like Cinnamon or Sugar can be added to the milk.

In addition to using a cooking Oil to Pan Fry the CFS, it can also be cooked in Butter, Shortening, Lard, or other Fats. Some recipes even call for Pan-Frying the meat in the gravy.

CFS is frequently served with traditional Southern Side Dishes, such as Green Beans, Mashed Potatoes, or Roasted Corn on the cob. Smart Kitchen’s Chicken Fried Steak Recipe is a spare but flavorful West Texas version without all of the heavy breading.

Gluten Free

No

Low Fat

No

Low Calorie

No