When I first moved to Texas I was bemused by the name chicken-fried steak. It made no sense to me. Either something is chicken or it’s steak. Now I’m used to it and the name makes perfect sense. Chicken-fried steak is, quite simply, a piece of steak that’s battered and cooked in the same way one would fry chicken. We think of this dish as being classic Texas comfort food but is it really Texan? Which state is actually known for chicken fried steak and how did it come to exist?
How do you make it?
Though upscale restaurants might use pricey cuts like tenderloin, most opt for less-expensive round steak or cube steak. A mallet pounds the meat or it runs through a mechanical tenderizer, before dredging in an egg-and-flour batter and landing in either a skillet filled with oil or in a deep fryer. The finished product, encased in crisp, golden-brown batter, is traditionally topped with a rich cream gravy made from pan drippings.
Where did it come from?
The origin of this dish is somewhat debatable. It is similar to the South American dish known as milanesa – a breaded filet of veal, chicken, pork or beef – introduced to the continent by Italian immigrants during the 1860s.
Texas stakes its claim
Most historians agree that German and Austrian immigrants who settled in Texas during the 19th century most likely influenced the meal. They brought with them the native Austrian recipe wiener schnitzel, which is veal, and occasionally pork, dipped in eggs and bread crumbs and then pan-fried. It was common practice during the 1800s to use tough cuts of meat, which were more affordable and easier to come by. To enhance the taste and texture, spices and breading were often added, before frying it.
Oklahoma’s official state meal
According to the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture, the true origins of this dish are unknown, although there are abundant theories. One is that the first mention of a similar recipe was within The Virginia Housewife, a cookbook from the 1800s.
The cookbook mentioned a process of battering and frying thin veal cutlets, another tough, yet cheap cut of meat. Oklahoma’s claim to fame? Chicken fried steak was named one of the state dishes in 1988 by the 41st legislature.
How did it get its name?
How did the moniker ‘chicken fried steak’ come to be and eventually stick? Allegedly a line cook by the name of Jimmy Don Perkins in Lamesa, Texas, invented the dish by mistake. As legend goes, Jimmy got an order for chicken and fried steak, and he botched it. Instead of making two dishes, he made one—taking a piece of steak, breading it, and frying it, just as he would fry chicken. He served it up with some french fries and gravy, and the term “chicken fried steak” emerged. How reliable is that story? According to the Texas State House of Representatives it’s the truth.
Is it country fried steak?
Country-fried and chicken-fried steak are similar. You take a piece of meat (usually tenderized cube steak), dip it in a batter, fry it in a cast-iron skillet, cover it with gravy and serve. However there is one clear difference – the color of the gravy. Country-fried steak comes with brown gravy, while the other has peppery white gravy. Chicken-fried steak usually has a crispier coating. Sometimes, chicken-fried comes with the gravy on the side to allow the crispiness to remain crispy. Country-fried, on the other hand, is sometimes soaking in gravy before the final stage of cooking, so that the outer layer infuses with the sauce.
This dish is one of Flavorly’s favorite comfort food meals. We season, bread and pan-fry 5 ounces of tenderized Wagyu steak and smother it in delicious white gravy. Along with a side of rustic mashed potatoes with chopped bacon and homemade spinach gratin, this meal has got your comfort food cravings covered. Why not see what else we have on the menu that reminds you of home?