I grew up eating a lot of pan-fried round-steak because let’s face it. It’s cheap. And when you’re feeding three kids and two adults, on a budget, it’s one of those cuts of meat that can go a long way! Vividly, I can remember my mom pounding on it with her meat hammer, on her built in cutting-board that was in her kitchen island, and frying it in her handy cast iron skillet. Every kitchen needs one of those- the cast iron skillet that is. Though I gotta say, a built in cutting board in the island, is darn handy too! It’s the pan I use the most- not only because it’s non-stick, but because it is heavy, easy to clean and gives your food GREAT flavor! One of the cheapest pans you might ever buy, I tell you! Go! Invest in one now! Hurry!
Getting back to the “meat” of this little article- we’re talking about round steak. And even more specifically, “Cubed Steak”. For those of you who’ve never heard of cubed steak- and you know who you are- here’s the “down-low”! Round steak/ or the “round” portion of the bovine comes from the “back-end”. It’s actually from behind the loin, to the tail, and down to the hock.
That’s why this part of the beef is tougher- it’s a muscle group that gets used a lot. It is typically made into round steak, cubed steak, and round roasts, all things that generally need to be cooked slower, and lower, to make them more tender. The only difference between round steak, and cubed steak is that cubed steak has been run through the meat tenderizer- either when the meat was actually processed- as it is for us, or if you ask your butcher to run it through the tenderizer. For all intents and purposes, you could purchase round steak for these recipes, and use your own meat mallet, or you could forgo all of that work and simply have your butcher do it for you. I’m typically stretched for time, and while I’ve made plenty of dishes from home-pounded round steak, it’s more efficient to have the meat pre-pounded.
So what can you make with cubed steak? Probably the most popular entree made from cubed steak is “Chicken Fried Steak”. If you’ve never heard of Chicken Fried Steak, don’t worry. It’s a very southern dish. And is, in fact, part of the official state meal of Oklahoma. If you’re east of the Red River, you probably know it as Country Fried Steak (made without an egg wash- which we’ll get to later). The origins are unknown, though, not surprisingly, A South Texas Town would like to claim it. And from what I understand, it was made first with veal cutlets.
From there, the list is endless really. You could use it for fajitas, though that would be almost sacrilegious because that’s usually a skirt or flank steak. It could be diced and put into a crock pot meal; braised and cooked with onions, mushrooms in a red-wine reduction, or used in a stir fry- another one of my favorite ways to cook it. Any way that you could think of to keep it tender works for me. I’ve actually even used it, thinly sliced, in home-made, jalapeno-coconut rum flautas.
With all of that said, I’m going to show you my most favorite, way to cook this cut of meat. And I’ll make a confession: I’m probably the worst cook ever when it comes to measuring or time. I really do a lot of cooking with “feel”- sort of like I’d ride a horse. But rest assured, I measured for the sake of these recipes. The time it will take to cook this though, is, shall we say, a bit less scientific!
Chicken Fried Steak
Maybe I’ve taken chicken fried steak to a new level. Maybe not. But I have yet to serve it where someone doesn’t absolutely love it, and ask me what is in it. Plus, I’m not scared to double batter these babies. It’s all about the flour and the egg wash. And what’s in the flour, of course.
What you’ll need to make this dish:
1 ½ lbs of cubed steak to fry into this golden goodness.
6-8 TBS Olive Oil (or more, as needed)
For the flour mixture:
1 ½ c flour
1 TBS Season Salt (Tony Chachere’s)
2 tsp dried oregano
Yes, I said oregano. It adds a lovely sweetness to the the fried, salty, crispy outside. Trust me. Whisk ingredients together until blended. I typically use a pie pan when making these, because I have found it’s the easiest for dredging.
For the egg-wash:
½ c half/half
Did I say half and half? Why certainly. I used the good stuff. I figure we’re eating “fried” steak. How concerned can we be with our health? Milk works too, for those of you wondering.
Whisk those ingredients together until mixed well. Again, using a pie pan leads to the best results if you ask me.
You will want to cut your steak into serving sizes. I usually make some “kid” sized pieces, and with 1 ½ lbs you can make 4 normal person sized servings- or serve two hungry cowboys, the cook and a kiddo. Your choice. If your steak is really thick, the servings will go farther.
In a large, heavy skillet, heat 2 TBS Olive Oil. Will any of you be shocked if I tell you I used my cast iron skillet? Oh, and don’t forget to turn your oven on to 250 so that you’re able to keep the steak warm as it comes out of the pan.
Dredge each piece of steak first in the egg-wash, then in the flour, then in the egg wash, back into the flour and into the hot pan it goes. You want to have your pan on medium heat to begin. You need it hot enough to cook the meat, but not so hot as to burn it black. We’re going for “golden” fried here. About 2-3 minutes per side will get ‘er done. I like to cook it on one side until I see a bit of blood coming through, and then I will flip them. And if I see more blood once it’s been flipped, I’ll simply flip it one more time, to make sure it’s completely crispy. The goal here is to be able to cut this steak with a fork, so cook it high enough to sear the flour/egg wash but low enough to keep the meat juicy. Your family will thank you.
You will probably need to add a couple tablespoons more oil, as you add each piece. You need to keep enough oil in the bottom of the pan to keep the pan moist. Otherwise your steak won’t get quite as crispy. Crispy is king!
As you pull each out of the pan, I put them on a plate and keep them warm in the oven, because no one wants cold Chicken Fried Steak.
Once all your steak is cooked, you want to make the gravy- IN THE SAME PAN. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. HENCE THE USE OF ALL CAPS! Remove any larger pieces of batter that have fallen off during the cooking (I put them on the plate with the steak) and any burnt pieces. Folks, gravy is what makes Chicken Fried Steak so awesome. Really. It is. It’s an excuse to eat gravy when it’s not associated with Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter.
To make the gravy you’ll want the following:
½ c flour
2 c milk
2 TBS Soy Sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
2 c water (at a minimum)
Have all your ingredients ready before you start (most important is the water). You can thank me for this tip, later. Whisk your flour and milk together. Pour it into the same pan you used to fry the steak- over medium heat. If there isn’t an obscene amount of oil in there, just leave it. It’ll be fine. It’s extra flavor.
Make sure you really whisk the milk and flour mixture while in this stage. In order to avoid lumpy gravy you MUST, I repeat MUST, stir it. Vigorously. The flour needs to be brought to a boil, all the while you’re whisking away. Once that is thickened, and that will only take a matter of seconds, begin to add your water, ½ c at a time, until the gravy is smooth and you’ve reached the desired thickness* and the flour is smooth and cooked. Turn the heat to low, or simmer. Now, add the Soy Sauce, Sugar, Salt, and Black Pepper. Stir until well mixed, and make sure it’s salty enough for your tastes.
*If you’ve never attempted to make gravy before, you will want to make note of two things: 1. when you lower the heat the gravy will thicken, so take that into account when you’re adding the water. Go for a thickness that is slightly runnier than say, pancake batter and 2. how much water you need to add will also depend on how much liquid was left in the pan after removing the cooked steak.
You’re now ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
What to serve with Chicken Fried Steak:
To serve chicken fried steak without mashed potatoes is like having long hair during a Texas summer, and not carrying around an extra pony-tail holder. It’s a bad idea. So serve it with some mashed potatoes (we prefer red potatoes with the skin on, in this house) and broccoli, corn or fried okra- whatever your veggie of choice would be. It’s often also served with homemade biscuits or Texas- Style toast as well. I usually skip that part, but you don’t have to!
Now, sit back and relax. Enjoy the silence that will ensue. Because everyone will be too busy eating to talk!