September 21, 2010

Steaks the Mighty Chicken Fried Way


I was born in the Sunflower State as well as both my daughters.* Let's chat about Chicken Fried Steaks, which if you think about it, is kind of weird to be frying steaks in the first place. But I grew up with a mother who would grab her meat mallet and pound down a steak to then dredge in seasoned flour and place it with a drizzle of oil in a skillet for it to develop a nice brown crust. Then she'd add her own gravy and cook the meat on low heat for another hour or two. I didn't need to worry about my mother undercooking anything. (The crockpot was another appliance of choice in her galley kitchen with limegreen walls.)

It's really one of those dishes I make without a recipe and then just forgo the gravy when I'm making at home. I know that sounds like no fun. I've not had breakfast yet so mashed potatoes with gravy is sounding sooooooo good right now. And yes, there's a reason I look like I do.

So even though the dish is attributed to origins in Texas, I still think it's a big Kansas thing. Some restaurants just list it as "Chicken Fried" and I guess just assume you know they mean steak. I mean, Kansas is a cattle state. It's gets hot and humid here so folks can stand their dinners served up with some crispy coating and a peppery gravy, usually with mashed potatoes and green beans on the side.

AFTER-DINNER FAMILY BOOK: Well, it's really a tale from Texas, as it states right in the subtitle, but shoot 'em if it's not perfect for this meal. Check out "Bubba the Cowboy Prince, A Fractured Texas Tale" by Helen Ketteman and illustrated by James Warhola. It's a Western version of the Cinderella tale my daughters love.

TUNES FOR COOKING: If you need some music to get the little cowhands into the kitchen, I'd load up: "Hoe-Down" from the Rodeo suite by Aaron Copland or "Theme from The Magnificent Seven" by Elmer Bernstein. Click Symphony in the Flint Hills program for more information on musical selections. (The Kansas City Symphony holds a wildly successful concert one night every summer in the glorious, rambling pastures of the beautiful Flint Hills in Central Kansas. Note: if you're going with kids, you may want to roam toward the back. We got shushed by music lovers sitting in front of us one year.)

My version of Chicken Fried Steak is easy
(even though at first glance it doesn't look that way):

2 pounds of rump, top round, or beef round
the "round" descriptions are probably what you want but I like to ask the butcher for suggestions on cuts of meat. Makes me feel like a good consumer telling the folks behind the meat counter what I'm creating for that night's meal. It makes me feel like I have some sort of PLAN.
If it's not tenderized, it's easy to do and a good stress reliever. If you don't have a meat mallet, placing the meat in a Ziplock bag and whacking it with a cast-iron skillet or other heavy item SHOULD work but I don't want to be held responsible if your skillet flies out of your hand and falls on your toe or breaks some glasses. I suggest just picking up a meat mallet/meat tenderizer at the store. (Mine is pictured below.)

Tenderize the meat by hitting it with the meat mallet on your cutting board, if you're unlike me and know where you last put your cutting board.

Then I get a wide bowl and add flour**, seasoned salt, Kosher salt, freshly cracked pepper and whatever seasoning sounds good at the moment. (Barbecue rub always works or maybe Greek Seasoning sounds good or you can use Maryland's Old Bay Seasonings. In other words, just use what you have in your spice drawer.)

Another bowl is for the eggs (fresh, range-free if you can get them.) I bring in the kids to do the meat from flour to egg back to flour coating assembly line and then I put the caked meat into the preheated skillet with some olive oil (okay, go ahead and use that corn or sunflower oil -- Sunflower's the state flower) into a heavy skillet and watch those little doggies sizzle and heat up to a lovely brown color on both sides. (I don't need to tell you to brown both sides, do I?)

When they look tasty, I throw them into a 9x13 pan and bake them for about half an hour or more at 300 degrees. (Time depends on your steaks thickness -- how well you pounded those steaks into submission.) You can make a gravy to put on top like my mother does, but I'm adding some links for PAID chefs to give you gravy recipes. If there is one thing I cannot cook, it's gravy.  So if anyone has any gravy tips, please send them my way.

VARIATIONS ON THE THEME: Jamie Oliver's (I ADORE Jamie Oliver even though a friend who's a nutritionist says that kids drinking chocolate and strawberry milk is not the end of the world as Jamie touted on his FoodNation TV show.)
Alton Brown's recipe (Alton's show reminds me of the times I had to do food demonstrations in 4-H.)

* You can send birth announcements to the White House and other dignitaries and they may send notes back. Though I couldn't tell from the White House site if this is still an ongoing PR service of the White House staff currently or not. Both girls have "form" congratulation cards from President Bush. (President George W. Bush even wrote a very nice personal note to Joe after getting a copy of "The Soul of Baseball" book. I'm not sure if sports fan President Barack Obama has read any of Joe's books yet or not.) Five years ago, we got a great handwritten note from then Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius writing about how great it is to grow up in Kansas "where the skies are not cloudy all day." That note (and the former President's) is in Katie's baby book.

** So if you want to make this as true to Kansas as possible, I recommend Hudson Cream Flour, milled in Kansas. It's also the only flour I try to use for baked goods.

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