There is a short list of things in the South that you’d better know how to do correctly or someone will quickly say, “Bless your heart.”
Making a good chicken fried steak is near the top of that list. There’s a lot at stake when it comes to claiming you make a good one. Pun intended.
For the most part, cooks south of the Mason Dixon Line know how to make a decent chicken fried steak. Those who don’t, know which restaurants that do.
No self-respecting Southerner would ever misrepresent their chicken fried steak skills, anymore than they would claim to be able to make sweet tea without brewing a pitcher that can actually back that statement up.
An excellent chicken fried steak requires the following: Flour, eggs, whole milk, salt and pepper, and (here’s the most important part) flat iron steak run through the tenderizer. At least twice.
Flat iron steak, also called top blade steak, is allegedly called such because it looks like a piece of flat iron. It comes from the shoulder of the cow and is used in many other dishes, including fajitas and Asian foods.
I verified the right cut of meat with the world’s most renown meat expert. My cousin Roger.
Roger has been a butcher since Reagan was in the White House and, trust me, he knows his beef. Once, in the early 80s, he was stuck at my house during an ice storm and he turned a package of steaks and a can of pepper into a delicious, cast iron-seared delicacy.
So, if you’re going to make your own chicken fried steak, go with flat iron steak. If your have to get your fix at a restaurant, do your homework first on who has the real deal.
Many restaurants try and woo you in by claiming that they have the largest chicken fried steak. Do not be deceived by these purveyors of less-than-stellar cutlets. This is one instance where size doesn’t matter.
Just because someone prepares you something that is served on a pizza tray and smothered in gravy does not mean that it is good. In many cases, it’s not even edible.
I’m not sure if it’s still in business, but there used to be a restaurant in Fort Worth that had a menu that included a chicken fried steak that weighed over 5 pounds, came with French fries and gravy, a salad, and other items, and was free if you could eat it all. If you couldn’t finish everything, you owed them $70 bucks.
That didn’t include the cost of the tip, or the quadruple bypass you’d need later on. I never tried it, so I don’t know if it was good or not, but I’m not sure you can tell whether something tastes good after consuming 5 pounds of anything.
The best chicken fried steak I’ve ever eaten in a restaurant was, hands down, at Miss Mac’s Café in Ashdown, Arkansas.
It was actually just called “Mac’s Café,” but since Miss Mac always seemed to be behind the counter or in the kitchen of this hometown truck stop, we all just called it “Miss Mac’s.”
She didn’t actually call it a chicken fried steak, she called it a “Hot Steak Sandwich.” It was served on a piece of white diner china (that’s right, diner, not dinner) and included a chicken fried steak served on a piece of toast, smothered in gravy, with another piece of toast cut in half and paced on each side of the steak, and it also came with French fries, a salad, and a glass of sweet tea.
The salad dressing was a mixture of her own design that was so good, we’d put it on crackers while we waited for our meal. Outside of a home-cooked chicken fried steak, Miss Mac had every other restaurant beat. And remember what I said about saying you know how to make sweet tea? Miss Mac could back that up too.
I can’t remember what we paid for that Hot Steak Sandwich, but I want to say it was around $2.75. Many a late night were spent in Mac’s eating that wonderful meal. I’d give just about anything for a time machine to take me back there for just one more visit.
But, in the absence of an H.G. Wells invention, we’ll have to settle for making our own.
My cousin Roger was nice enough to let me interrupt him while he was watching the Astros game, and he gave me permission to share his chicken fried steak recipe, which he got from his momma and swears that she makes it better than him.
I believe that.
Here it is. You can thank me later.
Cousin Roger and Aunt Gail’s Chicken Fried Steak recipe:
Package of Iron Flank Steak
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups of Flour
Instructions: Start with flat iron steak that has been tenderized several times. Place 1 1/2 cups of flour on plastic wrap. In a shallow bowl, beat 1 egg and 1 cup of milk together. Sprinkle meat with salt and black pepper. First, dip meat in flour, then milk egg mixture, then back in flour. Fry in oil that has been heated to 350 degrees until done.
©2017 John Moore
John’s new book, “Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now” is available on Amazon, and at More and Moore Treasures in Ashdown, Arkansas.