Country-Fried Steak — Down-Home Comfort
Country-fried steak is called chicken-fried steak in Texas and pan-fried steak, cube steak or smothered steak in other regions; but frankly, once you taste this dish of down-home comfort, you're not going to care what it's called. This is pure meat and potatoes — simple country cooking that is as basic as basic can be.
When considering classic comfort food dishes, it's often a bit of a mystery where they came from and how they became so exalted. Although it's not a great feat of culinary genius to consider breading meat and frying it in a skillet, the dish does enjoy uber-celebrity status in Texas. This may be due to the German settlements in the Hill Country near Austin. If you think about it, chicken-fried steak is just a Texas two-step away from das schnitzel.
Regardless of what you call it, this dish is usually made with round steak. Round steak is a cut of meat from the rear leg of a cow. The round is divided into different cuts including the eye of round, bottom round and top round. Round steak is very lean and moderately tough. The lack of marbling causes round steak to dry out when cooked with dry-heat methods like roasting or grilling. It is best prepared with slow, moist-heat methods including frying, as in this recipe, or braising to tenderize the meat and maintain moisture.
How does the tough, hind leg of a cow become a mouthwatering indulgence? The meat is tenderized with a menacing-looking meat mallet. (Literally, the meat is beaten into submission.) The mallet makes cubelike indentations in the meat; sometimes you will see packages of raw meat labeled "cube steak" in the grocery store. These pounded cutlets are dipped in an egg and milk mixture, then dredged in seasoned flour. The steak is then fried in sizzling hot fat until the coating is crispy and browned, much like fried chicken. The excess oil is poured off and the drippings are combined with milk or cream for gravy. The whole hot mess is served up with a mountain of buttery mashed potatoes. Break out this special dish when you need some Texas-size down-home comfort.
Get the Recipe: Country-Fried Steak with Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother's country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y'all and Basic to Brilliant, Y'all , among others. Follow her continuing exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.