Chicken-fried steak an iconic dish found in many southern states and each state has its own delicious version. This recipe is a Texas-style CFS with lots of peppery, creamy gravy and a crispy crust that’s flavored with onion and garlic powders, plus a hit of heat from paprika and hot sauce.
Pound each steak between 2 sheets of plastic wrap to 1/4 inch thick. Liberally sprinkle the steaks with salt and pepper. Transfer to a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet.
Whisk together the 1 1/2 cups flour with the cornstarch, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in a large bowl. Whisk together the buttermilk and hot sauce in a medium bowl.
Working with one steak at a time, lightly dredge in the flour mixture, shaking off the excess. Dip in the buttermilk mixture, letting the excess drip off. Dredge again in the flour mixture, packing it onto the steaks and pressing firmly into crevices, and gently shake off the excess. Return the steaks to the same wire rack. (If time allows, refrigerate, uncovered, 2 to 6 hours. This rest time will ensure that the crust is extra crispy and adheres to the steak. Let the steaks stand at room temperature 30 minutes before frying.)
Meanwhile, make the gravy. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the remaining 3 tablespoons flour until combined and cook until golden and bubbling, about 1 minute. Whisk in the milk, heavy cream, sugar, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, whisking frequently, until the gravy boils. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, whisking occasionally, until the gravy thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and keep warm. (Cream gravy will seem very loose, but it will thicken as it sits.)
Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat with enough oil to come halfway up the sides. Fit the skillet with a deep-fry thermometer then heat over high heat until the oil registers 375 degrees F. Fry the steaks in 2 batches until golden brown, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
Whisk the warm cream gravy to loosen and serve over the chicken-fried steaks.