Sunday, June 07, 2009

Chicken Fried Steak

I don't know much about Southern food, and Paula Deen scares me in ways I imagine some people are scared of clowns. So I'm unlikely to learn more from her. I think it's her voice that terrifies me. I don't like Paula, but I do like Southern food, particularly chicken fried steak, just not the way it's served in every restaurant I've tried it in.

It needs to be thin, not a half inch thick. The key word here is fried, not steak. And it needs to be a bit spicy. And the milk gravy should be much better than I've had in restaurants. I stole and modified this recipe from the brilliant David Rosengarten. Credit where due.

My ex-wife's grandfather, a lovely man who served in WWII in the Merchant Marine as a cook, risked his life on repeated voyages on convoy duty in the North Atlantic. When he visited us in Maryland it was my pleasure and privelege to cook several meals for him, and I tried my best. One meal I cooked was chicken fried steak, and he really seemed to like it more than the other stuff I'd put out. He was silent throughout the meal because, as he said later, "that was really good, and I was busy eating". And eat he did, several helpings.

It is really good. But it's not good for you. I reckon you can have this twice in your life without risking your life. Experiment the first time you make it, and get it right the second time, which should be your last.

You will need lard for this recipe. These days, lard is hard to find. You might need to go to an hispanic market to find it. In that case, lard in Spanish is "manteca", pronounced "man tay ka". You are only going to eat this meal twice, so go ahead and fry it in lard. It's worth it.

Chicken Fried Steak

2 lbs lard
ordinary flour
Cholula brand hot sauce
garlic powder
onion powder
ground cayenne pepper
ground thyme
Worcestershire sauce
top round steak
a half gallon of milk

Choulula brand hot sauce is the completely correct stuff for this recipe. You're going to echo the hot sauce through several layers of flavor here, so use Choulula if you can get it. If you can't get Choulula, Louisianna brand hot sauce is an OK substitute. Tabasco is no good here, it's too hot.

Get a lot of top round steak, preferably already cut thin. You're going to pound it out using a meat mallet so that it is as thin as you can make it. Pound it between two sheets of clear plastic wrap. Make each piece a little bigger than a playing card, about 30% bigger. Make it thin. Thin, thin, thin. But don't destroy it by pounding it too thin. You'll get it right after a couple of tries.

Really get a lot. People will eat several helpings of this, and top round is cheap.

Make a dredging mixture of 50% paprika, 25% onion powder, 25% garlic powder, 5% cayenne pepper, 5% ground thyme, and salt and pepper. I know that doesn't add up correctly. That's the southern part of the recipe, sort it out for yourself. Try wearing clown makeup while you mix it up. Put it in a bowl that's large enough for the pounded out top round to be dredged in.

Heat the oven to it's lowest temperature.

Dredge the flattened steaks in the paprika mixture. Set them aside.

Put eggs in a bowl and whisk them with some Choulula hot sauce and a little cayenne pepper.

Put flour in a bowl. Season with salt, pepper and a little cayenne.

Heat the lard in a deep pan. It should be two to three inches deep. You are going to deep fry in this. Be careful!

Dredge a steak in the flour, then the egg wash, then again in the flour. Into the lard it goes. Do another the same way. You should be able to fit two at once.

Fry until golden brown. Take them out, drain on a paper towel, then into the oven to stay warm. Keep frying until they are all done.

Now make milk gravy.

First make a roux. A dark roux is OK. When it's right, add a lot of milk. Reduce and make it a proper gravy. I say that that way because if you are still reading, you know how to make a proper gravy from a roux. Once you are there, season with salt (more than you would think) pepper, and a little cayenne and a lot of Worcestershire sauce. Season carefully, a little at a time until it's right for you. You can't remove salt..

Mashed potatos come already made and they are good. Use them, because this is about the steak, not the potatos.

Let people take a steak, some potatos, and the gravy and go at it. Anybody will eat three or four of these, I promise.

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