You know that dish your mom would make while you were growing up? The one that was “That Dish” that the family longed for during the cumbersome months in between meals of it? For me, it was my mom’s chicken fried steak.
That’s a hefty statement, because she is particularly known within the circle of our immediate family for her Saturday night pizzas, a weekly tradition until all the kiddos were out of the house. It’s unassuming, made from bisquick dough and a cheese pizza packet from Chef Boyardee, with ground hamburger meat tucked under the layers of cheese. But it’s addicting… and filled with the homey-goodness of mom-cooked meals and nostalgia. Few things can beat it. That’s why anytime my brothers visit home with their families, it is understood that Mom’s homemade pizza WILL be made.
Her chicken fried steak tops the pizza in my book, however. If I confessed that in front of the immediate family I’m sure I’d hear a unified gasp, but I’ve savored that dish ever since I was little.
She made it sparingly, primarily for special occasions or holidays. I remember growing up eating restaurant chicken fried steaks, so large they hung off the side of the plate, smothered in a thick gravy. They never compared… No matter the price or quality of the eatery, Mom’s was better. Every time.
Her recipe incorporates a savory, peppery, luxurious texture and flavor that I simply cannot find elsewhere. The breading is somehow flaky, crunchy, and delicate, all at the same time. For Thanksgiving, our whole family was able to gather together for the first time in a few years, and she declared we’d enjoy both of her signature meals. With chicken fried steak on the mind, I forewarned her that I’d be by her side for the cooking process, copiously taking notes so I could recreate this favorite dish for my family (comprised of a husband and two dogs…)
So here it is, friends. My mom’s chicken fried steak. It’s simple, cheap, and absolutely bursting with flavor. I like to think her secret is heavy-handedly seasoning the flour with simply salt and pepper, as well as breading the pieces of meat twice before nestling them in hot oil. Most pieces develop delicious little brown spots of crispy, savory crunch – so do not fear them – they are your friends. Whisk up your favorite gravy from some of the reserved drippings, or embrace ketchup like my little Iowa nieces and nephew did when they ate it (awwww).
But at the end of the day, it’s a recipe of fried meat from my mom, so it’s a winner no matter what.
1 1/2 – 2 lbs cube steak, tenderized
1 cup whole milk
Canola oil (enough to fill your skillet about 1″ deep)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons freshly cracked pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
For the Gravy
1/4 cup reserved oil
1/2 cup flour
3 cups whole milk
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Fill a cast iron skillet or heavy-bottomed skillet about 1″ thick with canola oil. Heat over medium high heat. It’s ready when you can sprinkle a tiny bit of flour across it and it sizzles away immediately.
2. Whisk together the eggs and milk in a shallow bowl. Whisk together the flour and salt and pepper in a separate shallow bowl.
3. Dredge the pieces of meat in the flour, then egg. Repeat the process once more.
4. Nestle meat in the skillet and let cook on each side until it is a deep golden brown, about 6 minutes for each side. Once done, place on a cooling rack lined with paper towels. Repeat the process until all of the tenderized cube steak is gone.
5. For the gravy, drain off all of the oil and leftover bits of flour. If a lot of sediment is still leftover, wipe most of it out with a paper towel. Add 1/4 cup of oil back to the skillet and turn up to medium heat.
6. Whisk in the 1/2 cup of flour in increments, whisking as you go. Once the roux reaches a deep, almost golden color, add the milk in increments, whisking as you go. Continue whisking for 7-8 minutes over medium heat, until it thickens up and the lumps go away. Some lumps may remain, but that’s okay. Season with salt and pepper.
7. Serve the chicken fried steak warm, with gravy poured on top.