FOOD!?! DID SOMEONE SAY "LET'S TALK ABOUT FOOD?!?"
When Sherman suggested we put a series together about food I said, "HOT DAMN!! Pull up a chair and let's talk about my all-time favorite!"
What is your dish?
If the "HOT DAMN" wasn't a dead giveaway, let me make this clear once and for all. I am an Oklahoman. I was born here, I will always live here, and I will die here. Period, end of story, fi-nito! Red dirt flows through my veins and I consider tornado watching a spectator sport. I love it and you can call me crazy if you want to just don't call me late for dinner!! Especially when the main course is an Oklahoma staple and my favorite entree, Chicken-Fried Steak.
(the Kendall Chicken Fry Challenge!! Just twenty-six bucks, eat it all and it's free, but be careful..... there are two big cinnamon rolls not shown for desert)
How popular is CFS in Oklahoma, you may ask? Let me put it this way, there are two states that list a state meal, Louisiana and Oklahoma, and Chicken-Fried Steak is the main course on the Sooner version.
When do you eat it?
An easier question to answer would be, when don't you eat it? Simple.... never. The best time for CFS is breakfast with eggs and hash browns, lunch with fries and a salad, dinner with everything (the Oklahoma State dinner), late night snacks, and Chicken Fried Steak sandwiches with the leftovers tomorrow...if there are any leftover that is.
Where can you find it?
A most excellent question and a very, very, important answer to know. I will put my list in a "don't pass it by" order:
1. NEVER, never, never, never....never....(did I say never yet?) pass up an opportunity for a home cooked Chicken Fried Stead dinner in the great State of Oklahoma. Especially if the cook bears even the slightest resemblance to this lady:
This is my Aunt Zella and Uncle Buster, and yes, she named her dog Pet. Zella prided herself on two things: flower gardening and country cooking. See the beautiful flowers in the background? Now imagine a meal even more lovely because gardening was Aunt Zella's second best talent.
2. Possibly for the first time in my life I must give the State of Texas credit for something. Their unique way of rating restaurants that serve Chicken Fried Steak is perfect. It's simple and by golly, it works. When faced with the second best option for my favorite meal, I suggest the Longhorn Pick-up system. If there aren't four or five pick-up trucks in the parking lot, just keep driving. Don't ever order Chicken Fried Steak at a no pick-up truck joint, because it won't be the real deal. If you're that desperate, save yourself some money and go buy a TV dinner because the only thing you will get there is the same frozen and factory breaded crap you get from a Swanson's box and not the fresh and tender beef delicacy sopped in creamy gravy from heaven that the true CFS connoisseur craves.
3. This one is tricky. If you don't have an invite to sit at an expert's table, and the only place with Chicken Fried Steak on the menu has nothing but mini vans and family sedans in the parking lot, then your only option is to make it yourself. If you have a knack for cooking, this step may move up to number 2, or if you're blessed with my Aunt Zella's magic touch, possibly even number 1. To find out, here is a recipe I personally vouch for so you can find out for yourself:
Chicken-Fried Steak Recipe - How To Make Chicken-Fried Steak:
Yields: 4 servings
Prep time: 5 min
Cook time: 10 min
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg
2 tablespoons water
3/4 cup buttermilk baking mix (such as the brand Bisquick)
2 pounds bottom or top round steak (cut into four individual portions), pounded well to tenderize, or cube steak if you don't want to wear your arm out beating your....ummm..... round steak.
1/3 cup vegetable oil
Milk Gravy (see recipe below)
Preheat oven to 150 degrees F.
In a shallow pan or plate, sift together flour, salt, and pepper.
In another shallow pan, combine egg and water.
In still another shallow pan, place baking mix. Coat steaks in flour mixture, dip in egg mixture, and then coat with baking mix.
In a large frying pan (I like to use my cast iron frying pan) over medium-high heat, add vegetable oil and heat until a drop of water sizzles. Add coated steak pieces, in batches, and fry 4 to 5 minutes per side or until golden brown and thoroughly cooked (add additional vegetable oil if needed). Remove from pan and keep cooked steaks warm in preheated oven.
Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the cooking oil. Put the frying pan back over the heat and make the Milk Gravy.
Makes 4 servings.
Milk Gravy Recipe:
milk gravy2 tablespoons pan drippings
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 cups milk, heavy cream, or evaporated milk, room temperature
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
In the same frying pan (that you cooked the steak in) with 2 tablespoons pan drippings, over medium heat, sprinkle flour over the oil and blend with a wooden spoon or whisk until smooth.
Whisking or stirring constantly, slowly pour in milk, cream, or evaporated milk; continue stirring, scraping loose browned bits from the bottom and sides of skillet, until the gravy begins to boil and thicken. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, 5 to 8 minutes or until gravy is thickened to the desired consistency and the flour has lost its raw, pasty taste.
Remove from pan and serve hot with the prepared Chicken-Fried Steak.
(told you.... anytime is a good time for Chick-Fried Steak)
A personal tip from THE Chicken-Fried Steak expert on this planet..... me. Be careful to not over salt or pepper the gravy. The best CFS has just the slightest taste of sinful sweetness to it that salt can overpower. If you like saltier gravy on your mashed potatoes, add it then, as my Aunt Zella used to say, "you can always add salt but you can't put back in the shaker."
With what do you pair it?
At dinner time, the Oklahoma Meal sides..... of course!! (we REALLY need a rolling eyes emoji around here)
Cornbread, sausage and gravy, pecan pie, barbecue pork, fried okra and squash, biscuits, grits, corn, strawberries and black-eyed peas.
Actually, when this list was put together by the Oklahoma legislature in 1988, they should have called me. Cornbread is fine if that is your fav, but I prefer my Aunt Zella's sour dough rolls (bless her heart, she called the most heavenly bread ever created biscuits so it counts) or as close as possible. Grits were chosen because potatoes are not considered a primary state crop, but creamy mashed potatoes gets the nod from RK. Now I have to admit the boys at the Capital were on to something when they added fried okra and squash to the menu because I LOVE FRIED SQUASH! and I can make a meal out of black-eyed peas alone. I don't suggest mixing barbecue pork however, they clash.
Fresh strawberries are always fantastic and if you are ever in Oklahoma when they are in season, try dewberries, a larger sweeter variety of blackberry. I promise, you won't regret it. Try them in a well made cobbler and you will swear off cake forever.
My reference to berries and cobbler was in no way intended to detract from the official desert of the "Oklahoma Meal," the pecan pie. No sir, in fact, it may be the best hope for those not fortunate enough to call God's country home to get a taste of the great state of Oklahoma because the best pecan pie is a Field's Pecan Pie and they are distributed in 23 surrounding states. (I will expect my endorsement check from the Fields people for this plug any day now).
If you are trying Chicken-Fried Steak for the first time, you must finish that meal with a slice of pecan pie, it's not just a suggestion, it's not just delicious, in Oklahoma, it's the law.
What should you be listening to while you eat it?
I love this question!
Since a Chicken-Fried Steak meal is most often served with the house wine of the south, iced tea, it is not generally associated with Bach or Luciano Pavarotti playing in the background. Any meal that warrants a hardy "HELL YEAH!!" when it is seen on the menu requires some tunes with the same gusto, something that screams "Americana" as loudly as the dish before you and there are a variety of options for your listening pleasure:
1. Banjo Bluegrass:
I don't care if Bluegrass is your thing or not, that there is an artist at work as is the case with selection number 2, Bluegrass on the fiddle:
YEE friggin' HAW!! Knock 'em down Charlie!
AHH, I'm just kidding.... you don't have to listen to Bluegrass, sometimes you just want to slow it down so you can listen to Country if you like. Selection #3 here is my favorite. The first time I ever heard this song a dear friend of mine was singing it while playing his acoustic guitar in his dorm room. I dearly wish I had had a recorder that day but I didn't, so we will just have to settle for the original, enjoy:
Now if you really want some Oklahoma flavor to go with your Oklahoma Meal, here are two suggestions. The first is from a fellow Lion that graduated from Moore High School two years after I did...
...and this one. You may have heard it a few times along with a few others of this old boy's tunes.
(Those last two songs helped me stay awake while pushing a big truck almost a million miles when I was forced to drive over the road to feed my babies in the early 90's. Thanks Toby, thanks Garth, I don't think I would have kept it between the lines without you boys.)
Why is it so awesome?
The toughest piece of a cow beaten almost to a molecular level fried in chicken batter and smothered with gravy is comfort food at it's very finest, that's why. And let's face it, after listening to the country tunes above, one will be in dire need of some comfort!
OH...I've got friends in low places, where the whiskey drowns and the beer chases my blues away....AND I'LL BE OK!
Have you tried R.K.'s favorite "comfort food"? What is your personal go-to when your feeling blue? How do you make it, how do you eat it, and what do you love about it? Is there a law about it? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!