She wrote the book on chicken fried steak

July 27, 2009

From the “life could be worse” department…

jeremy parzen

Above: Despite Tom G’s admonitions, I went ahead and ate the Chicken Fried Steak on Sunday. After all, it’s not every day that you get to eat CFS made by the woman who wrote the Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink entry on CFS and it’s not every day that you get to pair it with Chateau Clerc-Milon 1990 (Pauillac, 5th growth). Thanks, Kim and Alfonso! Photo by Alfonso Cevola.

Sunday found me and Tracie B in the home of IWG where his SO (significant other), the lovely and immensely talented food writer Kim Pierce, shared a meal of chicken fried steak and yellow summer squash casserole (by Kim) and mashed potatoes (by Tracie B) with us. Food critic Leslie Brenner, her husband, and their son were also in attendance. Her son showed me how to play the intro to Aerosmith’s “Dream On” on guitar and Kim graciously shared the text of her entry in the Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink. Enjoy!

"Chicken Fried Steak"

By Kim Pierce

Chicken fried steak most likely developed as a way to make a tough cut of beef more palatable: The first step in preparation is pounding a cutlet to tenderize it. Then, mimicking the technique for Southern fried chicken, it is either dredged in flour or dipped in batter before being fried in hot oil in a cast-iron skillet. A cream, or milk, gravy made from the drippings is spooned on top.

Above: “Chicken fried steak most likely developed as a way to make a tough cut of beef more palatable” and is prepared by dredging cube steak in flour and then frying it. My good friend Jon Erickson and I both call our dads “cube steak”: they’re of the generation too young to have fought in the Second World War but old enough to remember it and as a result, they’re obsessed with WWII folklore and factoids. My dad was 12 when it ended (he turned 76 yesterday) and the one time he ate at Jaynes Gastropub (owned by Jon and his wife Jayne), he said it was good but that he preferred “cube steak” — a classic entrée for his generation. Photo by Tracie B.

There are several theories about chicken fried steak’s origins. One holds that it developed in cattle country — Texas and the Midwest — before beef was as tender as it is today. Another holds that it descended from Wienerschnitzel, courtesy of the Germans who settled in Central Texas starting in the 1830s. Recipes resembling chicken fried steak are not uncommon in historical cookbooks. In The Kentucky Housewife (1839), a recipe for frying beef steaks starts with cutlets from the tough chuck and rump. It instructs the cook to “beat them tender, but do not break them or beat them into rags.” The cutlets are then dredged in flour and fried in “boiling lard.” Instructions for making a cream gravy follow.

Above: I’ve seen other versions of chicken fried steak where the meat is soaked in milk and is breaded before frying. Kim’s version, simply dredged in flour, was superbly tender — thanks to how well the meat was tenderized and the frying temperature (I believe). Photo by Tracie B.

Whatever its origins, chicken fried steak was well established in home kitchens by 1932, when a reader submitted a menu featuring “Chicken Fried Steak With Cream Gravy” to The Dallas Morning News. In 1936, the year of the Texas centennial, the same newspaper reported that the president of the Dallas Restaurant Men’s Association had received cards and letters from out-of-towners praising his and other restaurants: “To them a chicken-fried steak, smothered in brown, creamy gravy is the tops in foods.” The first known recipe that refers to Chicken Fried Steak by name appears in the Household Searchlight Recipe Book (1949), published in Topeka, Kansas. Country fried steak and chicken fried steak are sometimes used interchangeably.

Above: Chicken fried steak and nearly-twenty-year-old 5th growth Bordeaux for lunch. Life could be worse.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Bryan, Mrs. Lettice. The Kentucky Housewife. Cincinnati: Shepard & Stearns, 1839.

Gee, Denise. “Dueling Steaks.” In Cornbread Nation 1: The Best of Southern Food Writing, edited by John Egerton for the Southern Foodways Alliance. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

Handbook of Texas Online, s.v. “GERMANS,” http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/BB/dibgi.html

Household Searchlight Recipe Book. Topeka, Kansas, 1949.

“Today’s Menu and Recipe.” The Dallas Morning News, November 8, 1932.

“Waiters in Dallas Restaurants Easily Spot Visitors to Fair By Differences in Their Ways.” The Dallas Morning News, August 10, 1936.


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