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Henrietta Post
  • Jim Hillibish: The secret to Southern chicken-fried steak

  • For years, I’ve wrestled with chicken-fried steak, never getting close to the stuff I adored while living in the South. Unfortunately for me, my goal was high — equal to the world’s best at Piccadilly Cafeteria in Norfolk, Va.

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  • For years, I’ve wrestled with chicken-fried steak, never getting close to the stuff I adored while living in the South.
    Unfortunately for me, my goal was high — equal to the world’s best at Piccadilly Cafeteria in Norfolk, Va. The place is the No. 1 stop for folks hungry for “Southern country” cooking and plenty of it.
    This is a nothing-fancy food line with a mammoth selection of Southern delicacies. They serve a lot of military folks, so they keep the prices low and the portions large. You can totally pig out for about $7, including fried green tomatoes, okra, applesauce sheet cake and a big Coke.
    Northerners have trouble recreating authentic chicken-fried steak, which owes its chicken connection only to its batter. In one Northern restaurant, it turned out to be a fried ground-beef patty under a heavy brown gravy. At another one, the breading was more like bread. Or, they repeat my mistake and serve a leather-tough chunk of generic beef whatever. Chicken-fried must be fork-tender or better.
    I asked one of the gray-haired ladies who frequent the Piccadilly how to cook chicken-fried. She said the secret is to borrow a trick from Swiss steak: Pound a tablespoon of flour into both sides of the steak. Beat it like no tomorrow between sheets of wax paper. The rest is a cinch, and it only takes about five minutes to fry.
    You’ll need a proper country white gravy. This is all-purpose and may go with poultry or sausage. It’s a good recipe when you want to jazz up something cheap.
    Don’t just sit there, try this recipe. The reaction at the table will surprise you.
    P.S.: If you have a choice, use the reliable round steak. Eye round is best. Don’t use “cube” steak or those super thin “breakfast” steaks.
    REAL CHICKEN-FRIED STEAK
    2 pounds beef round steak, fat trimmed
    1 cup flour seasoned with salt and pepper
    2 eggs beaten with four tablespoons milk
    Oil for frying
    Cut the steak into four portions. Spread a light coating of flour on each side and pound it into the beef between waxed paper.
    Dip the pieces into more flour, then into the egg mixture, then more flour once again. Fry in oil three to four minutes a side depending on the thickness of your steak. Drain on paper towels, keep warm and make the gravy.
    SOUTHERN COUNTRY GRAVY
    Pan drippings from frying steak
    4 tablespoons flour
    4 cups milk
    Salt and pepper
    Pour off all but four tablespoons of oil from the steak pan. Add flour and mix to create a roux. Then add milk slowly and whisk to dissolve lumps. Cook, whisking, over medium heat to thicken. Adjust consistency by adding more flour or milk if needed. Pour over four fried steaks and serve.
    Page 2 of 2 - Note: The almost mandatory vegetable side is fresh green beans simmered in beef broth with bacon. Boiled, parsley potatoes in butter are another must. Some folks like sautéed onions added to the gravy at the last moment.
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