I never said this was going to be pretty. There are no glamour shots in this post. It is impossible to make country fried steak look like anything but a big plate of brown. While country fried steak is doubtless very tasty, a feast for the eyes it is not. I think that may be a significant part of why country fried steak has never been in heavy rotation in my kitchen. (That and the “country”, “fried”, and “steak” parts.) My gene pool is neck-deep in artists so I’m practically genetically hardwired to “first, eat with your eyes.”
Growing up, I don’t actually remember ever eating country fried steak. After I got married, I started making it occasionally, because despite the fact that he introduced me to kimchi and tom yum soup and sushi and cioppino, I married a guy who occasionally craves things his mother or grandmother cooked. His culinary guilty pleasures tend to contain trans-fats. His mom could give Paula Deen a run for her money in butter usage; she makes a mean tuna noodle casserole; she sometimes country-fries things; She’s not afraid of Crisco. So for love, I learned to fry. Sometimes.
When I started looking for actual recipes for country fried steak, I discovered that there are a couple of significant variations: I have always dredged, pan-fried and then covered and cooked the meat in a sort of self-made brown gravy. A lot of recipes almost deep fry the meat, then make a cream or milk gravy separately and pour it over the top when it is served, very much like a weiner schnitzel. It’s interesting then that that version has its roots in Texas with its significant influx of German immigrants in the early 19th century.
There is also some variation in the name: is it “country-fried” or “chicken-fried”? None less than John T. Edge of Southern Foodways Alliance weighed in in the NY Times Diner’s Journal saying that “Country fried steak is, usually, battered and fried beef, smothered in gravy and simmered until solid crust and liquid gravy fuse. It’s a pan-Southern dish.”
Anyway, getting back to the issue of aesthetics: I used red onions. It was the best I could do.
Country Fried Steak
a general outline
Tenderized beef round steaks, about 1 per person
1 cup all-purpose flour, seasoned (to taste) with
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
pinch of cayenne
1 large onion, thinly sliced
Oil for frying
Milk , about a cup to dredge the meat and 1/2 cup for the gravy
water or broth to surround but not cover the meat
dash Worchestershire sauce
In a heavy skillet, slowly saute’ the sliced onions in about 1 tablespoon of the oil until they are a sweet softly wilted tangle. Remove from the pan and hold for later.
Meanwhile, dip each piece of meat into the milk, then dredge it in the seasoned flour. Cover the meat completely, but dust off any extra that isn’t well adhered. As each piece is covered, set it aside on a plate for 10 minutes or so before frying them. The flour will begin to absorb the milk and juice from the meat and will get a bit of a crust.
Once the onions are cooked and the meat is all dredged, add a couple more tablespoons of oil to the pan and heat it until it shimmers slightly. Lay the meat in the pan and fry until both sides are golden brown. Scatter the onions back over the pan, pour in the 1/2 cup of milk, enough water or broth to surround but not cover the meat, and that splash of Worchestershire sauce. Bring the liquid to a simmer, cover the pan with a heavy lid and keep the heat on low for about 15 minutes until the meat is very tender and the gravy has thickened.