Chicken Fried Steak. Also known as Country Fried Steak. Did anyone else meander through life at the very least slightly confused the first time you heard this recipe’s name? Was it chicken? Was it steak? Did you fry chicken and steak together? What on Earth was going on?! At some point along the way, I figured out through reading a menu or being told (I have no idea which), that chicken fried steak was essentially just battered and fried steak. It seems that the word “chicken” got thrown in because at the end of the day, the fried steak looks like fried chicken. Leave it to the culinary world to confuse the masses. Now that we’ve gotten the nomenclature out of the way, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Battered. Fried. Steak. Smothered in gravy. This must be what dinner is like in heaven.
I actually hadn’t tasted this until a couple of years ago when out to eat with my Chief Culinary Consultant. It’s one of his favorite dishes, so when he ordered it and I said I’d never tried it before, he insisted that I take a bite. I barely chewed before I knew I had stumbled upon something utterly amazing. Fast forward to a month ago. I was flipping through my new copy of the The Homesick Texan Cookbook and my CCC pointed out chicken fried steak on one of the pages. It immediately went on my dinner bucket list, no questions asked. We finally got around to making it and found that, (1) it wasn’t nearly as difficult or time-consuming as I imagined it might be; and (2) it’s crazy delicious and deserves to be made at home without a second thought.
Now, sometimes chicken fried steak is served with a basic white gravy (made with a little fat, flour, and milk), and sometimes it’s served with sawmill gravy. Sawmill gravy is made the exact same way, except that it includes some crumbled breakfast sausage. I know what you’re thinking – sausage on top beef?? Look, we’re already battering and frying meat. Nothing was going to stop me from throwing a little sausage into the gravy. It takes the gravy to a completely euphoric level. Now I want everything I eat to be smothered in this gravy. It’s amazing. This whole dish is amazing. From the steak, to the gravy, to my favorite mashed potatoes, and even a tiny bit of vegetables – the whole thing is out of this world. I hear that buttermilk biscuits are also a popular side to the chicken fried steak meal. I will be sure to include those next time! Because there will certainly be a next time. Many, many next times.
Cut the top-round steak into four pieces. Working with one piece at a time, place on a sturdy cutting board or clean countertop, cover with a large piece of plastic wrap, and pound the beef with a meat tenderizer until flattened and almost doubled in size (you want the meat to be about ¼-inch thick). Repeat with the remaining pieces. Sprinkle pieces of beef with salt and black pepper.
In a large, shallow bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. In another large, shallow bowl, whisk together the eggs and the buttermilk. Take a piece of the tenderized meat and dip it in the egg mixture. Next, place the meat in the bowl of seasoned flour. Turn to coat it thoroughly. Place the meat back into the egg mixture, turning to coat. Finally, return it back to the flour mixture, ensuring that it is evenly coated on both sides. Place on a clean baking sheet and repeat with the remaining pieces of meat.
In a large, 12-inch cast iron skillet, heat ½ inch of vegetable oil over medium-high heat until a small fleck of flour dropped in the pan sizzles. Carefully place one or two pieces of the meat (whatever fits comfortably without overcrowding) into the skillet. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the blood starts bubbling out of the top of the steak. Using a pair of tongs, gently turn over the steaks and cook for 5 more minutes. Remove the steaks to a cooling rack to drain while you finish frying the remaining steaks. You can place the cooked steaks in a 200-degree oven to keep warm.
Finally, make the sawmill gravy. (You can start this in another pan while the last piece of steak is cooking.) In a skillet over medium heat, cook the sausage until browned, crumbling it as it cooks. With a slotted spoon, remove the sausage from the skillet and place on a plate. Drain the oil from the pan, reserving 2 tablespoons in the skillet (if your sausage didn't yield enough drippings, you can use vegetable oil to get to the 2 tablespoons). Sprinkle the flour over the drippings, and whisk together, cooking for about 2 minutes, until a dark roux is formed. Add the milk slowly to the skillet, whisking continuously. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue whisking until the mixture is thickened, about 2 more minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the reserved sausage, and season to taste with salt and black pepper. (If the gravy is too thick, you can thin it by whisking in more milk, a tablespoon at a time.)
Serve the steaks with the sawmill gravy poured over top.
Note: You can purchase cube steak, which is already-tenderized cuts of round steak, and omit step 1 up until the last line - be sure to still season with salt and pepper!