At its most basic, chicken fried steak is a piece of beef that is marinated, dredged, and cooked in a similar way to how chicken is fried. The steak is a cut of meat that is tenderized and cut very thin so that it is not as tough as it could otherwise be.
Like most of the food history that I present on this blog, it’s not 100% clear where this dish was invented. Some say chicken fried steak got its start in Texas and others say Oklahoma.
According to this Wikipedia article, Lamesa, Texas makes a claim to be the spot where chicken fried steak was invented and they host an annual chicken fried steak festival every year (waiting for my invite to be a judge). But if you check out the Oklahoma Historical Society, they posit that both states have been making versions of chicken fried steak long before someone coined the term. There are versions of recipes for “breaded steak” or “pan-fried steak” that exist going back into the late 1800s. The frying process for chicken fried steak is very similar to a German schnitzel technique. So, it makes sense that it potentially started with German immigrants in the Texas/Oklahoma area of the US.
This week I made a bunch of chicken fried steak and gravy and then I turned those into sandwiches with Texas toast as the bread. Keep reading, because this one will stick to your ribs.
Chicken fried or country fried?
Not to confuse anyone, but there’s another dish called country fried steak that exists which is almost the same thing as chicken fried steak.
It’s my understanding that the main distinction between chicken fried steak and country fried steak is the gravy that is served with them. According to this article from The Spruce Eats, chicken fried steak is served with a black pepper-focused white gravy while country fried steak gets a brown gravy. White gravy is made with cream or milk as the liquid base and brown gravy is typically made with a meat broth. All the gravy that I made for this blog post were of the white variety although they aren’t all exactly white in color.
The square bread
Texas toast can be any type of soft white bread, but it seems like it’s in a square shape a lot of time. Basically, Texas toast is soft white bread that is basically turned into toasted garlic bread.
If you want square-shaped bread, you need to bake your loaf in a pan with a lid. Most baking pans do not have lids, but those that do are typically called Pullman pans. The pans got their name because a guy named George Pullman chose to use them for baking in the kitchens in his Pullman railroad cars.
Want to bake your own? Here’s the Pullman loaf pan I own from Amazon, and my recipe is below.
Here’s a slideshow of the shaping process for a loaf in a Pullman pan.
Gotta make sure your square bread is square.
Here’s my white Pullman loaf recipe.
Texas in the toast
Texas toast is simply a way to make toast from thick-cut soft white bread. I used to think that Texas toast itself was a type of square-cut bread, but you can find all sorts of shapes of Texas toast out in the wild.
Texas toast is full of butter, garlic, and parsley. The process of toasting requires melting down the butter and adding the other ingredients and then painting them on top of the bread and toasting it.
You can brown Texas toast under a broiler, and I think this might be the best way to brown it if you’re eating Texas toast as a side with your pasta, but in the case of a chicken fried steak sandwich, I like to make sure the bottom part of each toast is also a bit toasted and dried out. I tried one of these chicken fried steak and gravy sandwiches with a soft middle part of the sandwich and the whole thing just didn’t hold together very well.
The chicken fried steak
The cut of steak used in chicken fried steak is typically cube steak, which is often top round or top sirloin. It’s cut into very thin pieces and then it is usually tenderized with a meat tenderizer, which leaves the meat with obvious indentions giving cube steak its unique appearance.
Cube steak is marinated in milk/egg for 4 hours or so which softens the meat even more. Then the beef is breaded in seasoned flour and fried either in a shallow pan of oil or deep-fried.
The white gravy
I wrote a little about Gravy Math™ last year in my blog post about sausage egg and cheese biscuits. Basically, my gravy equation works out that a simple gravy can end up being: 2 parts oil/grease/butter, 2 parts all-purpose flour, and 16 parts of liquid. I do it this way instead of 1/1/8 because this is broken down into tablespoons.
- 2 tablespoon fat/butter/grease/oil
- 2 tablespoons flour/thickener
- 16 tablespoons (also known as a cup) liquid
You can apply this same gravy algorithm to white gravy for our chicken fried steak sandwiches. Take 2 tablespoons-ish from the leftover frying grease after frying the steaks, add 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour and then combine around a cup of milk and a bunch of black pepper. A few whisks later and you’ve arrived in Gravy Town where all the most savory folks live.
The chicken fried steak sandwich recipe
Here’s my recipe for making a chicken fried steak sandwich on Texas toast, scroll past it if you just want to see a bunch of pics of chicken fried steak sandwiches on Texas toast.
The state sandwich of Oklahoma or Texas or maybe just your house. Savory gravy, buttery garlic toast, and crispy steak combine to form a sandwich you'll love.
Ingredients:Chicken fried steak
- 2 pieces of sandwich sized cube steak, pre-tenderized (around a pound total)
- 3⁄4 cup buttermilk
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1⁄2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1⁄2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1⁄2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1⁄2 teaspoon cayenne powder
- 1 cup canola or vegetable oil (for frying)
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoons frying grease (from above)
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
- 1⁄2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 4 pieces of Texas toast (view recipe)
- 2 Chicken fried steaks (from above)
- white gravy (from above)
- pickles or condiments (optional)
The chicken fried steak: In a medium bowl or zip-top bag, add steak and buttermilk. This buttermilk should help to tenderize the steak so you should let them marinate for at least 4 hours.
When you are ready to get started with the frying process, grab two bowls. To the first bowl, crack and add an egg. Pour in some of the buttermilk from the marinade and stir the egg and buttermilk until they are fully combined. Add the steak and the rest of the buttermilk. To the second bowl add all-purpose flour, salt, paprika, ground black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and cayenne powder. Stir everything to combine.
Shake off a piece of steak and add it to the bowl with the flour mixture. Coat the steak thoroughly, making sure that the flour fully coats it and there are no wet spots, uncovered by flour. Move that fully flour dredged piece of steak to a plate to rest. Repeat with the other steak.
Add 1 cup of oil and 1 tablespoon of butter to a large skillet over medium-high heat.
Add a pinch of flour to the oil and if it immediately starts to bubble, the heat is right. Add steaks and fry them for 4 minutes on the first side. After four minutes, flip and fry the second side for 4 minutes or until the batter of the steak is nice and golden brown.
Once the steak is golden brown to your liking, remove it from the oil and place it on a paper towel-lined plate or a cooling rack to rest. DO NOT discard all of the oil yet.
The gravy: Reserve 2 tablespoons of the oil you just used to fry the steaks. Discard the rest of the oil and wipe out your pan.
Add the pan back to medium heat and add the two tablespoons of the reserved oil. Add two tablespoons of all-purpose flour and whisk the flour into the oil. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes to cook off the flour flavor.
Slowly add 1 cup of milk to the pan with the flour mixture. Whisk or stir constantly to ensure that you have no lumps in the gravy.
Add salt and pepper and taste for flavor. If the flavor is good, cook gravy for 3 or 4 minutes or until the gravy starts to thicken.
Make the sandwich: This part is easy. Add a slice of Texas toast, add any condiments to the bottom slice of bread.
Add one chicken fried steak piece on top of that.
Cover steak with 3 or so tablespoons of gravy and top with the top slice of Texas toast.
Serve sandwiches and enjoy.
Chicken fry some steak!
This is a fun recipe to try if you’ve never made chicken fried steak. Even if you don’t want to make a chicken fried steak sandwich, you can make this as your entree with Texas toast on the side. Do it.
Come back next week when I’m pairing French bread with an Asian-focused sandwich.