All Texans have their favorite chicken-fried steak, and I’m no exception: mine is my dad’s. His version was my introduction to the dish, and I was fortunate as a child to be able to eat it at least once a week. I knew dinner was going to be divine if I came home to the smells and sounds of chicken-fried steak frying in the pan. And while I’ve had hundreds of different chicken-fried steaks since, his is still superior to all others. He is renowned for his recipe and method—a craft he learned from his mother, who learned it from her mother. So not only is his the best, but it’s also part of my culinary legacy—a fine inheritance, if I do say so myself.
Now, before I outline how to make it, a few words of caution. The preparation of chicken-fried steak is a violent, messy, and dangerous affair. Do not be afraid of small chunks of meat flying from your tenderizer and adhering to your walls. Do not be afraid of being covered head to toe in a paste-like mixture of flour, batter, and grease. And do not be afraid of hot oil splattering and some screechy sizzling as you flip the steaks in the skillet. Be patient: in the midst of this bloody battle, this culinary chaos, you will ultimately find both the beauty and order that is a plate of chicken-fried steak served with cream gravy.
To craft cream gravy is a cinch. This thick, peppery, creamy sauce is poured over everything in Texas. It’s a simple concoction, made from pan drippings, flour, milk, and cracked black pepper. But while it may appear plain, it’s infinitely delicious. Sometimes it goes by the name country gravy or white gravy, but in Texas we call it cream gravy. It’s best cooked with pan drippings, but you can also do it from scratch with either vegetable oil or bacon grease. The history of cream gravy goes back hundreds of years. People of limited means didn’t have the ingredients to make complex meat-stock gravies, but there was always flour, milk, and pepper on hand to add to the pan drippings. My grandma tells me that during the Great Depression, they ate it all the time, pouring it over everything, as it was a great way to stretch a meal. And while cracked black pepper is the traditional seasoning, you can tart it up with chipotles, jalapeños, cayenne, or chile powder.–Lisa Fain
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A few more words of caution. For the uninitiated, as Lisa Fain explains, this gravy is poured over everything. Biscuits. Bacon. Babies. (Kidding. Sort of.) But perhaps its most inspired application? Smothering chicken-fried steak. And second, those of you who have an existing heart condition, we trust that you’ll take your meds and practice moderation when it comes to indulging in this recipe. (Kidding. Sort of.)
Special Equipment: Deep-fry or candy or instant-read thermometer
Chicken-Fried Steak with Cream Gravy Recipe
- Quick Glance
- 40 M
- 40 M
- Serves 4
- For the cream gravy
- 2 tablespoons pan drippings, bacon grease, or vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
- For the chicken-fried steak
- 1 1/2 pounds top-round steak
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning steak
- 1 teaspoon black pepper, plus more for seasoning steak
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 3 large eggs, beaten
- 1/2 cup whole milk or buttermilk
- Lard or vegetable oil, for frying
- Make the cream gravy
- 1. Heat the pan drippings, bacon grease, or oil in a large skillet on medium heat until warm. Stir in the flour and cook, continuously stirring, for a couple of minutes until a dark roux forms.
- 2. Slowly add the milk to the skillet, stirring with a whisk or a wooden spoon to mix it with the roux. Be sure to press out any lumps. Turn the heat down to low and continue stirring until the mixture has thickened, a couple more minutes. Add salt and black pepper to taste. If the gravy is too thick for your tastes, you can thin it by adding either more milk or water, a tablespoon at a time.
- Make the chicken-fried steak
- 3. Cut the top-round steak into four pieces. Pound the steak with a meat tenderizer until flattened and almost doubled in size. Season the squashed steak on both sides with salt and black pepper to taste.
- 4. Place the flour in a large bowl and add the salt, black pepper, and cayenne. Taste and adjust the seasonings. In another large bowl, mix the eggs with the milk.
- 5. Take a piece of the tenderized steak and dredge it in the flour mixture, turning it to coat. Then dip the coated steak in the egg mixture, allowing any excess to drip off. Dip it back into the flour again. Place on a plate and repeat with the remaining steak.
- 6. Place enough lard or oil in a large skillet, preferably cast-iron, to reach a depth of 1/2-inch. Heat it to 300°F (149°C). Line a plate with paper towels.
- 7. Take the coated steak and gently place them in the skillet, being careful not to crowd the skillet. You may need to work in batches. Be careful, as there will be a lot of popping and hissing when you add the steaks to the hot oil. After about 3 or 4 minutes, or when the blood starts bubbling out of the top of the steak, gently turn the steaks with tongs and cook for 5 more minutes.
- 8. Remove the steaks from the skillet and drain on a paper-towel-lined plate. (If cooking the steaks in batches, you can opt to keep the cooked steaks warm in an oven set at 200°F (93°C) while you cook the remaining steaks.) Serve the steaks smothered in cream gravy.
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