Chicken Fried Steak and Country Fried Steak. Same thing, right? I mean, if you look at internet and cookbook recipes, menus, and anywhere else, you might think they are interchangeable, for sure. I mean, there are so many different ways to say things in the South, this must just be an example of different local terminologies for the same thing.
In the South, you wouldn’t say someone was crazy….You would choose from one of these:
–he’s a few biscuits short of a dozen
–he’s a few sandwiches short of a picnic
–he ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed
–the cheese has slid off his cracker
So it is reasonable to believe that Chicken Fried Steak and Country Fried Steak are just two different ways to refer to the same meal.
But such thinking would be a mistake. And in the South, we take our food seriously. I am pretty sure some multi-generational family feuds have started over the “right” way to smoke a brisket, cook a pot of chili, or fry some chicken. If you were to even suggest in some parts of the South that Chicken Fried Steak and Country Fried Steak were ubiquitous, you may be committing great heresy.
There are some minor schools of thought that suggest the difference is just in the breading. That the chicken fried method requires rolling in seasoned flour, and the country fried method involves coating in come sort of crumbs, such as bread, cracker, or corn flakes.
And some will claim the difference lies in the actual frying vessel. That to be chicken fried, something must be fried in a deep fryer, while something fried in a skillet is called country fried.
The real answer is, as it is in many territorial food disputes, is not so black and white.
Chicken Fried Steak is a thinly cut and tenderized piece of steak, which may be either dredged in seasoned flour or crumbs, or even battered in a wet batter. It is then fried, either in a skillet, or deep fried, until golden brown and cooked throughout. In most of the United States, it may be served with brown gravy, pan gravy, or cream gravy, whether on the side or poured on top of the steak. In Texas, however, Chicken Fried Steak (CFS) is always served with cream gravy. If a Texan serves you a Chicken Fried Steak with other than cream gravy, you should question the veracity of their citizenship claims.
Country Fried Steak makes use of the same cuts of meat, and like its Chicken Fried cousin, may be coated in a variety of breadings. Country Fried Steak is always cooked in a skillet. And once it is done on both sides, the gravy is made around it in the pan—brown gravy is the most common—and then it is simmered in the gravy for a few minutes to finish it off. For this reason, Country Fried Steak is always made in a skillet. And since it is simmered in the gravy after being fried, it is less crispy.
So, Chicken Fried Steak may be made in either a skillet or deep-fried, and served with gravy after cooking. Country Fried Steak is always made in a skillet, and simmered in the gravy before serving.
Subtle differences? Perhaps.
Been the cause of a few territorial food feuds? Certainly.
Worth trying both of them out to see for yourself which one is best? Absolutely!
Of course, after your done choosing sides, you need to choose some sides. In Texas, CFS is always served with mashed potatoes, and copious quantities of cream gravy. In fact, we tend to think of gravy as a beverage.
Green beans are often the second side dish, but if you are feeling crazy, try something different. Like green beans cooked in bacon. Or green beans stewed in tomatoes. Maybe even green beans cooked with onion. Live a little outside the box!
In other states, people even eat corn with their chicken fried steak. Or broccoli. I’ve even heard tell that some folks will eat it with fried cabbage. Go figure!
Chicken Fried Steak
For the Steak:
- 2 pounds cube steak
- 2 cups whole milk
- 4 beaten eggs
- 2 t Tobasco sauce
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 t salt
- 3 t black pepper
- 2 t paprika
- Oil, for frying
For the Gravy
- stick butter
- 4 T flour
- cups milk
- teaspoons salt
- teaspoons coarse-ground black pepper
Country Fried Steak
- 2 pounds cube steak pieces
- oil, for frying
- 3 t salt
- 2 t ground pepper
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 4 beaten eggs
For the brown gravy:
- 2 tablespoons reserved fat from skillet
- 1 1/2 tablespoons flour
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 1/2 cups beef stock
- black pepper
Preheat oven to 275°.
Heat oil to a depth of ¼” in a heavy or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.
Combine flour, salt and pepper in large bowl. Place the beaten eggs in a medium bowl.
Dredge cube steak pieces into the flour mixture, then the egg mixture, and then the flour mixture again.
Add the meat, a few pieces at a time to the skillet, and cook 4 minutes on each side. Remove to a baking sheet, and keep warm in the oven while you finish the rest of the meat.
Remove all but 2 tablespoons of fat drippings from the pan. Return pan to heat, and whisk in flour until smooth. Slowly whisk in milk and beef stock, a little at a time, until smooth and thoroughly incorporated. Allow to simmer, reduce heat to low, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Return steak to skillet, turning to coat with gravy, and allow to simmer for 5-8 minutes, or until gravy has thickened.