Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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Chicken Fried Steak (aka Steak n’ Gravy): Southern Cooking at Its Fried Best, with Limas or Butterbeans, Hot Biscuits and Rice

June 15th, 2010 · 3 Comments

Chicken fried steak

My Yankee food buddy, The Meatist, has just written up his First Encounter of the Southernmost Kind: a story on Chicken Fried Steak.

I love it when somebody discovers a food I’ve been eating all my life – and “gets” it. Or sorta.

He gives a recipe for this staple of Southern kitchens that’s almost right. It will work, but…

The Southern additions

I shall correct him: Ignore his plan to use panko breadcrumbs – they’re heresy, and bad for the gravy. Stick to the flour, which creates part of the thickening.

Also, “make a roux” is the phrase he’s looking for when describing the base moves for gravymaking, but he’s learning, so I take no points off. Add 20 minutes to this for properly browning the flour to a pale tan, slowly over the medium-low fire, then add the milk or cream – and a dash of salt, please. Cook it any faster and you’ll burn it, because now it’s got flour and not breadcrumbs.

Nellie Harrelson’s second-best dish

This was my mother’s near-best dish (her chicken and dumplings were king) – this was, after all, something she could fry in no time. Frying is what she and my beloved Aunt Eleanor did best – to any food that came through their kitchens. 

Steak, chicken, pork chops, fish, bacon – we didn’t eat lamb, or I bet it would have been fried, too. Any vegetable can be fried – all the better in or with bacon fat: Fried squash, fried onions, fried tomatoes and potatoes, fried corn. Why not bread too? Let’s go: fried cornbread and hushpuppies, fried biscuits out of cans that turned into doughnuts, fried pies – oh, lordy mercy! Is your mouth watering just yet? (See why I pity Yankees?)

So fried steak just had to be – was there another kind?

We did cook steak like normal people – broiling it or cooking it on a charcoal grill. But for most nights, it came to the table thin, crispy and covered in steaming gravy.

‘Mike’s coming – I’m fryin steak’

My cousin Mike knows this dish only too well. He traveled around Florida quite a bit with his job as an air traffic controller at one point, and hit Mom and Dad up for dinner and a room whenever he went through Hawthorne (a fork in the road just east of Gainesville).

He’d call ahead to let them know he was coming, and put in the request for this favorite meal: fried steak and gravy with Fordhook limas cooked in bacon fat, biscuits and more often than not, rice. My mom wasn’t a mashed potato fan, except on those rare occasions she made roast beef. Southerners eat more rice than potatoes, unless you count sweet potatoes.  (Think rice plantations of the South that preceded cotton…)

She was thrilled that he loved this, and complied, of course, every time. 

Too rich for us all now

This steak-cooking method is definitely not on the American Heart Association’s meal plan. Having married a Southern ‘Bama boy (Roll Tide!), and now sharing a kitchen with a Georgia Cracker, I have made my share of chicken fried steak over the years, but I honestly can’t recall the last time I pulled out the iron skillet for this job. Our health matters more these days, though my disposition would definitely benefit from a taste like this now and again. I’d cook it for Mike, now, but he, too, painfully gave up fried foods due to diabetes.

Cracker Barrel for a fix

If you don’t want to mess with it, I’ll concede that the Cracker Barrel on 45th Street in West Palm Beach does a fair job at it. Not all Cracker Barrels are alike, I’ve heard. I can’t vouch for many of them, but this one gets this dish right.

Tags: Southern Roots Run Deep

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Bradford Schmidt // Jun 15, 2010 at 10:39 am

    Thanks for the shout-out Miss Jan.

    In defense of my weak southern cooking mojo (which I freely admit to – but I do know my pastrami, baby), I want you to know that I do know what a roux is (which my daughter’s cooking teacher, a southerner, spelled rue – what’s with the school system these days?) – but I have to assume that some of my friends from back home (yes, the northeast will always feel like home to me, much as I love you and Florida) may not.

    As for the panko, well, I told people not to tell if they do it that way – because I know it won’t be southern OR Texan.

    By the way, your upbringing in fried food heaven may have my chest twinging a bit, but you’re right to pity us – I’ve often said I’d eat a sneaker if it was fried properly, and I wasn’t lucky enough to discover probably 80% of that list until I was old enough to hit the road and do some traveling.

    Still haven’t had a fried pie though. At the S. Fl. Fair I had a fried Twinkie – does that count?

  • 2 Jan Norris // Jun 15, 2010 at 11:12 am

    Oh, bucko – the difference in a fried Twinkie and a fried pie is the difference in a nun and a strumpet.
    A fried pie is basically a turnover filled with fruit, a half-moon shape, typically, and many a Southern kid has burned their mouth on the hot peaches or apples inside. I’ll make you some next time we’re near my iron skillet.
    Now, I’ll have to post that recipe. Later…too busy with deadlines.

  • 3 Juan Montalvo // Jun 15, 2010 at 11:24 am

    Heart attack on a plate, but it taste so good!!! Guess have to work on the treadmill and extra couple of hours.


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