What the hell is “chicken fried steak?”

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It sounds weird and just plain wrong. Chicken and steak are two different things, and shouldn’t really be combined. The suspicion and weirdness are only enhanced when you throw the words “American” and “deep-fried” in there as well [shudder]. Can anything good be said of chicken fried steak?

Well, yes! Actually.

We’re going to have a go at converting any squeamish Kiwis we meet to the idea of chicken fried steak and encourage them to give it a go.

It’s pretty good!

First things first. What is it? Basically, it’s steak, cooked in the style of Southern Fried Chicken. A cow meets KFC kind of thing. While there is no real consensus, it is likely that CFS(chicken fried steak) was invented by German and Austrian settlers in the southern US. This makes sense when you think of Wiener Schnitzel—a very similar dish that hails from Austria. Wiener Schnitzel is pretty well loved by Kiwis too. You can even buy crumbed schnitzel in the supermarket (though you probably shouldn’t—it’s horrible). So if we’re happy to coat thinly sliced steak in bread-crumbs and deep fry it, who are we to criticise when slightly thicker steak is instead coated with flavourful, seasoned flour and deep fried? Not us, now.

Once we had the Wiener Schnitzel thing pointed out to us, and after we stopped feeling sheepish for bagging something we had never tried, we decided to make CFS and give it a fair go.

Starting our research we realised that methods vary and—as with all these iconic dishes—there are regional variations and recipe rivalry.

We went with a middle of the road hybrid using some porterhouse steak that was on special at our local butcher. Firstly, it’s very important to tenderise the steak using the knobbly side of a meat hammer. This breaks up the meat fibres and results in a more tender steak, but also gives a rough surface for the coating to cling to. We probably didn’t need to use porterhouse steak. A cut with more flavour would have been even nicer. Next time we’d probably go for rump or something (sorry to anyone from the US if we’re describing a heinous bastardised version of your beloved dish, but we have to go with Kiwi cuts of meat).

Next we had to soak the meat in buttermilk and egg for a bit. We don’t really have buttermilk in easy supply in New Zealand, so we improvised using milk with a little yoghurt to give it a tang. While the steak was soaking in the “buttermilk” we made our seasoned flour.

We used plain flour, salt, black pepper, thyme, cayenne pepper and a small sprinkle of cumin. We shook all the ingredients together in a bag before pouring our seasoned flour out onto a plate.

Cooking the steak is easy. You fish it out of the egg/buttermilk mixture, dredge it in the flour until it is well covered and then back through the egg/buttermilk mixture and back through the flour.

Fry the steak in a centimetre mix of hot oil and butter for about 3 minutes a side. The flour and egg almost instantly form a forcefield- like barrier against the oil, and the result is decidedly less greasy than Weiner Schnitzel. We removed the steak from the pan onto some paper towels and they hardly left a mark.

CFS is traditionally served with white gravy and it’s easy to make too. Once you have fried your steak you keep it warm in a low oven, pour away all but a tablespoon or so of the fat. Add a tablespoon or two of the yummy seasoned flour to the crispy bits in the pan and mix into a roux. Slowly add milk whisking up a storm until you have a smooth, thickened gravy. We added some more black pepper too.

Serve the CFS with green beans and corn, or with a coleslaw.

Traditionally you have mashed potatoes, and you make a little well in the top of your pile of mash to take some of the gravy. Pour the gravy over the steak too (cover about a third of the steak and it looks really classy). It went down a treat!

If you’re happy cooking Weiner Schnitzel at home, then we urge you to give this a try sometime. It’s really very yummy. We’d love to try it now in its natural home, made by someone who really cares about their Chicken Fried Steak. We bet it would be a very nice meal indeed!




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4 thoughts on “What the hell is “chicken fried steak?”

  1. I’m from Texas and have been in NZ for a couple of months working. I have a craving for CFS and was searching for a place to get one here, and this is the first site that popped up. Your recipe is pretty much spot on. I’ve never made or had it made with porterhouse, it’s usually from round steak which is a bit tougher and cheaper, but still good meat. I think that’s yet another reason for tenderizing this cut of meat. Hopefully I can find a restaurant that has CFS, otherwise it’s probably going to be another couple of months before I have one. Next time I make one at home I just may use a porterhouse and see how that works out. To anyone who hasn’t tried one, I highly recommend it.

  2. I think this is something I will have to give a go. I have a new sister-in-law who is from Arkansas, and this is something she has mentioned that she likes and misses. Your instructions are very helpful, and I would probably do as you suggest and use rump steak – that way if I mess it up it hasn’t cost me as much!

  3. Hi, we had the same question re Chicken Fried Steak. So when we went to the US last year we decided to try it. We ate at a great place called the Tiger Cafe in June Lake (not far from Yosemite National Park). It was TASTY and also drenched (a little too much) in the white gravy which was also nice. Do try it..it’s darned yummy!!

  4. I actually can imagine this is quite tasty….. I do like fried food although I try not to have it all that often. On a cold winters night it could be appealing.