It’s Time to Make a Chicken Fried Steak, And Then Devour It Whole
Chef Kelsey Barnard Clark shares a recipe from "Southern Grit: 100+ Down-Home Recipes for the Modern Cook"
Held each April in the Texas town of Lamesa, the Chicken Fried Steak Festival commemorates the day in 1911 that short-order cook Jimmy Don Perkins allegedly mistook two separate orders — one for chicken and one for fried steak — as one request. He served up a combo of both to a customer at local eatery Ethel’s Home Cooking, and the rest is history.
There are other origin stories for the meaty marriage of beef, batter and buttery grease, including the notion that chicken fried steak is a descendant of the Wiener schnitzel German immigrants brought to America. While we’re not sure exactly where chicken fried steak — also known as country fried steak or pan-fried steak — came from, we’re positive where it ends up: as the cause of a midday snooze.
A fresh take on the Southern classic by chef Kelsey Barnard Clark, who won season 16 of Bravo’s Top Chef and runs the eponymous restaurant KBC in Dothan, Alabama, may change that. Featured in Southern Grit: 100+ Down-Home Recipes for the Modern Cook, Clark’s recipe for country fried steak attempts to balance out the heaviness from the grease, gravy and starch in the dish with some fresh herbs and plenty of greenery.
“People think of fried chicken as the No. 1 Southern dish. To me, country fried steak is the step-sister to fried chicken because it is on every single menu yet it’s really not talked about a whole lot,” Clark tells InsideHook. “I think the reason for that is because it’s cubed steak. It’s chuck. It’s the worst piece of beef. But that’s kind of the reason I love it so much, and not just my recipe. Southern food is taking a very humble ingredient and utilizing it in a different way. Nine times out of 10 when you talk about cubed steak or chuck, you’re talking about braising it. Whoever first did this dish was thinking outside the box and not doing the normal thing. That’s what I love discovering about my own food and my own Southern cuisine. I was trying to put my spin on a classic recipe.”
Now one of Clark’s signature dishes after it became an instant hit when she put it on the menu at her restaurant one winter, the KBC chicken fried steak does not come with the mashed potatoes that typically accompany the dish. Instead, it’s served with an arugula salad tossed with slivered grapes and champagne vinaigrette.
“It’s usually just very heavy. This is a little bit of a lighter version, which is what I like about,” she says. “I like to do classic Southern food but then add some green or put something on there that might be surprising as a pairing. You want some acidity to cut through heaviness and the fat. My whole concept is freshening and brightening, which is what a lot of Southern food lacks. Green is missing in a lot of things. One of the mottos in my kitchen is that nothing leaves without green on it. Everything has to have something fresh. It’s meant to fuel your soul and fuel your appetite. I want my food to be incredibly enjoyable and indulgent, but don’t want it to make you feel like you need to go nap for four hours.”
That said, even with Clark’s lighter touch, sleep isn’t completely off the menu.
“It’s not something I’m going to eat every day. Don’t get me wrong,” she says. “I do think having it without a pile of mashed potatoes and no vegetable in sight certainly helps. At the end of the day though, it is fried steak. But I do feel when you introduce vegetables and fruit and acid and all those kinds of things that your body is thankful for it. I don’t think this is the exact same as sitting down and eating a bowl of mashed potatoes and a fried piece of meat. The things that typically are lacking when you see country fried steak on the menu are added in this recipe. I think it’s a little different.”
See that you think — and whether you need a snooze afterward — by trying the dish yourself.
KBC Country Fried Steak
Ingredients for the country fried steak
- 4 cups buttermilk
- 1 cup dill pickle juice
- 1 egg
- 6 to 8 dashes Crystal hot sauce
- 3 lb cube steak (round steak that’s been extra tenderized)
- 6 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 Tbsp garlic powder
- 1 Tbsp onion powder
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1⁄2 cup canola or vegetable oil
Ingredients for the black pepper gravy
- 1⁄3 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 to 4 cups whole milk
- 1⁄2 tsp celery salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Tbsp chopped tarragon
- 1 Tbsp chopped parsley
Ingredients for the salad
- 2 Tbsp champagne vinegar
- 1⁄4 tsp honey
- 1⁄4 cup olive oil
- 4 cups arugula
- 1⁄2 cup slivered green grapes
- 1⁄4 tsp salt
To make the steak
- Begin by brining the meat. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the buttermilk, pickle juice, egg and hot sauce and stir to combine. Add the meat, turning to completely coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour or up to three days.
- In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the flour, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, black pepper and cayenne. Dredge the meat by letting the liquid drip off the beef pieces, then coating in the flour mixture. Pat the flour mixture into the beef, turning and pressing to be sure the meat is evenly coated. Place the beef on a plate and set aside.
- In a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil to 350 degrees. To test whether the oil is hot enough, drop a sprinkle of flour into the pan. If the flour pops and fizzes, the oil is ready.
- Cook the meat, three pieces at a time, using tongs to turn the pieces over, until the edges start to look golden brown, about two minutes on each side. Transfer the meat to a cooling rack set inside a sheet pan or a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat until all the meat is cooked. To keep the cooked pieces warm while frying the rest, place an oven-safe plate or tray in the oven preheated to 300 degrees.
- After all the meat is fried, pour the fat into a heatproof bowl. Without cleaning the skillet, return it to the stove over medium-low heat. Add 1⁄4 cup of the fat back to the skillet and allow it to heat up.
To make the gravy
- When the fat is hot, sprinkle the flour evenly over the fat.
- Whisk the two to create a blonde roux. Add more flour if the roux looks overly fatty and add a little more fat if it becomes too clumpy. Whisk and cook until the roux is a deep golden brown.
- Pour in 3 cups of milk, whisking constantly. Add the celery salt, season with black pepper, and cook, whisking, until the gravy is smooth and thick. About 5 to 10 minutes. If it becomes too thick, be prepared to add more milk.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning.
- Remove the gravy from the heat and stir in the tarragon and parsley.
To make the salad
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the vinegar and honey, then while whisking, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until combined.
- Add the arugula, grapes and salt, then toss until evenly coated with the dressing.
- Set aside.
- Place the KBC country fried steak on a plate and then add a spoonful of gravy.
- Top with the salad and enjoy immediately. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
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