Chicken fried steak super crispy on the outside, with incredibly tender steak on the inside, all smothered in a flavourful gravy is finally something I can make at home!
For years now chicken fried steak was something I got when we were on vacation. If I’m being completely honest, it’s something I ordered once and it was AMAZING – a super crispy coating loaded with flavourful, tender beef, and covered in a warm pepper gravy. Every time I ordered it since that first time though, I was just chasing the dream. It was never that good again.
Chicken Fried Steak or Country Fried Steak?
Humour me for a second, incase some of you have come here looking for country friend steak. Isn’t it the same thing? You may be asking, if you’re like me. But no, it’s not (huh, who knew!).
Country fried steak is just dusted with flour, and served with a brown gravy and onions (typically).
Chicken fried steak is this beautiful recipe (and my preference). A breaded steak served with a peppery white cream gravy.
Back to the important details, like…
Not even restaurants get it right all the time!
Even the restaurants seem to struggle with finding the sweet spot where all three parts of chicken fried steak (breading, steak, and gravy) are awesome. Most of the time the coating’s soggy, not crispy, and the steak is often incredibly tough (I remember ordering at one restaurant and not even being able to cut through it, but I don’t know if it was just a steak issue, or if their knives were crap too). And you can’t forget the gravy. When it’s good, it’s good. When it’s bad though, it’s HORRIBLE. Bland and too thick are not what we want.
Homemade is always better. Eventually.
I finally decided to try making it at home. Two years ago. Yeah, that’s right, this has taken two years of trial and error to finally get it right because there were SO MANY THINGS to go wrong.
Over and over again I was screwing up the coating. First, I tried a thin coating – soggy. Then, I tried a thick coating – soggy. Finally, I tried a coating with cereal in it – it was like I dipped it in a soggy bowl of cornflakes.
After that I tried switching up my cooking method. First, I tried shallow oil in a skillet – soggy. Then, I tried an inch of oil in a skillet – soggy (seeing the pattern here?). Finally, I tried deep-frying. Dun dun DUN: SUCCESS. There’s no way around it, you can’t shallow fry this in any amount of oil, you’ve got to deep fry it if you want that crunch.
How about some warm Cheesecake Factory bread to go with your Chicken Fried Steak?
As if the coating nightmares weren’t enough, the beef had to be sucky too!
Now I had the coating right, but I still had super tough beef. Chicken fried steak is only as good as its beef is tender. Preach it, am I right? I tried all the typical (at least what I thought was typical) types of steak for it – meaning cheap cuts of beefsteak. Those pre-tenderized cube steaks everyone says to use. It was always tough. I tried tenderizing it again at home, I tried marinating it in buttermilk, nothing was working. The “A-ha” moment didn’t come until I stopped thinking those cheap cube steaks were my only option.
One day I walked into our local grocery store and they had started doing something new – taking the good steaks, and offering ¼” thick “fast fry” option. I grabbed 4 fast-fry rib-eye steaks and hi-tailed it outta there quicker than a Texas tornado <- FYI as a Canadian I don’t even know if that’s a thing, but it sounded good, lol.
Chicken Fried Steak perfection, only two years later.
That was it, that was the difference it needed. I still gave them a quick pounding with my tenderizing mallet just in case it would make a difference. A little salt and pepper on the steaks, then into the breading mixture and we were good to deep fry.
The gravy was the easy part, just don’t be afraid to season it. You want this to be nice and peppery (well, as peppery as you can handle, I’ll admit when I do it to my taste the kids find it a little too much). Also, make sure it isn’t too thick. It’ll thicken up more as it cools, so have it a little on the runny ride before you bring it to the table.
Eating this chicken fried steak was like being in Heaven. I wanted to go on a pro-bono tour of all the restaurants I had ordered this at that were struggling to get it right. I wanted to invite every single person I’d ever met over to our house to try it. I wanted to hide the leftovers for myself to eat for lunch the next day.
I’ll leave it up to you to figure out which of those things I actually did.
Busted, lol!! And it was still delicious the day after. I just put it in the oven at 400ºF for ten minutes and warmed the gravy up on the stove.
- 4 Good quality "fast fry" boneless steaks 1/4" thick (I prefer ribeyes)
- 1 cup cornstarch
- 1 egg
- 1 1/3 cup buttermilk, divided
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 tsp kosher salt
- 3 tsp paprika
- 3 tsp black pepper
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/4 cup canola oil (or vegetable oil)
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 1/2 cups milk (preferably whole milk, but any will do)
- Pepper to taste (1 tsp to 1 tbsp depending on what you like)
- Get yourself set up to deep fry, and bring your oil up to temperature. We have a stand alone fryer, but a nice deep pot and some oil is all you need.
- Dry your steaks, give them a quick tenderize with a mallet, and season both sides with salt and pepper.
- Set up a breading station with three dishes (I use pie plates). In the first, put the cup of cornstarch. In the second, whisk together the egg and 2/3 cup buttermilk. For the third, whisk together the flour, salt, paprika, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, baking powder, and cumin. Drizzle the remaining 2/3 cup buttermilk over the flour mixture and use your fingers to squish it all together until it's coarse and crumbly.
- Take your first steak and dip it into the cornstarch, making sure it's coated everywhere. Next, dip it into the buttermilk. Finally, press it into the flour mixture, flipping and pressing until it's completely covered. Set aside on a baking sheet, and repeat with the remaining steaks.
- Once your steaks are all breaded, let them rest for a minute while you get your gravy going.
- Put the canola oil in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk together for about a minute, until the flour just starts to turn a light brown. Slowly whisk in the milk, then add the pepper. Simmer over a low heat while you fry the steaks.
- Fry one steak at a time, for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side, just until golden brown. Remove to a cooling rack set over a baking sheet, and tent loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm while you finish the rest.
- Serve the steaks topped with a generous helping of gravy. It's also awesome with mashed potatoes!
If your gravy thickens up too much, just whisk in some more milk.
Big shout out to Serious Eats, whose spice mix I tweaked for the breading!