EXTRA-CRUNCHY CHICKEN-FRIED STEAK WITH CREAM GRAVY

Once you’ve perfected crispy fried chicken, it’s only a hop, skip, and a jump to Texas-style chicken-fried steak—that is, beef steak that’s fried in the style of fried chicken and served with a creamy, peppery white gravy. The key to great chicken-fried steak is starting with the right cut. We went into cuts of beef for steaks in detail in Chapter 3 (see here), but for now, we’re just looking for an inexpensive cut with plenty of beefy flavor. Since chicken-fried steak both gets pounded thin (a technique that tenderizes the meat) and goes for a dunk in my buttermilk brine, tenderness won’t be an issue—we can pick a cut based on its flavor, confident that it’ll soften up before we fry it. Similarly, pounding and brining improve juiciness, so even when the steak comes out medium or well-done, as it does when it’s fried, it’ll still be plenty juicy.
My go-to cut for this is flap meat (also sold as sirloin tips), though bottom round or top sirloin work will also work well if you can’t find it. Chicken is naturally tender, steak needs a bit more help. Lightly scoring the meat against the grain with a sharp knife will shorten long muscle fibers, resulting in a more tender finished product. The cream gravy served with the steak is nearly identical to the Creamy Sausage Gravy here; just leave out the sausage. If you want to go extra-decadent, leave it in.
This steak is brined and dredged in the same manner as the fried chicken. Refer to photos there for a closer look at the process.
SERVES 4
For the Steak
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons dried oregano
½ teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 pound flap meat (also sold as sirloin tips; see Note above), cut into four 4-ounce steaks
1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
Kosher salt
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 cups vegetable shortening or peanut oil
For the Cream Gravy
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, diced
2 medium cloves garlic, minced or grated on a Microplane (about 2 teaspoons)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
¾ cup heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Combine the paprika, black pepper, garlic powder, oregano, and cayenne in a small bowl and mix thoroughly with a fork.
  2. Place each steak on a cutting board and score at 1-inch intervals against the grain, cutting ¼ inch deep into the meat; flip and repeat. One at a time, sandwich each steak between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound with a meat pounder or the bottom of a heavy skillet until approximately ¼ inch thick.
  3. Whisk the buttermilk, egg, 1 tablespoon salt, and 2 tablespoons of the spice mixture in a large bowl. Add the steaks and turn to coat. Transfer the contents of the bowl to a gallon-sized zipper-lock freezer bag and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, and up to overnight, flipping the bag occasionally to redistribute the contents and coat the steak evenly.
  4. When ready to fry the steaks, make the gravy: Heat the butter in a 10-inch heavy-bottomed nonstick skillet over medium-high until foamy. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 4 minutes (lower the heat if the butter starts to brown). Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until fully absorbed, about 1 minute. Add the milk in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Add the cream, whisking, and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Simmer, whisking, until thickened, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and plenty of pepper. Keep warm while you fry the steaks.
  5. Whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, 2 teaspoons salt, and the remaining spice mixture in a large bowl. Add 3 tablespoons of the marinade from the zipper-lock bag and work it into the flour with your fingertips. Remove the steaks from the bag, allowing the excess buttermilk to drip off, drop the steaks into the flour mixture, and toss and flip until thoroughly coated, pressing with your hand to get the flour to adhere in a thick layer. Shake the steaks over the bowl to remove excess flour, then transfer to a large plate.
  6. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 175°F. Heat the shortening or oil to 425°F in a wok or 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, about 6 minutes. Adjust the heat as necessary to maintain the temperature, being careful not to let the fat get any hotter.
  7. Carefully lower 2 steaks into the pan. Adjust the heat to maintain the temperature at 325°F for the duration of cooking. Fry the steaks without moving them for 2 minutes, then carefully agitate the steaks with a wire-mesh spider, being careful not to knock off any breading, and cook until the bottom is a deep golden brown, about 4 minutes. Carefully flip the steaks and continue to cook until the second side is golden brown, about 3 minutes longer.
  8. Transfer the steaks to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain for 30 seconds, flipping them once, then transfer to a wire rack set on a rimmed baking sheet and transfer to the oven to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining 2 steaks. Serve with the cream gravy.

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