Why I Will Never Be 100% Texan
I went to a Christmas gathering the other evening (5 down, 17 to go), where chicken-fried steak was the predictable entree. Before I tell you my real opinion, allow me to describe this carnivoric concoction for those who may think I’m writing in oxymorons:
Chicken-fried steak is steak fried in chicken batter. It’s that simple, but there’s more. The steak in question seems always to be the most grizzle-permeated, toughest slice of beef from the oldest milk cow ever to be sent, in the name of McDonald’s hamburgers, to the slaughter house. As the various cuts of beef are making their way down the conveyor belt to be ground and smashed into all-meat patties, there is a wizened old man who watches all day for those chunks of meat with no marbled fat, no discernibly chewable texture, and no possibility- none- of being cut into stew meat or turned into a chopped BBQ sandwich. If there are big tough ingrained tendons still hanging from it, so much the better. Our wise old man grabs that piece of meat and sends it to the chicken-fried steak slicer.
Where it is inspected one more time. If any parts of the cut can be saved for dog food, they are cut away and put aside, so that the butcher now has only the bottomest-of-the- barrel beef with which to work. He then sets about slicing that meat into the thinnest portions possible that will still meet the FDA’s definition of “steak.” (That’s .0078 of an inch, about the thickness of two playing cards stacked on top of one another.)
At this point, the slices are packed and shipped to banquet managers all over Texas. These are the party planners who work for companies and organizations that want to give their customers and members the impression that they are down-home, sh*t-kickin’, good old boys, who- by god- remember Grandma’s chicken-fried steak just like the best of ‘em. “Git ‘er done” they order as they pass on the pitiful pile of pinkish “meat” to the batter specialists.
The batter specialists are immersed all day in vats of flour, Sysco System sized cans of Crisco and chicken broth, and other stuff that I don’t know about and will never want to know about. They slather the meat in a mixture of all the above, then set the meat to frying in pans full of not-hot-enough grease so that calorie-laden fat has the optimal opportunity to soak through to every molecule of this mess. But, once cooked and cooled down to to a tepid temperature for serving, there’s one more coup d’ grace to be performed:
A big spoonful of white gravy is plopped down over the entree. White gravy- you read that right: tasteless and coagulating the moment it hits the cold, grease-sodden entree of the evening. It looks like this:
Now, in this picture, the gravy is on the side, but- be assured- it won’t be for long! I chose this picture, so that those who have never seen a chicken-fried steak may now know one of the archetypal psychological horrors that Jung never had the chance to write about, and which haunts some of us transplanted Northerners to the point that we are unable to relax- ever- when we know there is a banquet we must attend. (“Please, God, a steak, or chicken- grilled, baked, broiled, even boiled- but NOT chicken-fried steak! Please, God, in your mercy..Amen)
Real Texans love their chicken fried steaks. But, just so you know: I don’t. At all. And that’s why, despite the fact that I love living here, and will consider myself one day lucky to be buried here, that I will never be 100% Texan. I will have to be happy, as will those around me, with only being a 98.9 percenter.
(for a slightly less biased view, Wikipedia has the inside story here.)