Chicken Fried Steak, or…


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:

chicken fry 1  

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.)

7 thoughts on “Chicken Fried Steak, or…

  1. Well, I am one of the vanishing breed of native Texans and I have yet to see the appeal of what passes for chicken fried steak and white gravy.
    I grew up on my mother’s cream gravy and I assure you it bears no resemblance to the amazing white goo that gets put on a plate these days!!!. (my mother would have thrown the pan of gravy out if it had congealed like that.)
    Maybe I am only 98.9 myself…

  2. I’ve had a couple of Natives assure me that it is the preparation and cut of meat which that I find so off-putting..therefore, I am willing, one more time, to try. But, no gravy! Gravy belongs on biscuits and mashed potatoes and absolutely nothing else!

  3. uh, uh, speechless…

    OK, I got up and walked around to gather my thoughts:
    1. I had my first CFS last fall at The Texan Cafe in Hutto. I’m glad I did, but share your reaction.
    2. That CFS looks like a BigFoot print.


  4. It is truly an unpalatable photo, but so is the real thing most of the time! I’ll bet the Texan Cafe has some mean BBQ and red beans- I’d be after them..!

  5. brilliant bit.

    I’ve had CFS up North here but still Down South and it matched, uncannily, your description. is there a Platonic Chicken-Fried Steak and have we both experienced a near approximation of it?

    I will note, in an attempt to allay your concern, that the “meat” inside the batter may not be meat at all but shoe leather. the upside being that you can trim away the excess with small scissors and have a perfectly-serviceable water-resistant insole.

  6. LOL. This is hilarious. I have to agree with some of your disenters that preparation would have to be key. Properly prepared tender meat is much much better, but here in Louisiana we don’t serve those size 14 sneaker-size portions you’ve got in Texas. Truthfully, I only eat CFS when I go to Picadilly about once a year.

    Here we prefer to dig critters out of the ditch, boil em, eat their tails, and suck their heads. Much, much more civilized.

  7. Pingback: Connections « The First Morning

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