After listening to Sarah rub in my face yet again her ease of getting delicious chicken fried steak at all hours in that wonderful city we call Houston, I decided to take matters in my own hands and cook some up for myself.
Before setting out on the culinary adventure, I set one standard for myself: I would try to use actual chicken fat.
This was a standard I would fail.
First, I googled some various recipes to get a general sense of how one makes CFS. After perusing some online guides, it seemed simple enough. Thus began my journey.
The initial goal was to find some kale or mustard greens at the farmers market in Union Square. While walking along, I decided to check in at Dagastinos, where they didn’t have chicken fat but did have shortening, which I got just in case. Also, some very important cayenne pepper, for a proper southern spiciness.
As I approached Union Square, I noticed two things: 1. It was pretty darn crowded. 2. People were carrying pillows for some reason. Perusing the farmers market, and finding it lacking in leafy greens and chicken fat, I saw a giant mob of people at the southern end of the park. Of course! It was International Pillow Fight Day.
Anyways, I avoided the bloody noses and pajamas, googling potential locations to buy schmaltz, aka chicken fat. Luckily, the East Village Meat Market (which if it were West Village, would be the great name for a gay bar), apparently had some. So I walked down Second Avenue, past the people celebrating India’s victory in the cricket world cup, and into a butcher shop where apparently everyone spoke with a Ukrainian accent. I looked around, but didn’t see any chicken schmaltz. However, I asked a young guy behind the counter, who couldn’t have been any older than 16.
Me: Do you have any schmaltz?
16 year old Ukrainian: Do you want it with bits of fat in or no?
Me: Uh…. which is better?
16 year old Ukrainian: Well, it depends
Random guy in line: What are you using it for?
Me: Chicken Fried Steak!!!
Random guy in line: With bits in it
So about $3.50 later, I had a container of schmaltz. Little did I realize that schmaltz isn’t just chicken or goose fat, but can also be pork fat. Perhaps I should have read the label before I bought it, but oh well.
Anyways, I double backed to Whole Foods, hoping that perhaps they would have chicken fat, and also to pick up the necessary greens and meat. After deciding upon a little more than a pound of top round, I asked the butcher if he had any chicken fat.
Me: Do you guys have any check fat
Whole Foods butcher: Oh, no. But if you come by at 8pm, I’ll have some leftover from preparing the chickens. I usually just throw them out but I can save them if you want.
Me: Oh that’s cool. But I probably won’t come by. I’m making chicken fried steak and it is between chicken fat and crisco.
Whole Foods butcher: Oh ok. Well next time you need some just call me ahead of time and I can save them for you.
Me: Thanks! That’s really neat.
So anyways, I headed back to my apartment, and after an hour at the gym, got started on this most delicious of meals.
For the first step, I had to pound the meat (lol) into proper chicken fried steak shape. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a meat tenderizer, or mallet, or whatever those things are called. So instead, I used an actual hammer, and the gavel I won in high school for Best Speaker at Junior Statesmen of America (in case you were wondering how I was going to work my ego into food prep).
Anyways, with grit and determination and a hammer, I was able to pound the cut of top round pretty thin. But honestly, not thin enough. Oh well, I’ll do better next time.
Well, it was good enough. After rubbing it with some salt and pepper, and I went on to the next stage: delicious batter. Keeping the flour part pure, I mixed black and cayenne pepper, crushed garlic, and various other spices into a liquid of eggs and buttermilk. Then, I soaked the meat in the spicy liquid mix, then covered it in flour, repeating several times.
I would let the flour dry on the meat before going with another layer, trying to prevent my usual problem of the crust not staying on whatever it is I am trying to fry. This time it generally worked, and delicious crunchy, spicy crust mostly stayed on through the entire cooking process.
Anyways, with the top round covered in batter, it was time to start melting down the lard into friable form, and also start on the mashed potatoes.
I didn’t have a skillet, so I just used a pot to fry the steak. However, as the lard melted, it became clear that it wouldn’t be enough to completely cover the steak.
Luckily I had purchased the shortening, and added some in. With proper fat levels, I could submerge this beast of steak and batter into its transformative pot. In go multiple ingredients, but out would come a single piece of pure flavor.
As the steak fried, I could pay some attention to the potatoes. I had purchased a bag of small red potatoes on a whim because they were on sale, and I could imagine using them at some point. I originally planned to make french fries, but the small potatoes were too soft and sweet to make quality fries. Instead, I started using them for breakfast potatoes and home fries, but that was really a weekend only thing. Mashed potatoes seemed like a perfect way to use a good deal of these little tubers.
After boiling them to the point of nearly crumbling, I drained the pot and then mixed the potatoes with some buttermilk, salt, pepper, and garlic. It was probably a bit too much buttermilk, but that just meant I would have to boil off some of the liquid. In the end, the mashed potatoes were a bit salty, definitely garlicky. and all delicious. Especially because I left the skin on. Yum.
With the potatoes cooking, enough time had passed to take out the chicken fried steak. So would it be good? Did the crust stay on? How did it turn out?
I let the steak cool while I tended to the rest of the meal. Using the leftover fat and oil from frying the steak, I mixed in some flour, pepper, and buttermilk to make a gravy. It ended up a bit thick, but still delicious, avoiding the usual problem of it tasting like flour. I also used the leftover oil to saute (or whatever) the mustard greens. Certainly not the healthiest way to cook them, but it seemed appropriate.
So with everything wrapped up, I was ready to eat! However, with a steak like that, I needed two plates just to hold everything.
Scrumptious, unhealthy, and everything I wanted. And it wasn’t even that difficult to make. So next time you have a craving for chicken fried steak, remember that you can do it yourself. Or just drive to 59 Diner if you’re in Houston you lucky SOB.