For readers outside of the U.S. (and probably some American readers too), Country Fried Steak is one of the truly great comfort foods of the south. It’s a delicious, stick-to-your-ribs meal built around a steak that has been "tenderized" (a genteel culinary term for having the living daylights beaten out of it by a stressed cook wielding a spiked hammer that looks like something out of a horror movie or fetish shop) then dredged, breaded and fried in the style of fried chicken, and finally smothered in gravy. It differs from Chicken Fried Steak in ways that no one can agree on: some say it’s in the gravy (brown vs. white); others claim it’s in the breading (buttermilk vs. egg); and still others insist there’s no difference at all. The one thing almost everyone agrees on is that, in either form, it’s a meal that can start off by warming your heart, and end up stopping it.
This brings us to Country Oven-Fried Steak, the version presented below. Rather than being pan-fried, it’s baked in a manner sometimes called “oven-frying.” Another difference is in the gravy, which either version must be smothered in to have any chance at authenticity. In the fried version, the gravy is generally made from pan drippings by adding flour, etc., in the usual way. In the baked version there are, of course, no pan drippings, so you’ll see that the gravy is prepared separately using beef broth.
This recipe, as with many Country Fried Steak recipes, calls for the steaks to be placed in about a cup of buttermilk before the breading is applied. Since buttermilk is usually available only in containers of a quart or more, unless you plan on using it for other things too you’ll end up throwing out most of the container. To avoid this, it’s possible to make acidulated milk and use it as a substitute for the buttermilk. Just take a cup of room temperature milk – I use skim and it works just fine – add a tablespoon of white vinegar and let it rest for about five minutes. (The process is a kind of controlled curdling.)
As for side dishes, many are possible, but mashed potatoes (smothered in gravy, just like the steak) are pretty traditional. In the photo, I’ve also plated my steak with glazed salt-and-vinegar carrots and buttermilk biscuits. I don’t have a recipe for the mashed potatoes – improvising them is way too much fun for that – but I’ll be posting recipes for the carrots and biscuits next week.
This recipe makes four servings.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Put your baking sheet in the oven to heat it.
Using a tenderizing mallet, tenderize 1-1/2 pounds of beef round steaks until they’re about ¼” thick. Cut them into four servings.
Combine ½ cup Panko and ½ cup plain bread crumbs with ¼ teaspoon of ground black pepper in a 1 gallon zip-lock bag. Put 1 cup of buttermilk (or acidulated milk) in a shallow pan.
Combine ½ teaspoon of kosher salt, ¼ teaspoon of ground black pepper, and ¼ teaspoon of garlic powder, and season both sides of the tenderized steaks. Dredge each steak in the buttermilk, shake off excess, and coat with the breadcrumb mixture, pressing the breadcrumbs in. If they don’t seem sufficiently coated, give them a second buttermilk-breadcrumb treatment. Let the coated steaks rest in refrigerator for at least 20 minutes.
When the steaks have finished resting, spray your preheated baking sheet with cooking spray. Place steaks on the baking sheet and spray the tops lightly. Bake until the coating is golden brown and crispy, about 20 minutes, turning half-way.
While steaks are baking, prepare gravy in a skillet as per the recipe below, but don’t let it completely thicken. When the gravy is ready, add the steaks and bring it to just boiling over medium-high heat.
When the gravy has started boiling, reduce the heat to low, put ½ a bunch of chopped green onions on top of the steaks, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Serve the steaks hot, remembering to add gravy to them and to your mashed potatoes.
To make the gravy:
In a medium saucepan, combine a 15 ounce can of beef broth, 1 tablespoon of fresh chopped rosemary, and 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce. Bring the mixture just to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
Make a slurry of 2 tablespoons of corn starch dissolved in ¼ cup of water and add to the broth mixture. Add ½ teaspoon of garlic powder, and cook until thickened to consistency of cream.
Whisk in 2 tablespoons of butter substitute, a little at a time, and cook a few minutes more to the desired thickness. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Hope you enjoy this comforting delight!
As always, if you’d like a cookbook style, notebook-ready copy of this recipe, send me a note or a comment with your e-mail address and I’ll send it right along.
And also as always, till next week, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)