Chicken-fried steak is the great equalizer. Its very preparation—the energetic pounding with a mallet, the vigorous dredging in flour, the immersion in splattering hot grease—puts all who make it on the same messy plane. It is also democratic to the core: The tenderized steak at its center can be as high-grade as a ribeye or as lowly as a round steak. And then there’s its broad appeal. In small towns, the best chicken-fried steak is found at the cafe with the most pickup trucks parked out front. But big-city owners of Cadillacs and Lexuses relish the dish just as much. Cowboys, hairdressers, bankers, lawyers—is there anyone who can resist that golden crunchy crust, that fork-tender beef, or that luxurious blanket of peppery white gravy? Chicken-fried steak is our shared birthright.
How to Make It
You’re lucky if you can brag about the righteous chicken-fried steaks your mother used to make and how she passed along her secrets to you. If Mom was a lousy cook, your cherished memories may come from a favorite cafe. Grady Spears has made a career of CFS, perfecting the recipe he first learned in 1992 as a newbie chef at the Gage Hotel, in Marathon. Through his tenure at various Fort Worth restaurants, including Reata; the late Chisholm Club; his namesake, Grady’s; and a new venture, Clear Fork Station (the initialism, CFS, a sheer coincidence, he says), his trademark chicken-fried steak has “never left any menu where I’ve been working.” Spears’s formula has always been his own Texas two-step, in that he flours and batters the tenderized steak twice. First, he says, pound the meat—a tenderloin, a ribeye, any good cut—between two pieces of plastic wrap until it’s barely more than 1/4-inch thick. While you heat peanut or vegetable oil in a cast-iron skillet to 350 degrees, dredge your steak through flour that’s been seasoned with plenty of kosher salt and pepper (use your fingers to really make the flour adhere). Then dunk the meat in a wash of two