I remember my first chicken fried steak. It was in Houston, Texas, at the home of Jenny's in-laws. They were wise chicken fried steak aficionados, and cooked theirs in an iron skillet out on the patio on a squat little grill, where grease was welcome to spray the plants. The steaks came out of the pan wrapped in a warped brown and salty crust. It was my first time in Texas and knew from then on it would not be my last.
A few weekends ago, I went to Oklahoma for a couple of book events, and got to hang out with Jeff Martin, the founder of Booksmart Tulsa, who may be the coolest guy north of Texas. At one of our stops -- lunch at Lucky's (go if you can) -- he talked me into chicken fried steak. It was just as delicious as I remembered it. This one came with a sage gravy. If you don't have guts for the gravy, a squeeze of lemon will work well (think veal Milanese). Just don't tell anyone in Tulsa I said that.
Chicken Fried Steak with Sage Gravy
Adapted from Matt Kelley, the chef and owner of Lucky's in Tulsa, Oklahoma
1. Working with one steak at a time, lay the steak between two sheets of parchment or wax paper and flatten with a meat pounder to 1/8-inch thickness. Season with flattened steaks with salt and pepper.
2. Spread 1 cup flour on a large plate. Season with flour with salt and pepper. In a large bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and egg.
3. Again, working one steak at a time, dip the steak in the flour, lightly coating both sides. Next, dip the steak in the buttermilk mixture, letting any excess drip off. Then dip the steak in flour once more, lightly but completely coating the steak; shake off any excess flour. Set the coated steaks on a baking sheet until ready to use.
4. Heat the bacon fat or butter in a medium saucepan. Once it's hot, add the remaining 7 tablespoons flour, and whisk until smooth. Cook over medium low heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk, then the cream, bring to a boil -- whisking all the time -- then reduce the heat and let the gravy simmer until thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Meanwhile, cover the base of a large iron skillet with 1/8-inch canola oil. Place over medium high heat. Once the oil is hot, add as many steaks as will fit (probably just one or two), and brown on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Do the rest in batches. A splatter guard comes in handy if you don't want your stove covered in beef fat. As the steaks finish cooking, set them aside on a baking sheet.
6. When the steaks are nearly finished, whisk the gravy and add the sage. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
7. Serve each steak with a ladleful of gravy.
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