What Is Chicken-Fried Steak (and Where Did It Come From?)

Like most regional culinary dishes, the exact origin of Chicken Fried Steak is hard to pin down. Several places would love to take credit for being its birthplace — a community in Texas even hosts an annual celebration in honor of the dish, and similar recipes have been found in archives dating back to the early part of the 19th century. Usually attributed as having gotten its start in the American South, Chicken Fried Steak also bears an uncanny resemblance to a staple of German cuisine known as schnitzel.

No one can be blamed for wanting to claim ownership of such a delicious dish. One thing everyone can agree on, however, is that no matter what the origins of Chicken Fried Steak, few things beat it when it comes to traditional down-home cooking.

What Is Chicken Fried Steak?

Chicken Fried Steak gets its name from the breading used on the outside of the steak before it’s fried in the same manner as traditional fried chicken — but instead of chicken, a tenderized piece of beef steak is used instead. The breading consists of flour that is seasoned with salt, pepper, and a variety of other seasonings depending on the individual preferences among cooks and regional traditions. Many cooks have their own secret breading combination that they guard heavily. Before the steak is dredged in the seasoning mixture, it is immersed in an egg batter that sometimes includes buttermilk, while some prefer to use regular milk. The steak is then fried in a skillet with lard, shortening, or vegetable oil.

Chicken Fried Steak is typically served with a blanket of peppered white gravy. Although traditionally served as the main entree for the evening meal in Texas and other southern states, Chicken Fried Steak has gained popularity in the Midwest and other locations as a breakfast food served with a side of eggs, toast, and hash browns.

The History of Chicken Fried Steak

As mentioned previously, the origins of Chicken Fried Steak are highly debatable. It’s likely that the kitchens of Germany and Austria are the ancestral homes of Chicken Fried Steak and that the dish migrated to North America during the Great Migration from Northern Europe to the New World. Once arrived on fresh shores, the dish continued to evolve, taking regional twists and turns along the way. Significant differences exist even in Texas, with those on the western side of the state preferring a dry rub coating, while East Texas residents swear by double dipping the steak in a rich egg batter before dredging it through the mixture of flour and seasonings.

It’s also possible that, like many good things to eat, the dish originated in several different parts of the world without any cultural influence from elsewhere.

Chicken Fried Steak in the 21st-Century

Yesterday’s Chicken Fried Steak has been made even better by 21st century commercial foodservice technology. Most consumers are familiar with the disappointing experience of ordering one of their favorite fried foods in a restaurant and having it come out soggy, burned, or otherwise improperly prepared. Pitco fryers make human error in the kitchen far less likely, helping to ensure a perfectly prepared, golden brown Chicken Fried Steak every time.

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Topics: Chicken, Fried Food, History