Food & Drink

Chicken-fried or country-fried — this dish is a classic

What do you call it — chicken-fried steak or country-fried steak? I associate chicken-fried steak with deep frying and country-fried steak with pan frying, which is how we prepare ours. They both come out crispy, brown and tender to the bite.

No matter what you call it, this down home old-fashioned favorite has graced many dinner tables.

We Southerners love our chicken-fried/country-fried steaks with cream gravy, which in my house is a comfort classic. It is a cut of round or sirloin steak that has been tenderized, battered, then fried (preferably in a cast iron skillet) to a crisp golden brown. The cream gravy that completes this traditional dish is made with the leftover dipping flour that is stirred into the flavored meat drippings and accumulated meat bits left in the bottom of the skillet. Sweet milk is added to the flour mixture to make cream gravy and then it is seasoned with salt and pepper to taste.

Of course, this main entrée would not be complete without creamy mashed potatoes or grits (common for breakfast served south of the Mason-Dixon Line). The side dishes that share the plate with this stick-to-your-belly meal are also regional and choices vary with the season.

Our favorite sides are collard or turnip greens, black-eyed peas and homemade biscuits. Although, okra (fried or cooked with tomatoes), green beans, corn (on or off the cob), peas and summer squash (or squash casserole) are frequent dishes that pair well. This simple and delicious down home meal brings back fond memories of Sunday dinner at my grandma’s.

When it came to cooking, all seven grandchildren (boys included) followed in the footsteps of our grandma, who we called “Gramps.” She was always in the kitchen conjuring up something tasty; of course, it had no recipe and was just dibs and dabs of this and that.

We spent every summer with her at her lake cottage in the middle of the state — seven grandkids and Gramps — this was where she taught us the basics of cooking as well as the preparation of foods from the field to the plate. She figured if we caught fish we needed to know how to clean and cook them. The same went for fresh vegetables . . . we picked our own in the fields then she taught us how to prep and cook the foods we picked. Thinking back, her heart-felt cooking lessons were an expression of her love. We (all seven of us) dedicate our affinity for cooking to Gramps and the invaluable experience she gave us.

Country-fried steak is my cousin John’s favorite meal; actually, it is his birthday dinner request each year, which is always prepared by his sister, Fran. She is an excellent “Cracker cook” and holds the family blue ribbon for this country dinner.

No matter where you live or what you call it, chicken-fried or country-fried steak is sure to be a welcome down home meal to cook up and enjoy. I know fried foods are not very healthy but I can’t ignore my Southern roots and the delicious taste of country-fried steak with cream gravy, it wins me over every time!

Diann Greene, whose column appears weekly in Accent, can be e-mailed at downhomecook@gmail.com.

COUNTRY-FRIED STEAK

q 4 cubed steaks

q 3/4 cup buttermilk

q 1 cup all purpose flour

q 1/2 cup vegetable shortening

q Salt and pepper to taste

n Season the steaks with salt and pepper.

n Place the buttermilk in a shallow dish and the flour in another shallow dish.

n Dip the steaks in the buttermilk then in the flour, coating completely.

n In a large cast iron skillet, heat the shortening over medium high heat until hot but not smoking (it is hot when a drop of water is dropped into it and it pops). Add steaks and cook three to four minutes per side, or until cooked through and golden brown.

n Drain on a rack and keep warm in the oven. Serve steaks topped with cream gravy.

CREAM GRAVY

q Remaining leftover flour in the shallow dish (it should equal about 2-3 tablespoons)

q 1-1/2 cups whole milk

q Salt and pepper to taste

n Add the remaining leftover flour from the dish to the skillet with the meat drippings.

n Cook and stir two to three minutes or until the flour is a light brown.

n Add the milk and stir until the gravy thickens. If the gravy gets to thick, add more milk or I add saved water from the drained potatoes to help thin it, which also gives the gravy added flavor.

GREEN BEANS WITH GARLIC AND PINE NUTS

q 1 pound green beans, trimmed and rinsed

q 2 tablespoons olive oil

q 2 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

q 1/3 cup pine nuts

q Salt and pepper to taste

n Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the green beans and cook them until just tender, 5-8 minutes. Drain.

n In the meantime, heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat then add the garlic and cook, stirring, for one minute. Add the pine nuts, cook and stir until golden brown, about 3 minutes.

n Add the green beans to the skillet, along with salt and pepper. Toss to coat.

DUMP CAKE

q 1 large can crushed pineapple

q 1 can cherry pie filling

q 1 package yellow cake mix, dry (I use Duncan Hines Yellow cake mix)

q 3/4 cup chopped nuts, optional

q One stick butter, sliced

n Place the ingredients listed above in the order given, one on top of the other, into an ungreased dutch oven, do not stir.

n Bake uncovered in a 350-degree oven for 50-60 minutes or until golden brown on the top and done.

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