Today the ever-expanding boundaries of comfort food include a dish that in recent years has been more talked about than eaten, except at truck stops. I refer to the chicken-fried steak, an inexpensive cut of beef that is coated in flour and fried until brown.
Quick to cook and economical, it can be a treat. Or it can be tough, tired and weighed down by a pan gravy that has the texture and taste of wallpaper paste. There's no secret to success, really. If your steak is inexpensive, and it should be, it's going to be tough. I use cube steak, which has been tenderized to some degree by the butcher. Just take time to work the flour into the meat evenly and don't cook it beyond medium. A little corn bread, a friendly vegetable, something cold to wash it down and a taste of something sweet to finish is the recipe for a nicely "satisfrying" meal.
If your comfort zone includes a side of creamy mashed potatoes with your meat but you are counting calories, toss shredded, steamed zucchini with a little tomato sauce or leave the zucchini plain and make it into a bed for the steak and gravy.
Chicken-fried steak with pan gravy
Shredded zucchini with tomato sauce
Corn bread with butter and cane syrup
Iced tea or beer
* Shred the zucchini first and steam it while preparing the steaks.
* Heat some tomato sauce in a saucepan while the steaks are cooking and toss the zucchini in the hot sauce to warm it up.
--William Rice writes for the Chicago Tribune.
Chicken-Fried Steak With Pan Gravy
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Yield: 2 servings
2 cube steaks, about 6 ounces each
1 / 4 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon each: salt, freshly ground pepper, paprika, plus more to taste
1 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons chopped tomato
1 tablespoon chopped onion
1 1 / 4 cups milk, or more if needed
Pat the steaks dry; set aside. Combine 1 / 4 cup of the flour and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, pepper and paprika on a plate; stir with a fork until well-blended. Coat each steak with the flour mixture; pound lightly on both sides with a rolling pin or the side of a cleaver to help the meat absorb the flour. All the flour should be used.
Heat the oil in a skillet until very hot, 375 degrees. Add the steaks; cook until seared and well-crusted on one side, about 2 minutes. Turn the steaks with tongs; cook 2 minutes more for medium. Transfer the steaks to a plate lined with paper towels; keep warm.
Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the cooking oil. Return the pan to medium-low heat. Whisk in remaining 2 tablespoons of the flour; cook 1 minute. Add the tomato and onion. Whisk in milk; cook until thick, 3 minutes. Add more milk if the gravy becomes too thick. Season to taste with salt, pepper and paprika.
Spoon a little of the gravy onto plates. Top with steak. Pass remaining gravy at the table.
Nutritional information per serving: 725 calories, 67 percent of calories from fat, 54 grams fat, 17-grams saturated fat, 105 milligrams cholesterol, 29 grams carbohydrate, 31 grams protein, 740 milligrams sodium, 1.3 grams fiber