Posted by: edibleplanet | May 12, 2010

What the hell is “chicken fried steak”?

some chicken fried steak

Some chicken fried steak

It sounds weird and just plain wrong. Chicken and steak are two different things, and shouldn’t really be combined. The suspicion and weirdness are only enhanced when you throw the words “American” and “deep-fried” in there as well [shudder]. Can anything good be said of chicken fried steak?

Well, yes! Actually.

We’re going to have a go at converting any squeamish Kiwis we meet to the idea of chicken fried steak and encourage them to give it a go. It’s pretty good!

First things first. What is it? Basically, it’s steak, cooked in the style of southern or country fried chicken. A cow meets KFC kind of thing. While there is no real consensus, it is likely that CFS (chicken fried steak) was invented by German and Austrian settlers in the southern US. This makes sense when you think of Wiener Schnitzel—a very similar dish that hails from Austria. Wiener Schnitzel is pretty well loved by Kiwis too. You can even buy crumbed schnitzel in the supermarket (though you probably shouldn’t—it’s horrible). So if we’re happy to coat thinly sliced steak in bread-crumbs and deep fry it, who are we to criticise when slightly thicker steak is instead coated with flavourful, seasoned flour and deep fried? Not us, now. Once we had the Wiener Schnitzel thing pointed out to us, and after we stopped feeling sheepish for bagging something we had never tried, we decided to make CFS and give it a fair go.

Starting our research we realised that methods vary and—as with all these iconic dishes—there are regional variations and recipe rivalry. We went with a middle of the road hybrid using some porterhouse steak that was on special at our local butcher. Firstly, it’s very important to tenderise the steak using the knobbly side of a meat hammer. This breaks up the meat fibres and results in a more tender steak, but also gives a rough surface for the coating to cling to. We probably didn’t need to use porterhouse steak. A cut with more flavour would have been even nicer. Next time we’d probably go for rump or something (sorry to anyone from the US if we’re describing a heinous bastardised version of your beloved dish, but we have to go with Kiwi cuts of meat).

Next we had to soak the meat in buttermilk and egg for a bit. We don’t really have buttermilk in easy supply in New Zealand, so we improvised using milk with a little yoghurt to give it a tang. While the steak was soaking in the “buttermilk” we made our seasoned flour. We used plain flour, salt, black pepper, thyme, cayenne pepper and a small sprinkle of cumin. We shook all the ingredients together in a bag before pouring our seasoned flour out onto a plate.

Cooking the steak is easy. You fish it out of the egg/buttermilk mixture, dredge it in the flour until it is well covered and then back through the egg/buttermilk mixture and back through the flour. Fry the steak in a centimetre mix of hot oil and butter for about 3 minutes a side. The flour and egg almost instantly form a forcefield-like barrier against the oil, and the result is decidedly less greasy than Weiner Schnitzel. We removed the steak from the pan onto some paper towels and they hardly left a mark.

CFS is traditionally served with white gravy and it’s easy to make too. Once you have fried your steak you keep it warm in a low oven, pour away all but a tablespoon or so of the fat. Add a tablespoon or two of the yummy seasoned flour to the crispy bits in the pan and mix into a roux. Slowly add milk whisking up a storm until you have a smooth, thickened gravy. We added some more black pepper too.

Serve the CFS with green beans and corn, or with a coleslaw. Traditionally you have mashed potatoes, and you make a little well in the top of your pile of mash to take some of the gravy. Pour the gravy over the steak too (cover about a third of the steak and it looks really classy). It went down a treat!

If you’re happy cooking Weiner Schnitzel at home, then we urge you to give this a try sometime. It’s really very yummy. We’d love to try it now in its natural home, made by someone who really cares about their Chicken Fried Steak. We bet it would be a very nice meal indeed!



  1. I had the good pleasure of eating this years ago when I worked at a summer camp in the mid-west state of Indiana, USA. Well tasty, served with a mountain of mashed spuds, green beans & corn. By the way, I just found your gorse post – I’m going to make cordial next weekend.

  2. Sounds good – have you made chicken fried steak here since?
    We have one bottle of the gorse champagne left 🙂

  3. Buttermilk is amazing, wonderful stuff. Most particularly in scones. substitute it for the milk, and add about a 1/4 tsp baking soda per cup of buttermilk.

    Although many kiwis don’t realize it, buttermilk is pretty widely available here. It’s usually in the milk section (even though it’s cultured) – often next to the cream. I’ve certainly found it at fresh choice and new world and I can’t remember if I’ve ever looked at countdown.

    It you can’t find it, runny yogurt (the kind that comes in a jug instead of a pottle) is a good substitute, or you can add about a Tbsp of lemon juice to regular milk and let stand for 5-15 min.

    • It’s not something we’ve cooked with much, though we did buy it once to make some buttermilk pancakes. 🙂 Probably time we got some more and had another experiment! What effect does it have on the scones that is different from the standard baking powder?

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