There are three factors that go into making the perfect chicken-fried steak. It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that the steak must be tender. Chewing food that’s tough as shoe leather is unappetizing. Period.
White gravy, the second of the three factors, should be served on the steak and not on the side. Why? If the crispy coating is cooked correctly, it will adhere to the steak and not allow the gravy to soak in. Should a restaurant serve you gravy on the side without you requesting it, they don’t have a lot of confidence in their version of the chicken-fried steak.
The third component is that fried, crispy coating and possibly the most important of the three. It is not an easy thing to master the perfect coating. Too thin and everything turns soggy. Too thick and it might seem like you’re chewing on bits of cement. But when you find that perfect coating on a tender steak with white gravy so good you could eat it like soup, you will understand why we Texans (and our neighbors) take our chicken-fried steak seriously.
When I was just a young-un’, that steak was at Beam’s Restaurant in my hometown of Lufkin, Texas. Mom was an excellent cook, but even she couldn’t match the cook at Beam’s. It was also the only time she could get me to eat a salad.
Last month I went back to Texas to visit family and discovered T-Bone Tom’s in Kemah. Well, not so much discovered as “was introduced to.” That plate-sized steak was so delicious, especially with a side of fried okra and Texas toast.
I’m looking forward to my next trip home and more chicken-fried steak discoveries. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.