A HUMBLE ODE TO POULTRY-SAUTEED BEEF
by Todd Hartley
I don’t follow a lot of rules when it comes to eating. I know that’s hard for many of you to believe, given my chiseled abs and total lack of body fat, but it’s true. I have guidelines — mostly having to do with avoiding vegetables and similarly healthy foods — but as far as rules go, I pretty much have only one: If the name of a dish consists of three things I like, I’m going to order that dish.
Let me give you an example: chili cheese fries. Do you enjoy chili, cheese and fries? Chances are you’re going to love chili cheese fries. Here in Colorado, where marijuana is legalish, chicken pot pie might be right up your alley. And trust me, if I, personally, ever encounter chocolate shrimp Jell-O, I’m going to give it a try.
Of course, the reverse is also true. If the name of a dish consists of three things and more than one of them is vile, I avoid it like the plague. For instance, I love soup (beef barley soup and she-crab soup are good examples of the three-yummy-things rule), but when the description of a soup includes the terms “French” and “onion,” I’d sooner down a bowl of Drano.
The ultimate example of the three-yummy-things rule, though, is undoubtedly chicken-fried steak. Chicken? Delicious. Fried? Scrumptious. Steak? Drool, drool. (Admittedly, chicken-fried steak doesn’t actually include any chicken, but that’s not the point. The point is it’s freaking awesome.)
Now, I realize there are still lots of you out there who’ve never tried chicken-fried steak, and some of you may be a little confused as to what, exactly, it is. Is it chicken, or is it steak? That’s a legitimate question, so here’s your answer: Chicken-fried steak is steak that has been pounded flat, breaded and deep-fried. It’s similar to wienerschnitzel in that regard, except that it comes smothered in white gravy, accompanied, ideally, by hash browns, two eggs and a side of toast.
There is also a dish called chicken-fried chicken, which, when you think about it, really ought to just be fried chicken, but it’s not, which makes it quite confusing, so we shan’t discuss it here.
I grew up in Connecticut, in a town without a Denny’s, so I’d never heard of chicken-fried steak until I went off to college in Colorado. Shortly after my arrival in Colorado Springs, I discovered that IHOP served a great chicken-fried-steak meal (all of the above components plus a stack of pancakes) that was absolute heaven for a drunken college student at 2 in the morning. After that I was hooked.
Nowadays, when I go out to breakfast, I have a check-down list I go through. First, I check to see if the menu has chicken-fried steak. If it does, that’s what I order. If it doesn’t, I check to see if there’s a breakfast burrito. If there’s no breakfast burrito, I check out another restaurant. At least I do unless the place serves chocolate shrimp Jell-O.
As you can probably guess, I consider chicken-fried steak to be America’s single greatest contribution to world cuisine, far outpacing such plebeian fare as hamburgers and Hot Pockets. But as much as I love the dish, my adoration pales in comparison to that of Oklahoma, which has institutionalized its love by making chicken-fried steak a part of the official state meal.
That meal, by the way, also includes black-eyed peas, cornbread, corn on the cob, okra, strawberries, sausage and gravy, barbecue pork, squash, biscuits, grits and pecan pie, which might explain why Oklahoma is America’s sixth-fattest state. It also might explain why I have a sudden urge to go to Tulsa.
Unfortunately for Oklahoma, it can’t lay claim to being the birthplace of chicken-fried steak, which, according to Wikipedia, was either invented in Bandera, Texas, by John “White Gravy” Neutzling or in Lamesa, Texas, home of the annual Chicken-fried Steak Festival, which will be held this year from April 26-28. (I’ve already booked my ticket, in case you’re curious.)
So, by now I imagine you’re wondering why I’ve devoted an entire column to chicken-fried steak. I actually have a very good reason. You see, I’m about to go have breakfast at a diner that serves an excellent one, and by penning this homage to one of my favorite foods, I can now write off my breakfast as a business expense. God bless America.
Todd “Extra Gravy” Hartley recommends chicken-frying your salad.