From America's Test Kitchen Season 4: Truck Stop Favorites
Although this truck-stop favorite often gets a bad rap, chicken-fried steak can be delicious when cooked just right. Poorly prepared versions feature dry, rubbery steaks that snap back with each bite, coated in damp, pale breading and topped with a bland, pasty white sauce. When cooked well, thin cutlets of beef are breaded and fried until a crisp, golden brown. The creamy gravy that accompanies the steak is well seasoned and not too thick. This was our goal.
A thin steak works best here, so we turned to cube steak and pounded the meat to an even thickness. What makes this steak special is the crisp coating. After trying a variety of coatings—Melba toast, corn flakes, panko, and the like—we determined simple was best. We dredged the steaks in heavily seasoned flour, dipped them in a thick buttermilk and egg mixture aerated with baking power and baking soda, and then returned them to the seasoned flour for a second coat. This coating fried up to an impressive dark mahogany color with a resilient texture to stand up to the gravy. For the gravy, we built in flavor by using the fried bits left in the pan after cooking the steaks and by making a roux. Onions and cayenne are traditional for the gravy, but we found that small additions of thyme and garlic also improved its flavor.
Getting the initial oil temperature to 375 degrees is key to the success of this recipe. An instant-read thermometer with a high upper range is perfect for checking the temperature; a clip-on candy/deep-fry thermometer is also fine. If your Dutch oven measures 11 inches across (as ours does), you will need to fry the steaks in two batches.