Chi-Fri (chī – frī)

There’s really only one thing a good Texas boy can do after committing a sin, like adding beans to chili.  Seek redemption!  This is a Texas classic:  chicken fried steak and gravy with mashed potatoes, turnip greens and Texas toast.  As you might recall, I used Shiner Bock beer in that chili and although this recipe doesn’t call for beer, Shiner Bock is the common thread that ties these two posts together.

Any decent diner or restaurant in Texas will serve up a good chicken fried steak.  One such restaurant, in Shiner, Texas, was noteworthy.  My family and I had just finished taking a guided tour through the Spoetzl brewery, where they make Shiner Bock, and we stopped off at local restaurant for lunch.  Any time we go back to Texas to visit we look for good smoked beef brisket and chicken fried steak.  As it happened, the restaurant served chicken fried steak.  My wife opted for what the menu referred to as the “ladies portion”.  It was half the cost of the “regular” chicken fried steak.  The server came out with a 14 inch oval platter with mashed potatoes and green beans and a monstrous portion of chicken fried steak that was so large that it hung over the sides of the platter.  We all had a good laugh.  I asked the waitress what the regular chicken fried steak looked like and she pointed to one that was being made for someone else.  It was twice the size of the ladies portion.  Insane!  But that’s Texas for you.  We all shared the chicken fried steak, since the portion was large enough to feed a small army.  It was superb…one of the best I’ve ever had. 

Chicken Fried Steak

I have to say, the chi-fri I made this time around was really good.  The cubed steak was tender and the breading had a good crunch and it clung to steak like a champion!  I’ve included some photos, along with some recipes, but I have to admit that I stopped snapping pictures along the way.  Sometimes it’s best to cherish the simple, beautiful moments in life.

Ingredients:

2 lbs cubed beef steaks (1/4” thick):

This can be 4 steaks at ½ lb each or 8 steaks at ¼ lb each

2 cups flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

1 egg

1 Tbs Tabasco sauce

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 cups cooking oil

For the gravy:

1/4 cup flour

4 cups milk

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Set up a 3-stage dredging station:  steak, flour and buttermilk.

Place the cubed steaks on a plate.

For the dry dredge, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, pepper, and salt.  Place the mixture in a large, shallow bowl.

For the wet dip, add buttermilk, egg, Tabasco sauce, and garlic to a large shallow bowl.  Stir to mix.

Dredge each steak in the flour and pat the steaks, to make sure they are completely covered.  Shake off excess flour and dip the steaks in the buttermilk mixture and transfer back to the flour for another coating.  Shake off excess flour.

Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet to medium/hot (325°).  Gently lay the steaks in the hot oil and fry until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side.  Do not crowd the skillet.  Place the finished steaks on a plate lined with paper towels to drain.  

Once all of the steaks are done, drain the oil from the skillet, reserving 1/4 cup of the oil and some of the crunchy bits.

Gravy

Return the skillet to stove at medium/low heat and add the reserved oil. Whisk the ¼ cup flour into the oil.  Scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spatula to break the solids and mix into the gravy.  Stir in the milk and raise the heat to medium.  Whisk the gravy while it simmers and thickens.  This should take about 5 minutes.  Season the gravy with a little salt and pepper.   Pour the finished gravy into a serving bowl and yes, you may lick the spoon!

Turnip Greens

Turnip greens are simply the leafy green tops and stems of turnips.  They are extremely rich in vitamins and minerals.  Giving them a quick sauté will remove much of their bitterness.  Once cooked, they are similar to cooked spinach in texture and taste.  Many people add salt to greens but it’s really not necessary since they are high in sodium.

Ingredients:

1 Tbs olive oil

½ cup onion, julienne cut

4 garlic cloves, smashed

1 cup chicken stock (I used ½ cup ham stock and ½ cup water)

1 Tbs sugar

½ tsp Cajun seasoning

2 slices of thin cut bacon

1 bunch of turnip greens

Directions:

Soak the turnip greens in lots of cold water.  Swish the greens around to remove any sand or dirt.  Rinse the greens and set aside.

Fry the bacon just long enough to produce a little bacon fat.  Don’t overcook the bacon.  Remove the bacon and set aside to cool.  Leave the bacon fat in the pan.

Add the olive oil, onions and garlic to the pan and sauté over medium heat, in a large skillet.  Sauté until the onions are soft.

Chop the bacon into small pieces and add to the skillet

Add the chicken stock, sugar and Cajun seasoning.  Stir for minute to dissolve the sugar.

Rough-chop the greens and add them to the hot skillet.

Stir and cook for a minute or two.  The greens will wilt quickly.   Turn the greens out to a serving bowl.

Serve with hot pepper sauce (green Tabasco peppers in vinegar)

Texas Toast

Texas toast means thick, sliced white bread.  Yes, white bread; none of that healthy whole-grain stuff!  If you want the real Texas chicken fried steak experience you have to do it right!  If you’re particularly health-conscious, eat a bunch of salads and fruit during the week after your Chi Fri and you’ll be OK.

Ingredients:

10 slices of thick-cut white bread

1/2 cup butter, melted

Garlic salt, about 2 Tbs

Directions:

Melt the butter in the microwave for about 20 seconds.  Butter melts very quickly in a microwave so be careful! 

Lay the slices of bread on a work surface, such as a cutting board.

Liberally brush the melted butter on both sides of the bread.  Sprinkle garlic salt on one side of each slice.

Grill the bread in a hot skillet.  After about one minute, rotate the bread in the skillet to brown the bread evenly.  Turn the bread over and grill the other side.  Remove and serve warm.

Wings (over the Mid-South)

Well, it had to happen at some point.  I can’t hide the fact that I have become a “wing junkie”.  Spend enough time in the Mid-South and you are bound to get hooked on the darn things.  I never cooked chicken wings until I moved to the Mid-South area, nearly twenty years ago. 

For those of you who don’t know what I mean by “Mid-South”, let me try to explain…

The East Coast and West Coast need no explanation…just look at a map of the United States and it’s obvious.  The Northwest, Central Plains States make sense, too.  It gets a little difficult to define the Mid-West states because they include so many states that I would consider, The North and, it includes Ohio, which can hardly be considered “west”.  The Deep South covers a large swath of land from Virginia to Texas, which makes sense, even though Fort Worth, Texas claims the motto, “Where the West begins.”   The Southwest is plain enough…it’s all of those big states with deserts and mountains.

The Mid-South is all of the other states that don’t seem to fit in anywhere else, or maybe they are states that are actually parts of other geographically named areas but they’re just not happy about it.  According to the internet, and who am I to argue with the internet, the Mid-South includes Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, which is where I reside.

As I was mentioning, I never cooked chicken wings until I moved to the Mid-South.  If you look at the states that comprise the Mid-South you might think that barbecue is the main attraction, and you are probably right, but chicken wings aren’t far behind.  You can’t throw a rock around here without hitting a chicken wing joint.  I’ve come across some great wing restaurants and I’ve seen my fair share of so-so joints.  My criteria for a good chicken wing joint is crispy wings (preferably whole wings), good sauces, plenty of crisp vegetables and real blue cheese dressing.

With that, I present tonight’s fare.  Buffalo Wings with honest-to-goodness blue cheese dressing and fresh vegetables.

Note:  Seasonings can be whatever you like.  I don’t know if I have ever made chicken wings the same way twice.  I prefer them very spicy, but that’s just me.  The spice I used on these may seem extreme but, as they bake, they lose some of the spiciness and just carry the flavor of the spices.

Ingredients:

10 whole chicken wings (or about 2 lbs)

2 Tbs Tajin seasoning (contains flavors of chili, lime and sea salt)

2 Tbs smoked paprika

2 Tbs cayenne powder

2 Tbs garlic powder

1 Tbs cumin powder

1 tsp turmeric powder

For the blue cheese sauce:

8 oz crumbled blue cheese

1 cup mayonnaise

½ cup half-and-half

½ cup sour cream

1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce

1 Tbs lemon juice (or 1 tsp vinegar)

The fruit and vegetables:

3 ribs of celery (sliced into sticks)

2 large carrots (sliced into sticks)

2 large jalapeños (sliced into sticks and seeded)

1 lime (quartered)

Directions:

Heat an oven to 400°.

Wash the chicken wings under cold water and allow them to air dry for 20 minutes.  The skin of the wing needs to dry before adding the spice rub.

Tajin seasoning

In a large mixing bowl, add the spices.  Toss the whole wings in the spice mixture.  Allow the wings to rest for about 10 minutes, to allow the rub to fully adhere.

Cover a baking tray with parchment paper.  Lay the wings on the pan and stretch them as wide as they can go.  Doing this will maximize the crispiness.

Bake for 45 minutes and then turn the wings over to bake on the other side.  Turn the oven down to 350° and bake for another 30 minutes. 

While the wings bake, make the sauce and prepare the vegetables.

Prepare the sauce by mixing half of the blue cheese with the rest of the sauce ingredient.  Beat with a spatula until creamy.

Add remaining blue cheese and gently incorporate.

Peel the carrots and slice all of the vegetables into sticks.

Slice the lime into quarters.

Arrange the vegetables and lime on a platter.

Pull the wings from the oven and apply the hot sauce of your choice, or serve as is.

I used equal parts of these 3 sauces on my wings and left the rest without sauce

Arrange the wings on the platter with the vegetables and lime wedges.

Serve with chilled blue cheese sauce.