The best method for cooking breaded cube steak, which is a tough cut of round steak, begins by tenderizing the meat. This involves pounding the steak with a meat mallet or by a machine that leaves little, cube-shaped indentations. Then it is breaded, fried and served with gravy similar to Viennese wiener schnitzel. Breaded cube steak is most commonly referred to as chicken fried steak, and it is particularly popular throughout southern and central western states. However, it is also well-loved in Puerto Rico.
The breading and frying of tough cuts of meat is a culinary practice dating back to ancient times, according to The Food Timeline. In America, names for the dish have varied since it first appeared in 19th century American cookbooks listed as "pan-fried" or "country fried" steak. Sometimes the meat is called "Swiss" or "minute" steaks.
The origin of "chicken-fried" name is unknown, but may relate to being prepared similar to fried chicken. The Food Timeline says the first print reference it found concerning chicken-fried steak was published in a 1914 Colorado newspaper. The dish has such a long and popular history in Oklahoma that the state's legislature lists it as an official "Oklahoma State Meal."
The Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS) reports that traditionally prepared chicken fried steak involves a thinly cut slice of tenderized round steak that is dipped in a mixture of milk and eggs, then dredged in a combination of flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper before frying. After the steak is fried to a crispy, golden brown, excess oil is removed from the frying pan. Then gravy is made in the same pan and, OHS notes, contains any crispy bits left behind.
Cooks who cannot eat wheat protein (gluten), due to a dietary intolerance or allergy (celiac disease), substitute rice or soy milk for cow's milk in the egg mixture. Then the steak is dipped in a combination of alternative flours, including ones made from rice, tapioca and potato. People whose bodies don't properly process gluten often find it difficult to digest fats, so deep frying usually is replaced with light pan frying in olive or canola oil.
Puerto Rican Style
When the author of The Noshery website learned that her dog was pregnant, she decided to soothe her anxiety with a favorite comfort food from her childhood home of Puerto Rico. So she fried up a batch of "bistec empanizado," which is breaded cube steak. Instead of using flour or bread crumbs, she notes, the Puerto Rican recipe calls for ground-up soda crackers. The steaks are marinated over night in a combination of onion, garlic, juice, vinegar, Puerto Rican adobo (a combination of spices including cumin) and olive oil. Then they are coated in beaten eggs and cracker meal, fried until crispy and served with rice and beans.
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