What Fried How?
"I could really go for some chicken fried chicken right now."
"You know! Chicken fried chicken."
I recently had this exchange exact with Hannah Pandolph, a Texan friend of mine. You can guess who said the incredulous "huh?" Even us Yankees love and indulge in fried chicken, but chicken fried chicken? How is a chicken fried any way other than in the manner of a chicken?
"There's also chicken friend steak," Hannah piped.
This caused my heart to drop to my stomach. Chicken fried chicken sounds unusual or perhaps redundant, but it does seem weirdly logical. The Mason-Dixie line points to a deeper division than geography, but a phrase that implies a "chicken fried like a chicken" makes a round-a-bout sense. Maybe our cousins to the south have developed a different sixth sense that is nurtured best by sweet tea.
But a steak fried like a chicken?
"I think it's what you Yankees call 'country fried' steak," Hannah offered. She then tried to change the subject to mashed potatoes, a food item she figured I could get my head around. But how could I think of taters smashed in garlic butter when a phrase like "chicken fried chicken" had been dropped?
Later that day, I checked the Food Network website and searched for "country fried steak." Predictably, Paula Deen of "Paula's Home Cooking" showed up first. She had a delicious (and heart un-friendly) recipe for steak, a la "country fried," with bisquits and gravy. The food looked appropriately down-home and delicious: bread and fry a steak. Douse it in gravy made from pan drippings and serve up with bisquits. Finish with a side of Lipitor.
I e-mailed Hannah the link and asked her if this was, indeed, the "chicken fried steak" she had referenced earlier. Her response said: "With chicken fried anything, the gravy is already there. You wouldn't title your recipe 'chicken fried steak with gravy.' It's just chicken fried steak."
I checked a few other "country fried" search results on the Food Network website and found that every "country fried" recipe listed the gravy as a special addition. If gravy was there in the recipe, it was added to the title. The chicken fried dishes of Hannah's youth needed no addendum for gravy; it was as necessary as the frying oil. There really was no foodie synonym for that odd phrase "chicken fried"; as weird as it sounded to me, I would have to continue my quest with those words.
Fortunately, my research led me to a very useful and intuitively named website: www.texascooking.com--which in retrospect I should have initially typed into my browser to see if I got lucky. There I encountered a fabulous article written by David Bulla, in which he demystifies chicken fried steak, right down to the very linguistics.
"Let's not call this dish 'chicken fried' any longer," Bulla writes. "The term is a little confusing. Instead, let's call it 'pan fried.'...Well, that sounds a little bland and non-descript...Why not call it something like 'Texas-Style Pan Fried Steak.'..Let's describe a cut of steak here. Sirloin would work well, and it's inexpensive...So we arrive finally at the properly descriptive and tempting 'Texas-Style Pan Fried Sirloin.'"
Voila! A term even us carpet baggers understand!
Though this article focused mainly on the search for chicken fried steak, I cannot neglect the desire for chicken fried chicken that Hannah initially expressed. Her stomach grumblings began this whole journey in the first place. So for the readers at home craving sirlon, simply substitute the chicken in this recipe for your steak.
Rub enough chicken breasts to satisfy your hunger with a mix of salt, black and white pepper, and paprika. Cover each breast in flour. Beat an egg and some milk together and dip the chicken breasts into the mixture. Heat and melt Crisco into a large cast iron skillet; the pan should be about a half inch full.
Okay, I have to admit that the recipe said you could also use regular cooking oil, but what other dish allows you the opportunity to fry in Crisco? You're already making a dish called chicken fried chicken!
Once the Crisco's good and hot for frying, drop in your chicken breasts. Fry each on both sides until golden brown. Reduce heat to low and cook covered for about 15 minutes. Remove.
Now pour off the remaining oil until you're left with two tablespoons in the pan. Raise to medium heat and add three tablespoons of flour, stirring in. Now gradually add 3/4 cup of milk and 3/4 cup of water; cook 'til it reaches your desired consistency. (Hannah likes hers thick.) Salt and pepper and smother on your chicken breasts. Eat nothing but carrot sticks for the remainder of the week.
(special thanks to Yukari Rymar!)