Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Country Fried Fail
Over the weekend, Bill recorded two episodes of "Throwdown with Bobby Flay," both of which happened to be chicken fried steak throwdowns. One sent Bobby to Texas where he took on a cowboy with a woodfired grill affectionately named Bertha (no joke), and the other brought him to Savannah where he surprised Paula Deen. (BTW, every time I see Paula on TV, I desperately want to go to Savannah. I'm pretty sure I can talk Bill into it, too.)
Bobby and his oponents made chicken fried steak look easy enough: heat some oil in a cast iron skillet, dip the steak in some buttermilk, dredge it in some flour, and fry it up. Simple. That part really isn't too tricky, but when you get to the gravy you run into problems (or at least I did). The gravy also looks easy: make a rue with oil and flour, add some milk, season with salt and pepper. Done. Um, not so.
I explain the problems I faced following the recipe. Keep in mind all of these measurements are approximate, as I didn't follow a recipe other than what I saw Bobby and Paula do on TV. (In retrospect, I probably should have done a little more research before diving in.)
Country Fried Steaks and White Gravy
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups plus 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Salt and pepper
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 lb. top round steak, pounded to 1/4-inch thick and cut into 4 steaks
1 cup milk
Pour buttermilk in a shallow dish. In a second shallow dish, combine flour, onion powder, paprika, salt and pepper.
Heat oil in cast iron skillet over high heat. (Note: Oil is ready when tiny bubbles form around the handle of a wooden spoon.)
Coat steaks in buttermilk, then dredge with flour. Repeat so steaks are double dipped. Carefully lay steaks in oil and cook 3 to 4 minutes per side, flipping just once. Work in batches so as not to crowd the pan. Remove cooked steaks to baking sheet topped with a wire rack.
While steaks are cooking, heat milk in a small saucepan. Milk should be scalding (which is apparently very hot but not boiling, or about 185 degrees).
Pour off all but 2 or 3 tablespoons oil from skillet. Add flour and whisk until smooth and pasty (adding more flour as necessary to adjust the consistency). Slowly add milk to skillet, whisking constantly. Continue whisking until smooth and thick. Season with salt and pepper.
So that all sounds very easy, right? Well, here are the two problems I encountered:
1. My breading began falling off of the steaks as soon as I removed them from the skillet, and
2. My gravy was a complete disaster (as in, it tasted like flour-y paste)
I have a couple hypotheses about my steak-breading problem. First, I probably should have patted my steaks dry with paper towels after pounding them, to ensure a nice dry surface for the buttermilk to stick to. Second, I probably should have done a quick dip in flour before the buttermilk, further ensuring there was something for it to stick to.
As far as my gravy goes (notice it's not in the picture ... it really was that bad), I'm pretty sure I went wrong with the scalding milk. Both Bobby and Paula mentioned it, and I clearly remember steam rising from their milk as they added it to their pans. I was a little nervous about it going in, so I did some cursory research to figure out exactly what "scalding" meant. There's a good chance my milk was too hot because my gravy immediately started boiling and then got super thick as I added the milk. I ended up starting over because I had reserved some of the cooking oil. This time, I got my rue going, started adding milk, and it started bubbling a little too quickly again. I immediately removed it from the heat and began adding cold (well, close to room temperature) milk instead. That appeared to work because the gravy looked right, but when I tasted it I knew I'd added too much flour to my rue. Looks like it's very important to have exact proportions of oil to flour.
I'll give it another shot. (Actually, Bill suggested chicken fried chicken, which might be a little easier.) Plus, I'll be studying some of Paula's recipes in the meantime!