Why Chicken-Fried Steak May Be The Most Texan Food There Is

Homesick Texan calls the process of preparing chicken-fried steak  "a violent, messy and dangerous affair." Despite the typically Texan melodramatic description, chicken-fried steak is a fairly simple dish. It's a battered piece of cube steak that's deep fried just like chicken. Generally served with a side of mashed potatoes, the breaded and fried steak is covered with cream gravy, for an anything-but-light piece of heaven on a plate.

Like many delicious dishes, the precise origin of chicken-fried steak isn't exactly clear. Food Timeline explains that the dish was first mentioned in print in the Colorado Springs Gazette in June 1914, while the first printed recipe appeared in the Los Angeles Times in 1924. If you're thinking that none of those happened in Texas, you're not wrong. Why, then, did the 82nd Texas Legislature designate October 26 as the official Chicken Fried Steak Day in 2011? According to late Fort Worth journalist Jerry Flemmons: "No single food better defines the Texas character; it has, in fact, become a kind of nutritive metaphor for the romanticized, prairie-hardened personality of Texans" (via "Plowboys, Cowboys, and Slanted Pigs: A Collection").

Chicken-fried steak reflects Texan history and values

In the late 1840s, Texas saw an influx of German immigrants, who carried their culture and traditional foods with them (per What's Cooking America). Therefore, Wiener schnitzel — a breaded and fried veal cutlet — is the most likely predecessor of chicken-fried steak. Rather than tender veal, Texans used what they had — the typically tough cube steak — which meant that some effort was required to make the steak palatable. Chicken-fried steak is pounded with a meat tenderizer before it's battered and fried, so the dish is a labor of love and an homage to the hardscrabble lives of Texans.

In case you weren't aware, Texas is a big state. The Lone Star roots of chicken-fried steak are reflected in the many regional variations of the dish. The Texas State Historical Association explains that the East Texas version is what we typically expect from chicken-fried steak — dipped in egg, breaded, and then fried. Central Texans use bread crumbs, making the dish more like Wiener schnitzel, and there's also a cowboy style in West Texas that doesn't use an egg wash, for a simpler pan-fried steak. 

Homesick Texan sums up the Lone Star State's obsession with chicken-fried steak with words from native Texan author Larry McMurtry: "Only a rank degenerate would drive 1,500 miles across Texas without eating a chicken-fried steak." If you want to try chicken-fried steak for yourself, get ready to make a big ol' mess in your kitchen, whip up some creamy country gravy, and fix yourself a taste of Texas.