|NE Corner of 16th St. & Bethany Home Rd||CFS Served 916512
The Arizona Republic
Mar 11, 2009
Chicken-fried steak is not for the faint of heart.
This Frisbee-size meal - a tenderized beef cube steak coated with seasoned flour, fried in a skillet and smothered with gravy - appeals to those with he-man appetites and no fear of artery-clogging fats.
One serving of CFS, as it is affectionately called, contains a boatload of saturated fat, about 35 grams. But to the legions of devoted eaters, chicken-fried steak is worth every heart-threatening bite.
"We have regulars who come in here and only order the chicken fried. It's comfort food at its best, a meal with a following as loyal as it gets," said Steve Freidkin, owner of TexAz Grill, a Phoenix eatery with an outdoor sign that tracks its sales of chicken-fried steak (more than 700,000 and counting) since opening 23 years ago.
Phoenix landscape architect Carlton Beckstrand, a Texas native who has been eating CFS at TexAz since Day 1, goes so far as to call the meal "comforting health food."
"I think it's a health food, because the worst thing our bodies face, especially today, is stress, and this dish touches you in a place that's home. It takes away the stress. It takes you back to a happy place," said Beckstrand, who considers the TexAz CFS the best west of the Pecos River.
That place that's home most often is Western or Southern states. Texans like to take credit for CFS, while Oklahomans claim it as their official state dish. The precise origin of the dish, however, remains as fuzzy as its name.
An oft-reported tale credits a dense short-order cook in a small cafe in Lamesa, Texas, for confusing a waitress' order for chicken and fried steak to mean frying a steak like you would fry a chicken. Although entertaining, the story is not true. A newspaper reporter wrote the story as a spoof that, unfortunately, many people still believe.
Food historians credit the dish to European immigrants who knew how to make tough meats palatable. Think Wiener schnitzel, a tenderized veal cutlet, coated with flour, eggs and bread crumbs and fried.
At first glance, CFS might look like a simple country meal that anyone with an iron skillet, pounded beef, flour and grease can make. But connoisseurs of the dish know it needs the right ingredients and technique.
Real chicken-fried steak starts as round steak that's pounded thin or run through a tenderizer, dipped in buttermilk, then dredged in flour, salt and pepper. It's fried in melted shortening in a cast-iron skillet to achieve a crisp, brown edge, but never a hard or thick crust. Finally, a milk or cream gravy is made from pan drippings.
This dish screams for a side of mashed potatoes, which is the standard at TexAz. If customers want a little green on their plate, the cook adds a jalapeño pepper.
On any day of the week, Freidkin's restaurant is jam-packed with customers who appreciate CFS for its pedestrian, down-home appeal.
"You have to understand," he said, "we don't do al dente in Texas. We eat what we like - real food."