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Jan 20 2006

Johnson City Confidential

Whenever business takes me to Johnson City, TX, the ancestral home of Lyndon B Johnson, I make it a point to visit the Hill Country Cupboard for a plate of chicken-fried steak.

Chicken-fried steak, for those unfamiliar with this primitive southern American tempura, is a thin slice of beef sinew that is battered, deep-fried, and doused in a viscous white mucilage, or sauce, called “milk gravy.” The Hill Country Cupboard is an eatery of sufficient rusticity that the traditional side dishes — a perfect hemisphere of glutinous mashed potatoes and a little dish of canned green beans floating in a bacony liquid — are preserved intact from the ravages of modern culinary theory. The dish is a triumph.

Whether the Cupboard’s chef perhaps oversteps her bounds when she invents the chicken-fried steak salad — a somewhat startling creation in which the aforementioned battered beef is chopped into bite-sized hunks and presented with mealy winter tomatoes, shredded cheddar cheese, and ranch dressing on a bed of iceberg lettuce — is a matter for the food critics to decide. I no longer get paid to eat such things.

42 comments

  1. Chris Clarke

    And here I had almost persuaded myself that you and I were not really the same person.

  2. Magdelena, FG, Od

    This is the first meal I eat when I go home. You’re killing me this morning. I can almost taste it…you’ve even included the mushy beans…oh yes…grandma, is that you?

  3. will

    mmmmm chicken fried steak is so good.

  4. Twisty

    “And here I had almost persuaded myself that you and I were not really the same person.”

    Oh, we’re the same person, all right. We both like chocolate, we both have articles on Tangled Bank, and our real names are both Shirley.

  5. Chris Clarke

    You jest.

    Still, wouldn’t chicken-fried steak be more of an American tonkatsu?

  6. wheelomatic

    mucilage…..heh heh heh

    That’s what the glue I used in grade school was. You know the kind in the tan bottle with the slanty rubber top with a slit in it….

    mucilage……such a wonderful word. so evocative…..

    heh

  7. Teenagecatgirl

    Chicken Fried Steak sounds like a meal Jessica Simpson would have severe conceptual problems with.

  8. carmie

    there’s a restaurant in denver – goodfriends – that makes the perfect chicken-fried steak.

    so delicious. so corrupting of my vegetarian self.

  9. Violet Socks

    Where I come from (South Carolina), we eat “country style steak.” This is cube steak coated in flour with a little salt. Not battered. It’s then fried in about half an inch of hot oil. Once the meat is fried, you make a thick brown gravy in the pan (not a milk gravy). This dish is, I assure you, vastly superior to the battered “chicken fried steak” with its inevitably over-peppered milk gravy.

  10. virgotex

    This dish is, I assure you, vastly superior to the battered “chicken fried steak”

    so are you ladies going to tho’ down or what?

    I don’t think I’ve ever eaten at the Country Cupboard, much less had the CFS. I do however, have a downright Proustian CFS sense memory from years ago at the Cottonwood Cafe in LaGrange…

    any other creaky vintage Austinites besides me remember the Stallion and its one-, two- or three- patty chicken fried steak specials?

  11. Nebris

    Oh, Goddess…Chicken Fried Steak. I’m lickin’ my chops. mmmmmm…

    ~M~

  12. Nebris

    Oh, damn…I just saw the biscuit! You evil torturous woman.

    ~M~

  13. The Fat Lady Sings

    Chris – you know tonkatsu? My hubby’s favorite is katsudon or better yet, katsu-curry – as a matter of fact, we had the curry for dinner this week! I get mine mail order from Japan (curry cubes) – just to make sure its right. Where I live, Oriental food markets are something to wish for, but not a one to be found. And Twisty – I do love chicken fried steak! Though I’m used to the version Violet Socks mentioned – I used to live in North Carolina – near Greensboro. There was this down home breakfast place – the best food! They had both versions – with milk gravy, or gravy done in the pan. Either way – it is good cooking!

  14. kathy a

    i really have to get back in better touch with an old friend, who adores chicken fried steak and will love all your other posts. and it took me until the chicken fried steak post to figure this out. sheesh.

  15. Christopher

    I live in Oregon, and I have to say that I am utterly baffled by the idea of somebody not knowing what Chicken Fried Steak is.

    Frankly though, the Birria de Chivo I recently had at the surprisingly good Mexican restaurant located in a nearby strip mall has crowded out all other food thoughts from my mind. More! I want more!

    I wish I had a car.

  16. Liz

    Well while y’all are are all having y’all’s orgasms over that manly meat & mucilage mound, I am huddled over here in this corner moaning over those canned green beans, the ones floating in that same bacony liquid they’ve been boiling in since the Truman adminsitration. I love the way they cast an eerie green sheen over the entire place setting, making the mucilage look like oobleck. And the festive little aqua plastic tub they’re swimming in! It’s the perfect finishing touch, the way it clashes so boldly with the beans. But could somebody please check on poor Alice Waters over there and see if she still has a pulse?

  17. Violet Socks

    Fat Lady (is that what I should call you?), I’m so glad to hear someone else knows my kind of country style steak. The batter-fried milk-gravy kind seems to be much more common. It must be a Carolina thing. We do our chicken that way too — shake the pieces in a paper bag with flour, then fry ‘em. None of that dipping in batter and deep-frying mess.

  18. Twisty

    Violet, they had “country fried steak” in St. Louis when I lived there, a dish for which I’d initially held out high hope but which always turned out to be what you describe as “country style steak.” So sad. But at least the Carolingians aren’t alone.

    Not to be argumentative, but frying a cube steak in an inch of oil is deep-frying, as long as the steak is less than an inch thick.

  19. grubstreet

    I blame the patriarchy for the chicken-fried steak “salad.” “Salads” of this kind exist so that women can appear to be dainty and careful of what they eat; apparently the I’ll-just-have-a-salad mystique hangs over even “salads” that have more fat and calories that the original dish they are sadly emulating. Hence the “taco salad,” among others.

  20. Violet Socks

    I think I said “about half an inch” of oil, but that’s okay, I wouldn’t be surprised if not having eyelashes interferes with your vision somehow. Anyway, I think of deep-frying as full-immersion — is that correct? — and the key with country style steak is not to immerse.

    Twisty, have you ever actually eaten Carolingian steak (as I’m now going to refer to it for the rest of my life)? If so, how does it compare in your estimation to the chicken fried stuff?

  21. Joe Eaton

    As a former Arkansan, I have milk gravy in my veins. A few years ago I was trying to find something fried for my mother, then in her high 90s, who had been forcibly transplanted from Little Rock to Berkeley. We wound up having tonkatsu at a neighborhood Japanese restaurant. She was game, and even experimented with the chopsticks. Not chicken-fried steak, but close enough.

  22. manxome

    grubstreet, do not slam the taco salad! I am neither dainty nor careful. I just love the taste, which I cover in Italian dressing/salsa goodness.

  23. RCinProv

    Thanks for the free continuing culinary education. Great photo.

    Did you eat the whole thing? I’m hoping so, but I’m also picturing the Twisty version of “I can’t beleive I ate the whole thing.”

  24. Becker

    At Lambert’s (“Home of the Throwed Rolls”) the Chicken Fried Steak is an entire round steak. I defy anyone.

  25. Helen

    I live in Oregon, and I have to say that I am utterly baffled by the idea of somebody not knowing what Chicken Fried Steak is.

    I live in Australia and I’m hoping it’s a joke. No, obviously not! (Gag)

    Is milk gravy = bechamel? My SO’s mother, in New Zealand, used to serve frankfurters (wieners to you guys) with bechamel. (Gag again) She used to do it when his friends had been staying over for too long and she wanted them to go away.

  26. The Fat Lady Sings

    Congrats Twisty on your Kofax nomination. Cool beans!

  27. manxome

    Yes, congrats Twisty! I might add that if you’re not voting for the patriarchy-blaming blog, you’re voting for the patriarchy.

    This message brought to you by TacoPAC and is not authorized by the candidate.

  28. Teenagecatgirl

    “I wouldn’t be surprised if not having eyelashes interferes with your vision somehow”

    Or maybe Twisty has other things on her mind…

  29. Twisty

    Lambert’s Home of Throwed Rolls! A tear springs to the eye.

  30. Twisty

    Well, The Fat Lady Sings, I have heard the word bandied about, but because I am a rube I had to google “Kofax.” I see, even though I have no eyelashes, that you’re nominated as well. I still don’t know what the ultimate significance of a Koufax award is, but being nominated for things is usually a harbinger of evil. Tread carefully!

  31. The Fat Lady Sings

    Its just fun! Getting nominated means the people who read your blog enjoy the hell out of it – and I think that’s terrifically cool. Winning – that aint what it’s about – not to me anyhow. I write because I love it, because I have something to say; and I want people to read my work. It’s one of the reasons why we all blog – reaction, feedback, exchange of ideas and opinions. Getting a Koufax nomination means more folk might stop on by and set a spell – and that’s a good thing, no matter how you slice it! So congrats, baby! Whoohoo and all that there shit! For both of us. I think it’s marvelous!

  32. Violet Socks

    Congratulations to you both on the Koufax nomination! I gotta go find the whole list.

    Twisty, throwed rolls! My Dad makes those, from a recipe he found in the paper once “about the place where they throw the rolls.” Except I think it’s “th’owed” rolls, no R. Anyway, those are best goddamn rolls in the history of the universe. Every time Dad makes them it’s an event. I could live on thowed rolls and ice tea.

  33. Teenagecatgirl

    Violet Socks is turning into a regular little pedant!

  34. Twisty

    RCinProv, I most assuredly did eat the whole thing. I still have the gas to prove it.

    Helen in Australia, I’m sorry. I know how hard this must be for you. It’s no joke.

    Violet Socks, I have indeed eaten the Carolingian version. It has its moments, but it sates not the nostalgia pangs.

    Fat Lady Sings, I omitted to congratulate you on your nomination. Congratulations!

  35. Violet Socks

    No, teenagecatgirl, I wasn’t correcting Twisty. I meant that my Dad’s recipe is from an article that deliberately refers to them as “th’owed” rolls, no R. The article has some little story about the restaurant, “the place where they th’ow the rolls,” but I can’t remember the name. So I don’t know if it’s the same recipe/tradition that Twisty and Becker are referring to.

  36. Violet Socks

    The spamulator seems to have eaten my previous comment, in which I was explained to Teenagecatgirl that I wasn’t being pedantic, just trying to differentiate my Dad’s recipe for “thowed rolls” (no R), since I didn’t know if it was the same thing as the “throwed rolls” (with R) that Twisty and Becker were referring to.

    Anyway — I was curious and checked with my Dad to see if the recipe mentioned Lambert’s. He said yes, and that the recipe is actually for “throwed rolls” (with an R!) I demanded to know why, then, he had been telling us for years that they were called “thowed” rolls. Insisting upon it! He thought for a second and then said, “I think I just made it up.”

    Proof, if more were needed, that you can never trust your father.

    The good news is: I have the recipe for Throwed Rolls from Lambert’s. If anyone wants it, just e-mail me. These rolls are so good — I swear, every time Dad makes them it’s like bread has just been invented. They are heavenly.

  37. suezboo

    Like Helen, I am aghast, aghast I say – at what Americans will eat. I feel this is in the same category as pancakes with syrup and bacon and eggs all on one plate which totally horrified my digestive system the first time I heard of it. It took a while and several steaks made as the goddess intended – grilled over a fire – to recover. Next you’ll be telling me you put marshmallows in a vegetable dish. Haha.

  38. Teenagecatgirl

    My mistake. I must have got confused by the whole eyelashes comment.

  39. laughingmuse

    I can’t get over the fact that the dish looks just like a well-captured Big Sneeze.

  40. Becker

    suezboo: then it will further horrify you to hear that in the rural areas of the U.S., the eggs were fried in the fat of that very bacon, making them the best eggs ever. The bacon fat is then saved and reheated to drizzle over iceberg lettuce for lunch.

    violetsocks: if breadstuff was something I could do I would totally ask for the recipe. They are indeed great rolls, and if your inbox is not positively flooded with requests by now, well then there is no God.

  41. The Fat Lady Sings

    You got yourself another Koufax nomination, girlfriend! Really cool stuff – much deserved, too. Bravo!!!

  42. Twisty

    Suezboo, how many plates do you typically employ for breakfast?

    Fat Lady Sings, thank you. How do you find this stuff out? I am so not in the know.

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