Nothing Says Texas Like Chicken Fried Steak

No matter what you call it – pan fried steak, country fried steak, chicken fried steak or CFS – the fact is Texans love it! So much so, that restaurants in that great state serve more than 800,000 chicken fried steaks each and every day, according to the Texas Restaurant Association. And while many “outsiders” think barbecued brisket and beanless chili characterize the state’s cuisine, any real Texan will tell you it’s chicken fried steak that’s the real king.

Photo by Laurie Smith

Over the years, the exact origin of chicken fried steak has been distorted by any number of myths, legends, and conjectures. For example, the Lone Star Book of Records states that chicken fried steak was invented in 1911 by Jimmy Don Perkins in a small Lamesa, Texas cafe. The truth is, Jimmy Don did not invent chicken fried steak, and the entire story is a total and complete fable. Adding even further confusion to its history are reports that chicken fried steak first appeared in 1949, 1950, and 1952; in the South, the Midwest, the West, and Southwest.

What most food historians do agree on is chicken fried steak can be traced to German-Austrian immigrants who settled in Texas between 1844 to 1850. With these transplanted Europeans came a popular breaded and fried cutlet dish known as weiner schnitzel that was quickly adapted by ranch cooks and farm wives throughout the state as a way of enhancing the flavor and texture of tough cuts of beef.

Contrary to what the name may imply, chicken fried steak is not chicken, but rather beef. Traditionally, it is a half-inch thick slice of round steak that has been pounded into submission with a wooden or metal mallet so as to become palatable. This tenderized steak, in the same manner as fried chicken, is dusted with seasoned flour, dredged through a milk and egg mixture, and then placed back into the flour to be well coated. Finally, it is fried in hot lard or shortening until the coating is crisp and golden brown. Thus, the name chicken fried steak. It is normally served next to a heaping helping of smashed potatoes, both of which have been smothered in a thick, peppery cream gravy. Ooooah! Just the thought of this culinary delight makes any true Texan’s mouth water with anticipation.

Variations of this traditional dish are as many as the cafés, restaurants, and diners that serve them. And while those with less discerning palates may be content with frozen patties, soggy factory breading, and tasteless gravy as doled out by many national chains, true chicken fried aficionados seek out establishments that have built their reputations on serving this classic Texas fare. Joints that strive to keep chicken fried steak in the high position of honor deserving of any culinary masterpiece. So if you’re ever down that way and want a real Texas food experience, just stop in almost any mom and pop café and enjoy chicken fried steak for yourself.

Find Em: Threadgill’s in Austin, Massey’s in Fort Worth, Ranchman’s in Ponder, Cafe 290 in Manor, and Goodson’s in Houston.

Make Em: Chicken Fried Steak and Cream Gravy

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Whoop it up for Whoopie Pies

Traditional whoopie pies consist of two soft, slightly dry devils food mini cakes, generously filled with creamy white filling. The filling not only serves to keep this delectable treat moist, but adds a certain gooeyness to the eating experience that’s half the fun.

While the origin of this delicious cream-filled confection can be indisputably traced to New England, the actual inventor of whoopie pies is not so clear, their history is cloaked in mystery supported only by legendary claims and conjecture.

Whoopie pies are said to have been started by Amish housewives in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania during the early twentieth century. As the legend goes, Amish mothers packed these wonderful little desserts in their children’s lunchboxes. When the children discovered these black-and-white treats, they would inevitably exclaim, “Whoopie!”

Today, the whoopie pie still maintains a solid presence in Pennsylvania through many venues including the annual Whoopie Pie Festival, which began in the town of Hershey in 2005. Whoopie Pies can also be purchased at restaurants, bakeries and roadside stands throughout the state.

Although many historians seem to favor Pennsylvania as the birthplace of the whoopie pie, the Labadie’s Bakery in Lewiston, Maine claims to have been producing these individual cake sandwiches in traditional chocolate and vanilla flavors since 1925. There are a number of other stories attempting to establish credit for inventing the whoopie pie. One such story is that Durkee-Mower, the company who manufactures Marshmallow Fluff, an ingredient in the filling used in some whoopie pies, invented the sandwich in the attempt to increase sales. However, the cookbook containing this filling recipe was not published until 1930, making this claim invalid.

Another story centers on the Berwick Cake Company of Boston, Massachusetts. Unfortunately, the bakery went out of business in 1977, so they are unable to substantiate any such claim.

And so the debate continues and the question of exactly who and when the whoopie pie was invented remains a mystery. One thing of which you can be certain, the following recipe for Classic Chocolate Whoopie Pies will bring you accolades from both young and old alike. So bake on, and add a little whoopie to your life.

Find Em: Amish Door Village, Wilmot, Ohio / Wicked Whoopies, Farmingdale, Maine / Sweet Jane’s Candy, Nachua, Florida / One Girl Cookies, Brooklyn, New York

Make Em: Red Velvet Whoopie Pies, Banana Cream Whoopie Pies