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The origin of chicken fried steak is somewhat debatable. It is similar to the South American dish known as milanesa – a breaded filet of veal, chicken, pork or beef – introduced to the continent by Italian immigrants during the 1860s. However, most historians agree that German and Austrian immigrants who settled in Texas during the 19th century most likely influenced the meal. They brought with them the native Austrian recipe called wiener schnitzel, which is veal, and occasionally pork, that is dipped in eggs and bread crumbs and then pan-fried. It was common practice during the 1800s to use tough cuts of meat, which were more affordable and easier to come by, so to enhance the taste and texture, spices and breading were often added, before frying it.
Recipes for deep-fried veal began popping up in American cookbooks during the early 1900s, and in the 1930s, some published versions called for cream gravy, which is almost always served with the steak today. While there are still certain Texas restaurants claiming to have introduced the chicken fried steak, there is no proof that it originated in the state.
The inspiration for the title chicken fried steak derived from the way the dish is prepared, very similar to frying chicken. Traditionally, the round steak, pork or chicken was coated in seasoned flour, then dipped in eggs, tossed in flour again, and placed in a deep fryer.
This Southern meal is so popular now that it’s served in many establishments, from diners to five-star restaurants, and prepared in several ways, from burgers to breakfast platters. It is still prepared with tough cuts of meat; however, there are also other varieties made with rib eye or tenderloin.
Today, you can enjoy the battered steak throughout the USA, but the states with the best-known recipes include Texas and Oklahoma, the latter of which named the dish as their official state meal in 1988. There’s something comforting and addictive about warm fried meat under thick gravy served with your choice of vegetable and buttery mashed potatoes – there’s nothing else quite like it.