Main dish Tex-Mex

Chicken-fried steak with red chile gravy

Chicken fried steak with red chile gravy and cheese | Homesick Texan

One summer day, while driving along the Rio Grande from Laredo to McAllen I began to get hungry. As I passed through the town of Zapata, I spotted a sign that said, “El Paraiso: Home of the Chicken-Fried Steak.” Chicken-fried steak paradise? Say no more. I pulled into the parking lot and came to a stop.

When I entered the restaurant, it was spacious and inviting. The hour was around noon and there was a mix of families, business people, and solo diners having lunch. The waitress lead me to a table by a window and handed me a menu.

I asked her if the chicken-fried steak was as good as advertised and she said nodded and said yes. Then I looked around and saw that other tables were eating it, and I took that as an affirmation. Besides the steaks, most of the restaurant’s offerings were Tex-Mex. So, when I spotted one of the ways they offered their chicken-fried steak was enchilada style, smothered with red chile gravy and cheese, I decided to give that a try.

After I ordered, the waitress brought me salsa and a basket of tortilla chips along with a small cup of fideo, a tomato and chicken-broth soup loaded with thin noodles. (My first book has a similar recipe.) The chips were crisp and salty and both the salsa and soup were well-seasoned and refreshing. It was a promising start. Then the waitress walked over with the main event—my chicken-fried steak.

Now, if you are a lifetime lover of chicken-fried steak, you develop an eye for quality. Indeed, I can easily spot if a steak has been hand-breaded or if it came from the freezer. Restaurants that sell pre-formed steaks make me sad, as it shows such a lack of care and concern.

Chicken fried steak with red chile gravy and cheese | Homesick Texan

Fortunately, El Paraiso’s steak had all the hallmarks of one made on site, with its odd-shaped surface and peaks and valleys in the crust. The glorious steak was topped with chile gravy along with a healthy blanket of melted cheddar cheese. It took up most of the plate, though there was some room leftover for fries, rice, and refried beans. It was a thing of beauty.

The waitress asked if I needed anything else, but since I had enough food to feed a family, I laughed and said I was fine. Then I picked up my knife and fork and got to work. The first bite was tender and crunchy with the earthy flavor of the chile gravy going quite well with the peppered steak. The strings of hot cheese were certainly fun to eat, too. It was an incredible meal.

In Texas, cream gravy is the traditional accompaniment to chicken-fried steak, but you will sometimes see it served with queso, salsa verde, or beef chili. This, however, was the first time I’d seen a meatless red chile gravy. Since it’s an uncommon dish, if you’d like to experience this non-traditional Tex-Mex indulgence yourself and don’t have immediate plans to visit Zapata, I suggest making it at home.

It’s not too difficult, though chicken-fried steak—between the pounding, dredging, and frying—can be a messy production; this isn’t quick weeknight fare. Though if you have a special occasion or extra time to spend in the kitchen it’s well worth the effort.

For mine, I start with my usual chicken-fried steak, adding a bit of cumin and oregano to the breading. At first, I had the ambition of preparing an elaborate chile gravy from a variety of red chiles, as is my preferred method these days. After wrangling with the steaks, however, I decided to keep it simple and stirred up a gravy with the pan drippings, much like my cream gravy but with broth, aromatics, and chili powder instead of milk. While not complex, the gravy was familiar and good with its echoes of vintage Tex-Mex. As for the cheese, I went with a combination of mild yellow cheddar and Monterey Jack.

Chicken fried steak with red chile gravy and cheese | Homesick Texan

Now, chicken-fried steak served with anything other than the classic cream gravy is considered by some to be heresy. In my latest book, for instance, I featured one with queso, and while it was well received by most, there were a few who called blasphemy.

I suppose this set would also not welcome a chicken-fried steak smothered in red chile gravy and molten cheese. That’s okay, as it leaves more of this Tex-Mex fusion of steak and sauce for me. And if you’re an adventurous sort who doesn’t mind bucking tradition, then I know you will enjoy this border-style taste of chicken-fried steak, too. Paradise indeed!

Chicken fried steak with red chile gravy and cheese | Homesick Texan
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Chicken-fried steak with red chile gravy

Servings 4
Author Lisa Fain

Ingredients

For the steaks:

  • 1 1/2- pounds beef top-round steak
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 4 ounces (1 cup) mild yellow cheddar, shredded
  • 4 ounces (1 cup) Monterey Jack, shredded
  • Pickled jalapeño slices, for garnishing

For the red chile gravy:

  • ¼ cup pan drippings, oil, or bacon grease
  • 1/4 cup diced onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups beef or chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon jalapeño pickle juice
  • Salt
  • Refried bean, for serving
  • Mexican rice, for serving

Instructions

  1. To make the chicken fried steak, cut the steak into 4 evenly sized pieces. Pound each piece with a meat tenderizer to about a 1/4-inch thickness and almost doubled in surface area. Lightly season the steaks with salt and pepper.


  2. For the breading, whisk together the flour, salt, pepper, cumin, oregano, and cayenne. Beat the egg and milk in a bowl wide enough to accommodate the steaks. Coat both sides of one piece of steak with the flour mixture, dip into the egg mixture, dredge in flour again, and place on a second large plate. Repeat with remaining steaks.


  3. Preheat the oven to 200°F and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.


  4. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm 1 inch of oil to 300°F. Working in batches, gently place the steaks in the skillet in a single layer. There will be a lot of popping and hissing, so be careful. After 2 to 3 minutes, or when juices start bubbling out of the top of the steak, use tongs to gently flip the steaks and continue to cook until lightly browned, about 3 more minutes. Transfer the steaks to the prepared baking sheet and place in the oven to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining steaks.


  5. To make the chile gravy, reserve 1/4 cup of oil from the skillet, then drain the rest and wipe out the skillet with a paper towel. (If your oil is too burnt tasting, you can use fresh oil or bacon grease.) Return the oil to the skillet and warm over medium-low heat. Add the onion and while occasionally stirring, cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds.


  6. Whisk in the flour to the skillet until everything is well combined. Cook for a minute or until just beginning to brown, then stir in the broth, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and black pepper. While stirring, cook until the sauce has thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the jalapeño pickle juice then taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt if needed.


  7. Remove the steaks from the oven. Turn on the broiler, position a rack 6 inches from the heating element, and place each steak on an oven-proof plate. Evenly pour over the steaks the gravy, then top with the cheese. Slide the plates under the broiler (depending on the size of your oven, you may need to do this in batches), and cook until the cheese has melted, about 1-2 minutes. Garnish the steaks with pickled jalapeños. Serve immediately, with refried beans and rice, if you like.


Recipe Notes

If you have the time and inclination and would like to try making a chile gravy using whole chiles, this is a good gravy recipe. You can also substitute ancho chiles for the pasilla chiles if you prefer.

  1. Lisa, my wife (and native Texan–but I got there as fast as I could) just yelled out loud as I was reading this piece to her. That first picture is glorious. But praise be, we’ll be in Austin next week to recharge our batteries (and chile stores). On our return to Dublin, I will make this dish as soon as possible.

  2. This sounds just glorious! Will try very soon.

    I seem to be unable to master making chicken fried steak. Some sort of mental block. Will attempt to get past that with this variation, though I tend to be a purist now. Funny how that works. All those years IN Texas, I was adventuresome. Now, I want the traditional food. Maybe because it can be so difficult to find.

    Keep fingers crossed.

    • Lisa Fain

      Pete–I totally get being a purist–I feel that way about nachos and chili, for instance. And my fingers are crossed that your chicken-fried steak cooking goes well!

  3. Terry Hoey

    Looks amazingly delicious Lisa. To save a little time, wear and tear on the old body and countertops, can we buy the pre-tenderized steaks (not breaded)?

    • Lisa Fain

      Terry–Of course! Many stores sell cube steak or their butchers will do the tenderizing for you.

  4. Todd St John

    What if one were to make the chile sauce with dried ancho chiles? Have you tried that?

  5. I would never have considered this combination. I will definitely be trying this! Moved to Fredericksburg from Kansas & LOVE the Hill Country. I still make my CFS with a breading of saltines Midwest style. But, found this copycat recipe for Threadgill’s seasoning. Tried it last week with my CFS recipe & it was absolutely awesome. Gave it a light dust on the meat then seasoned again just before putting it in the skillet.

    • Lisa Fain

      Martha–The Hill Country is one of my favorite places! So glad you’re loving it.

    • Funny you should mention the crushed cracker meal for breading–my mom, a midwesterner, used that for her “country fried” steak, which was actually browned and then braised in sort of an oniony kind of broth. It was tender and delicious, but definitely not a misnamed chicken fried food. I now live in North Carolina, and chicken fried steak is country fried steak. We sometimes stop at Texas Roadhouse for a cheap meal and I frequently mention that I know they aren’t real Texas–despite the line dancing and yeeehaws–because they mislabel chicken fried steak (the restaurant is actually based in Indiana, no surprise). I’ve never really warmed up to white gravy on this schnitzel descendant (despite gobbling up Hut’s Tuesday 2 for one chicken fried steak dinner for years in Austin–I see it is now known as Hut’s Hamburgers and apparently no longer has it’s spectacular Tuesday special). The chili gravy sounds wonderful to me. I’m up to the mess and will try it soon

      • Lisa Fain

        Janet–Your mom’s version of country-fried steak sounds delicious! And Hut’s is an old favorite of mine, too. It’s sad to hear they no longer offer chicken-fried steak.

  6. Chef Paul

    Yup. That’s dinner. Heading for the shops right now. The hard part is the 5 hr. round trip to get the pecan beer to go with it!

    • Lisa Fain

      Chef Paul–Enjoy! I’m sure pecan beer will make a fine accompanying beverage and well worth the trip!

  7. Lisa – this is going to be on our dinner menu here real soon. It looks and sounds amazing. My Yankee husband loves CFS even more than this Texan does, so I know this will be a BIG hit! Thanks for this non-traditional version.

    • Lisa Fain

      Sher–You’re very welcome! Enjoy! And how great that your Yankee husband loves chicken-fried steak! He has very good taste.

  8. Sandfan

    My mom used to serve us CFS with cauliflower smothered in cheese sauce and mashed potatoes. We would carefully push the cauliflower to the far side of the plate and spoon the cheese sauce over the steak and potatoes. I love CFS with cream gravy, but this recipe sounds wonderful!

    • Lisa Fain

      Sandfan–If I had been in your situation, I’m pretty sure I would have done the same!

  9. Nathaniel James

    When I first read the recipe, I immediately thought of the Chimayo red chile powder in my freezer. Two great regional flavors combining to make something even greater? I’m about to find out.

    • Lisa Fain

      Nathaniel–That sounds fantastic! I love Chimayo red chile powder.

  10. Hi Lisa-

    This recipe gives me a hankerin for some homemade CFS. The challenge to keep the grease temp hot enough, but not too hot, to steal my crust has disuaded me as of late…the struggle is REAL!!

    Your gravy recipe sounds delicious & no doubt the perfect accompaniment to a multitude of dishes including the CFS cousin, Chicken Fried Chicken.

    I have to admit I am one of the aforementioned country cream gravy die hard fans, although an infusion of jalepeno in this age old recipe gives it a nice twist on an otherwise potentially bland covering for best in Texas foodies.

    Thank you for sharing!

  11. I had given up on making chicken fried steak because my Yankee husband hates it! I made your recipe tonight and he LOVED IT, as did I. That gravy is exquisite. I’m going to use it on other dishes.

    • Lisa Fain

      Nicole–So pleased it worked for y’all! The gravy is good on enchiladas, too, of course, but I also like to use it as a dipping sauce for French fries or with tortilla chips and eggs for chilaquiles.

  12. Seriously the best thing I’ve seen in a long time. MUST MAKE THIS WEEKEND!

  13. Les C. from woodland ca.

    Made this last week and it did not disappoint. Used N.M. chili powder and pepper jack cheese b/c it was in the fridge. I will not use the dredging flour next time for the gravy as that made it a little strong but it was fine,plain flour for a cleaner taste,THX for the great recipe.

  14. Lisa Dowdy

    Hi Homesick Texan Lisa in New York from Homesick Texan Lisa in Alabama! We had the chicken fried steak tonight, and it was delicious! Paired it with Pepper Jack Rice Bake from Plain Chicken blog and Charro Beans from Five Home Heart blog. Wow! What a dinner! Took me home for a few minutes. Hopefully headed for Texas in a few weeks, but this will certainly tide me over.

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