This West Texas Gravy beat Grady Spears—cowboy food legend and my great friend—in the Golden Chile Awards, to come out on top as the definitive gravy king. The secret? Well, it’s two-fold.
Like many girls, I was blessed with a grandmother I adored. I grew up listening to her stories and eating her homemade chocolate chip cookies while I watched her fry up dinner in her ancient cast-iron skillet. When my grandmother passed away, the entire family descended on the house to take care of my grandfather and help ourselves to a memento from her life.
My grandfather leaned over, placing his calloused, life-weathered hand on my knee, and pinned me with his still sparkling blue eyes, “What do you want of hers, Sarah?”
I swallowed back tears and said, “Her cast-iron skillet.”
The day I beat Grady, I was using her skillet.
I also used a secret ingredient my grandmother taught me during those lazy afternoons in her kitchen. The key to simply perfect country gravy is a couple cans of evaporated milk. It’s a flavor that takes me back to traveling Route 66 with my grandparents, stopping at the little roadside diners along the way and tasting complete gravy paradise coating the end of my fork.
It’s sweeter, warmer, and, though it might sound crazy, it’s almost as good as being safely wrapped in your grandma’s warm embrace. 🙂
3–4 tablespoons oil, reserved from the pan you cooked the steaks in
3–4 tablespoons flour (grab some of the seasoned flour from breading the steaks)
2 cans evaporated whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon each garlic powder and onion powder
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Garnish: I don’t think there is anything better than fresh thyme!
For the steaks:
Pound out your steaks with a tenderizing mallet to thin 1/4-inch slices. They will get bigger and wider as you go. The butcher paper they came home in is perfect for this, or you can use parchment or wax paper. I alternate between the spiky side and the flat side as I go. This is really therapeutic. Pound the crap out of them!
Combine the flour, seasoning salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and cornstarch in a bowl and whisk it well, then place it on a large platter. In a glass dish (big enough to dunk a whole steak) combine the three eggs and a little milk and whisk into a thin mixture to make an egg wash.
Dip each steak into flour, shake it off, then into egg wash, shake it off, then back into the flour. Place each steak on a nice big cookie sheet. Repeat with all the steaks, then transfer into the refrigerator for a half hour. Do not skip this step. This is giving the flour mixture time to bind and develop. Meanwhile, you can clean up, remembering to reserve 4 tablespoons of seasoned flour for the gravy.
To cook the steaks:
Fill your cast-iron skillet about halfway with canola oil. Heat the oil to 350°F on medium-high heat. (You can test the oil with the back of a wooden spoon. When it bubbles around the spoon, it’s hot enough. That happens at about 350°F.)
Using tongs, place a steak in the oil. It should immediately start to bubble and cook, but not explode with activity. If it does, you will want to turn the heat down a nudge. Depending on the size of your skillet, you can cook two or more at the same time. Especially if you preheated that cast-iron skillet. You may have to monitor the heat when adding new steaks. I think a good secret is to let the majority of the first steak get nice and well fried on one side before trying to add in another one.
Watch the edges of the steak for a golden-brown color. The edges will tell you what it looks like underneath!
As each steak is done, remove it from the pan and immediately salt it on each side. Hold on a cookie sheet in a preheated oven at about 225°F. This will keep them hot while you cook the other steaks, but they are best served quickly for maximum crispiness.
When all of the steaks are resting and toasting in the oven, pour all the grease out of the skillet except about 3–4 tablespoons and turn the heat down to low. Sprinkle in the reserved flour and whisk until a brown paste begins to form.
Slowly whisk in one can of milk and whisk until it is thoroughly combined. Turn the heat up to medium and whisk as the gravy begins to take form and thicken, which happens when the mixture starts to simmer. Little bubbles will begin to form. Keep the heat around medium.
I usually add another 1/2 can of milk as I decide how thin/thick I want my gravy . . . that’s just a preference thing. Feel free to do what you like. Add the lemon juice, onion and garlic powder, and salt. We crack freshly ground pepper in just before serving and sprinkle on fresh thyme from our herb garden.
Top the chicken-fried steaks with gravy and serve with your favorite sides.