Lately I’ve been craving country fried steak. On lunch breaks for the past several days, I’ve been finding myself at Chili’s or Cracker Barrel. Last Sunday, I bought some beef cube steak with the full intention of making it myself, but have always seemed to be “too busy to cook.” (Deep down, I think the real reason was that I knew I couldn’t possibly make it anywhere near as good as my mother, and I would be disappointed.)
Yesterday morning, as I grabbed my Mountain Dew from the fridge, I realized that the cube steak was starting to turn brown, and it needed to be cooked. Like immediately. Meat that turns brown in the fridge is right up there with raw poultry for me. If more than an inch of it browns, it gets thrown out. So during my work-day yesterday, while I was waiting on my gazillion month-end reports to run, I looked up some recipes. For someone who really had no idea how country fried steak was made, I was pretty shocked to find how simple it was:
1) Roll steak in flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
2) Drop steak in grease
3) Flip steak until both sides are browned
4) Eat steak
There was a little bit of debate on whether or not the grease should be oil or lard, and there were plenty of suggestions on other spices. In the end, I decided to use lard because that’s the way my grandmother used to do it, damn it. And it was GOOD. So I swung by the grocery store on the way home to pick up the heart-attack causing can of lard.
In the kitchen, I pulled out my cast iron skillet, which I’ve never used before. And apparently I’d never noticed that it didn’t have a flat bottom, either. It had ridges across the bottom, to simulate a grill, I assume. (Which makes no sense to me. If I wanted to grill, I’d friggin’ grill. That’s easier.) The ridges didn’t seem to be a problem, really, except that it would mean I’d have to put more lard in to submerge the high points.
Most of the recipes I looked at suggested tenderizing the meat with a mallet. I figured I was better safe than sorry, and decided to beat my meat. Now, I’ve seem meat tenderizers before. But I’ve never even though of buying one. Never to be daunted, I improvised. I put the steak on a piece of wax paper, and put another pieces on top of it, then put a phone book on top of that, and then proceeded to slam a rubber mallet from my toolbox down on top of the phone book. One piece of steak must’ve been too close to the edge of the phone book, because it shot off and hit the side of the microwave. I took that as an indication that the meat was sufficiently tender.
I set the skillet on the burner and turned it on high, then opened the lard up. Having never used lard, or even seen lard used before, I probably looked at the white solid gunk for 30 seconds before I realized I’d have to use a spoon to dish it out. No clean spoons in the kitchen. Rather than wash one of my four spoons, I used an ice cream scoop. (Yes, I only have four of each utensil currently. Theoretically, it forces me to wash dishes more often. In reality, it means I use an ice cream scoop to dish out lard and eat with my hands a lot.) As I watched the lard melt, I was beginning to think I should have just used oil. This was pretty disgusting.
For the next step, I dumped some flour onto a paper plate and mixed in pepper and salt. I think flour has some magic property about it that makes it go everywhere and get on everything. Everything, that is, except on meat. Try as I might, I could not get more than a light coating of flour on the steaks. So light that I could see as much red as white. My countertop, my sink, my floor, and my microwave all had more flour sticking to it that these damned pieces of steak.
I was a little exasperated. The recipe had looked so easy. It didn’t explain the woes associated with unsticky steak, and I couldn’t think of what I could do to make it sticky. What would Jesus do in this situation? Nevermind, he’d probably just make country fried steak rain down from heaven. That doesn’t help much. What would Rachel Ray do? I bet she has some meat-stickifier device for these situations. What a load of help you are, Rachel. Fine, it was time to pull in the big guns and look to my second-favorite childhood hero.
What would MacGyver do? He’d apply some scientific principle and logic and save the day, that’s what! And so, I formulated that flour was the primary ingredient in kindergarten paste. (Right? Flour + Water = Paste!) Paste is sticky. Applying this scientific truth, I added some water to the flour… and made something that was most certainly not paste. It was somewhere between paste and dough… But God dam it, it stuck to the meat, so I’m calling it a success.
And so, having recently coated my meat in a sticky white mess, I dropped my meat into the melted lard. This is the part where all of the people who know how horrible I am in the kitchen cringe in morbid anticipation of something terrible happening. I will not disappoint.
Remember History class, back during the Spanish Inquisition? What was that stuff they used to boil heretics in? Ironically, there was some king or something who also used to burn Christians in it. Anyway, I’m pretty sure it was hot oil. Hot oil just like the shit I just dropped my meat in… and splashed everywhere. It made me realize that I should probably wear a shirt when I’m attempting to cook. A long sleeved shirt. And gloves. I’ll just say this. Hot oil fucking burns like a sumbitch when splashed in large quantities.
It hurt a lot. Like, I was screaming and yelling and clutching my burned chest with my burned hands. But I wasn’t screaming so loudly that I couldn’t hear a sudden “woosh” sound.
Something I had not considered when purchasing the cast iron skillet, aside from the ridges that I mentioned earlier, was that it didn’t come with a lid. A lid would be incredibly handy in a situation where the molten lard in the skillet decided to spontaneously combust.
Upon hearing the “woosh” and looking up, I was greeted by a flaming skillet. The flames were about a foot high. For a brief instant, I wondered if maybe God would speak to me from the fire and reprimand me for assuming that Jesus Christ would bother using his miraculous powers to make country fried steak fall from Heaven. I would be the next Moses, and I would have to lead the rednecks out of the South. Or maybe I would just burn my house down because I’m a moron when it comes to cooking.
Did I panic? You bet your ass I did. But I did so in a calm and reasonable way. After all Macgyver never let it show when he was scared shitless. So, after realized I had no lid to drop on top of the skillet and douse the flames, I calmly grabbed the skillet and moved it from the hot burner to one that was off.
You know the neat thing about a cast iron skillet? I realzied this last night, about two nanoseconds after I grabbed the handle. THE FUCKING HANDLE IS NOT INSULATED!
So I had a choice. Scald my grease-burned hand further, or drop the flaming skillet and spill flaming oil all over myself. Did you know that castles used to drop flaming oil on invaders? It’s a fact. You can look it up. Choice made. I would sacrifice my hand and save my ass.
Now to put out the fire. I had an extinguisher within two feet, but that’s an incredibly messy method of dousing a fire. And, while there was a giant gout of flame on my stove-top, it really wasn’t damaging anything yet.
So I made gravy. I took all of the flour that was left in the bag and poured it onto the fire. Problem solved, and I didn’t use the fire extinguisher to make a mess. Instead, I used a bag of flour. Which made my ENTIRE KITCHEN look like a winter wonderland.
So I threw the rest of the partially-floured steak away and ordered pizza.