Thank God I’m a country boy Country Style Steak
Updated: Jul 26, 2021
Country style steak is definitely one of those dishes that I have some quite fond memories of and an emotional attachment to. You see, my mother, despite always being able to put a meal on the table, is one of the people that generally avoided salt, pepper, and fat when preparing dishes. (You can read about my opinions on the subject here.) However, her country style steak was always something to look forward to.
After I had gotten out of college and started my career in software, I really started to increase my reps in the kitchen. Back then, I was mostly making bachelor style thrown together and doctored up quick, simple, and inexpensive meals. Hot rotisserie chickens from the grocery store were my friend. I’m sure that will turn into a series of posts down the road. But the one thing that I always yearned for, and quite frankly still do, is a tasty home cooked meal that I don’t have to make for myself.
One morning during one of my Mother’s visits in this early career phase of my life, she offered to take me out to a nice dinner after I got home from work. I told her straight up that all I really wanted was to come home to a hot dinner in my own home that I didn’t have to cook myself. Mom came through with some of her country style steak and it damn near made me shed manly little Viking tears.
Hot and humble, not haute
The base of country style steak is cube steak. It’s typically top sirloin, a tough and relatively inexpensive cut of meat that has been mechanically tenderized or beaten with a meat mallet until the tough connective tissue demons have been exorcised from it. Expensive cuts of meat will typically have much lower levels of tolerance for mistakes; It’s not hard to overcook that gorgeous filet that you drool over in the case at the butcher. Utilizing the less expensive cuts typically requires a little more time, but generally only get better the less you pay attention to them while they’re cooking.
If you figure out the basic techniques involved in this dish, you can apply them to other proteins to make an entire universe of delicious homestyle meals:
1) Sear meat in pan
2) Use fond (the little crispy bits left in the pan after searing something) to make gravy
3) Finish in the oven until tender and super delicious
Gentlemen (or ladies), start your skillets
6 cube steaks
½ cup flour
1-2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 cup neutral oil (peanut, canola, etc., NOT olive oil)
Grab your 12” cast iron skillet and lid! If you’re scared of cookware that requires a little extra love, but will last a few lifetimes, you could also use a dutch oven or deep stainless saucepan.
First we need to dredge the cube steak. For the uninitiated, this is a fancy way of saying we’re going to cover them with seasoned flour. Mix the flour, salt, and pepper into a large bowl and coat each piece of cube steak. You want a full and even coating. Maybe even massage some of the flour into all the nooks and crannies. But make sure you shake off the excess before letting rest on a sheet tray or plate for 10-15 minutes.
While your meat is resting, put the oil in the skillet and heat over medium high heat. Once a pinch of flour sizzles away when sprinkled in the oil, you’re ready to start pan frying. For those interested in precision, you probably want the oil around 350 degrees (the universal cooking temp).
Depending on the size of the steaks, you’ll need to pan fry your meat in 2-3 batches. You don’t want to overcrowd your pan and the oil shouldn’t completely cover the steaks. This is a pan fry, not a deep fry. Also, you aren’t necessarily trying to cook the meat all the way through. We’ll do that later in the oven. The rule of thumb that I use is let it sizzle in the oil undisturbed until you see red juices running out of the top of the steaks.
This should give you a nice golden brown color. Flip the steaks until you get the same color on the other side and then remove and let rest on a sheet tray or plate while their friends take a dip in the pool.
2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp flour
2 cups beef stock
1 tsp Kitchen Bouquet or browning sauce
½ cup water (optional)
1 tablespoon salt
1 tsp black pepper
After everyone’s taken a few laps in the hot oil, we’re going to let it cool enough to remove most of it from the pan. If you’re in a hurry, please do this carefully into a heat proof vessel. You don’t want hot oil everywhere or a trip to the emergency room. It will ruin your dinner plans.
You’ll want to reserve about 2-3 tablespoons of your frying oil along with all the little crispy bits that remain in the bottom of the pan. I believe that the Colonel from Kentucky calls this “brown gold”. I just call it “where delicious gravy comes from”.
Pro-tip: You may want to make more, but probably not or less gravy. For every tablespoon of fat and flour, you should add 1 cup of stock.
Heat the oil over medium high heat and whisk in an equal amount of flour. For those in the know, this concoction of equal parts fat and flour is called a roux. It serves as a basis for countless gravies and sauces. Learn how to do this. It will serve you well.
Keep whisking until it turns a beautiful light brown color. Then we’re going to slowly pour in the beef stock while still whisking.
If you do it right, the roux should seize up into a pasty mess at first and then relax into something resembling a very watery gravy. Keep stirring it occasionally and bring to a boil. Once it hits a boil, cut the heat and stir in the salt, pepper, and kitchen bouquet. Taste and add additional salt and pepper until it tastes like you know a gravy should. It should coat the back of a spoon.
Depending on its current thickness, you may want to add some water to thin it out. Since we’re going to be adding the steaks to the gravy and baking in the oven for a while, the gravy will thicken some. So at this point you want it to be a little thinner than you want to serve at the table.
Bonus pro-tip: If you thin out your gravy too much, don’t panic. It can always be thickened later with a slurry of water and cornstarch.
It’s time to steak and bake
½-1 white onion
Add the pan fried steaks that have been patiently waiting back to your skillet with the gravy. You want the steaks wading but not completely swimming. Slice up half or a whole white onion, depending on how much you like onion. Yellow onion also works, your call.
Sprinkle your onion slices on top, cover, and bake in a 325 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour. This will braise the steaks in the delicious gravy that you just made until they should be fork tender. Once the onions are cooked through, that’s usually a good sign that you’re ready for dinner.
But I only have meat and gravy!
Can’t slip anything by you, can I? I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t been known to occasionally have bachelor dinners that stop here. But generally, you’ll want to serve more than just meat and gravy for dinner. This is the type of main dish that lends itself very well to being served with a starch and veggies. White rice or mashed potatoes and a vegetable of your choosing should round out the meal nicely.
Don’t know how to make rice or mashed potatoes or veggies? I’ll probably get around to explaining those in future posts. Until then instant rice, boxed potatoes, or frozen veggies are a less than ideal, but passable option. Some bread and butter is also good at sopping up that delicious gravy.