Episode 4 of Hilah’s Texas Kitchen: Chicken Fried Steak!
For this episode, we got to check out a restaurant that’s been serving great Texas cooking in Austin for about 16 years. Chef and owner Kevin Williamson is warm, friendly, and has a respect for Texas cuisine that’s to be admired. He designed his restaurant as a “South Texas Ice House” — those little cinder-block shacks that dot the highways around small towns all over south Texas and known for reliably cold beers, off-kilter pool cues, and short but punchy menus featuring hearty food that will sober up the drunkest of the town drunks: burgers, tamales, chili, and chicken fried steak. The atmosphere of Ranch 616 is colorful and lively and the food and drinks are absolutely perfect. I have honestly never had anything but a great meal there and that’s why I was so excited to see how they make their chicken fried steak.
Now, traditionally, chicken fried steak is a fairly tough piece of meat, tenderized with a mallet, then breaded and fried. In case you were wondering, it’s called “chicken-fried” because it’s fried with the same technique as classic fried chicken. Chef Williamson takes this low-down specialty and elevates it to gourmet status by using tenderloin cuts. You can get beef, pork, or venison tenderloin, seasoned with their signature (and award-winning!) dry rub, that’s been fried in the simplest way: buttermilk and flour. Instead of the traditional cream gravy, he serves them with a smooth, piquant tomatillo sauce that gets it velvety texture from pureed yuca root.
For my version, I’ve shown you how to make my dad’s chicken fried steak. His is unlike any other I’ve seen, but I can’t say it’s any less authentic since he is a genuine Texan himself. It uses crushed Saltine crackers in the breading to make the steaks extra crunchy and extra craggy which means lots of spots for cream gravy to run all into! I’ve added some pickled jalapeños to the gravy here, an idea stolen from our friend Louis Fowler, and I highly recommend you try it, too. The tartness and mild heat they add compliment the crunchy fried steak. In fact, it’s very similar to the tomatillo sauce and steak combination that Chef Williamson uses at 616. It’s a DELIGHT. And I ain’t shittin’ you.