Early in high school, I decided to become a vegetarian. My decision was heavily influenced by my new friends at Durham’s art magnet school. Abandoning pork may have won me some points at school, but breaking the news to my family was a whole different ballgame. I’m pretty sure my father was annoyed at me everytime we ate together the four years that I was a vegetarian. Not to mention the pathetic sad eyes he gave me everytime I turned down a bowl of brunswick stew or a pulled pork barbeque sandwich.
I’ll never forget my grandmother’s reaction. We went over to her house for dinner, and she had made country style steak, a tender beef dish that is served traditionally with rice and gravy. When I turned down the steak, she just looked at me, smiled, and in her sweet southern drawl said “we’ll that’s alright, you can just eat some rice and gravy.” I didn’t have the heart to turn down the beef gravy, so my first vegetarian meal with my grandmother was, well, not vegetarian at all.
Country style steak is an important dish to North Carolina cuisine. Not to be mistaken with chicken fried steak, country style steak is lightly breaded, fried in oil, and then cooked until tender in gravy made from its drippings. Traditionally, it is made from less expensive cuts of meat, that have been tenderized. This is why the slow cooking method is ideal, it makes tougher meat as succulent and easy to tear apart as a more expensive cut.
I adapted this recipe from my memory, and it turned out pretty well. It needs some tweaking- I don’t think that I got the gravy just right, but it satisfied my craving for country style steak. I used cube steak to avoid having to tenderize the meat. The only difference between using a cube steak versus something else is that if you are tenderizing, you need to coat with flour, tenderize, and then coat again. The jasmine rice was also a nice touch, it gave a good contrast to the salty steak. Next time I may toss it in a little butter first.
Country Style Steak
2 cuts of cube steak (or round steak)
1/2 cup flour (for dredging)
2 tbsp flour (for gravy)
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups chicken stock (or less, watch for gravy consistency)
Salt & pepper to taste
Red pepper flakes
Heat 1/4 cup vegetable oil in pan. Dredge steak in flour, and brown. Once browned on both sides, remove from heat. Whisk in flour, quickly. Add extra oil, if necessary. When flour is incorporated fully, begin to add chicken stock. Add gradually, until your gravy thickens. Gravy should be a smooth consistency, not too liquid. Add salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Stir in butter. Return steak to gravy, and cover. Let simmer on medium heat until meat is tender. Serve with jasmine rice. Rice can be substituted with mashed potatoes.