Friday, May 6, 2011

Steak fingers with Grady Spears' Cracked Pepper Gravy

Steak fingers are one of those perfect foods that are just as good as part of a hot dinner as they are cold out of the fridge the next day. Consider them the more portable, faster-frying cousin to the chicken fried steak. These are good plain, but today I’ll be serving them up with Grady Spears’ cracked pepper gravy.
Like many of you, I learned how to make gravy the old-fashioned way — with a little grease, flour and milk. And while that is, of course, delicious, once I tried Grady’s version I haven’t gone back. My reasons are three-fold: (1) this gravy is ultra-consistent — every single time I make it, it takes the same amount of time and comes out looking and tasting the same; (2) since it doesn’t rely on grease, you can start it while your meat is still frying and get everything ready at the same time; (3) it’s awesome. The first time I made it at my parents, my dad dubbed it “professional” gravy (I made some joke to the effect of "and therefore it can't be served in the Olympics," but I digress...) but I don’t want to take anything away from Grady Spears, so I’ll try to remember to refer to it by its given name in my blog.
To make steak fingers for 2-3 people, you’ll need to start out with the following:
1 package of 4 cube steaks
Flour seasoned with coarse sea salt, coarse pepper and garlic powder to taste
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup beer
2 eggs, slightly beaten
Peanut or vegetable oil
To make Grady Spears’ Cracked Pepper Gravy, you’ll need:
½ stick of unsalted butter
5 tablespoons flour
4 teaspoons coarse ground pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 ½ cups whole milk

To start out, I place the cube steaks, one at a time, on a cutting board and cut them in to strips. You can usually get about 3 strips per cube steak, but they vary so just use your own judgment. Uniformity isn’t important. (Not to me at least!) I then mix my wet ingredients in a mixing bowl and arrange the steak strips and wet ingredients near the seasoned flour. I would say it makes less of a mess this way, but I pretty much make a huge mess any time I cook.

Dredge the steak strips, one at a time into the flour, then the wet mixture and then back into the flour. Pile them on a plate as you finish. I like to do these a little ahead of time when possible because putting the plate back in the fridge for 10 minutes to an hour or so helps the batter adhere a little better.
When you’re ready to start cooking, heat your oil in a heavy skillet to medium-high heat. You know the oil is hot enough when a piece of flour rises to the top right away.
Add the strips to the oil one at a time, being careful not to crowd them. I usually break one package of cube steak into two batches. Fry until cooked throughout and crispy and then drain on paper towels. Depending on the size of the strips, it usually takes about 8 to 10 minutes for a batch to cook.
When they are done, they’ll look like this:

A couple of minutes before putting the last batch in to fry, you’ll want to start on the gravy. I like to have all of my ingredients out and together like this (Aren’t those little half sticks of butter cute? Thank you, Land O’Lakes!):

Melt the butter on the stove on medium heat.
Then, add the flour and whisk. It’ll look like this:

Then, slowly add the milk, whisking as you go to avoid lumps.
Next, add the salt and pepper.
Cook for about 10 more minutes on medium heat, whisking enough to prevent lumps but not so often to prevent the gravy from thickening properly. When it’s nice and thick, you’re done!
And voilรก — the finished product:

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