Cube Steak

Rumor has it we fry everything in the South. If you've ever been to the Texas state fair, you'll know those Texans will fry anything that stands still long enough. Cheesecake. Candy bars. Broccoli. Donuts. I even saw somebody fry some Kool Aid once. No joke.

But I may have mentioned that I'm a bit of an outcast when it comes to Southern cooking. My poor daughter grew up choking down stuff the dog turned his nose up at (I know--the grammar lovers are yelling at their computer screens, but no true Southerner would say "at which the dog turned up his nose." As one of my old bosses used to say, "As long as you know right.")

As it turns out, not having a knack for cooking at a young age kind of worked out for me. I don't fry much, and I rarely do anything with bacon grease--let's face it, when you make a living sitting in a chair, bacon fat is not your friend. 

So I've learned a lot of ways to make good food without handing it water wings and turning it loose in a skillet full of oil. Cube steak, however, is a real challenge. I've mentioned that my husband owns a butcher shop. And even he can't bring home cube steak that can survive a non-stick spray sauté without it tasting like a pair of cowboy boots. 
Someone told me you can put it in a crock pot with some soup and slow cook it. Nope. It tastes okay, but plan on chewing each bite for at least fifteen minutes.


But done right? Oh, yeah. Cube steak is salty, meaty goodness. I've tried several recipes, and I've come to the conclusion that there are only two ways to do it right.  The first (and best) recipe involves a lot of flour, some good seasonings, and a vat of vegetable oil--let's be real here, there aren't many things that can't be made better with a good deep fry. It also takes a long time and makes a five-alarm mess. And I won't even speculate how bad it is for you. 


So here is the compromise. Enough oil to make it taste good, but not so much that the end result will send you scrambling for the cholesterol medicine. Don't go crazy-like my daddy always said, "A little dab'll do ya."


Cube Steak


4 cube steaks

3/4 c flour
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
Enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a skillet


Heat the oil in the skillet until a little flour thrown in the oil sizzles. Mix together the dry ingredients, then dredge each side of the cube steaks in the flour. Add cube steaks to skillet, then cover and cook 3-5 minutes on each side until cooked through.


If you like, once the steaks are done, remove them, scrape the bottom of the skillet to loosen the remaining bits of cooked flour (but leave them in the skillet), then make a roux gravy with the remaining oil to top the steaks with. 

Cheese Grits

Two things someone will hand you as soon as you walk across the Mason-Dixon line are grits and biscuits. When I was young, I lived in Washington state for several years. We moved there from Mississippi, so, as you can imagine, I stood out. My teachers thought my Southern accent was adorable. My friends actually thought I was from a foreign country.

Anyway, I can remember that my grandma used to send us care packages that included boxes of grits. Why? Because in the 1970s, no one outside of the South had ever heard of grits or biscuits, at least not in my experience. If you wanted grits, you got cream of wheat. And, seriously, if you've ever had good grits, how could you possibly settle for cream of wheat??

Fast forward forty years. The world has evolved. When I go to New York, I can find biscuits if I look hard enough, although bagels are still the preferred breakfast bread. While most folks have figured out biscuits at this point (although I would argue that no one who lives where it snows can do them right), grits are still a bit of a mystery. When it comes to grits, Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny had one of the best lines of all times: "Sure, sure I've heard of grits. I've just never actually SEEN a grit before."


A "grit" is an amazing culinary experience, if done correctly. If not, it is a flavorless mouthful of sandpaper. So if you've had bad grits before, you need to understand that it wasn't the grit's fault. And here's a tip: if your only experience with grits involved a buffet, life has been very unfair to you. There is no way to make buffet grits taste good. Trust me on this.

If you want to give grits a fair chance, cheese grits are the way to go. Here's how you make a good grit. In fact, you can saute some shrimp in butter, Worcestershire, cayenne, and Tabasco, add bacon, and dump it on top of these to make amazing shrimp and grits. 

Cheese Grits

 4 cups milk
1  cup quick cooking grits
1/2 tsp salt (don't skimp on the salt--in my humble opinion, unsalted grits are gross)
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1/4 cup cream cheese
2 tbs butter
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
 
 
Bring milk, salt and pepper to a slight boil on medium high heat. Whisk in grits slowly, stirring constantly to prevent lumps.Reduce heat and cook until thick or until desired tenderness and consistency (about 5 minutes).  
Cut cream cheese into chunks and add into grits with cheese and butter.  Stir until well blended and all cheese has dissolved.