In The Way To Fry, his new cookbook out this month, Southern Living Test Kitchen pro Norman King demystifies this regional art.
As a curious cook, I rely on science as much as Southern wisdom. Take shallow frying, a technique we’ve improved in five easy steps.
The only equipment you need is a wire rack, tongs, and a heavy skillet, which promotes even browning and a crispy crust as heat radiates up from the bottom of the pan. Think of the recipe for Country Fried Steak (below) as a versatile road map for all sorts of thin cuts, from pork chops and green tomatoes to catfish fillets and chicken cutlets.
1. The Seasoning
Stir together 1½ cups self-rising white cornmeal mix, 1½ Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano, and ¾ tsp. pepper in a shallow dish. Sprinkle both sides of 4 to 6 cubed steaks (about 1½ lb.) with 1 tsp. kosher salt and ¼ tsp. pepper. Season the dredging mixture and steaks so there’s flavor in every bite.
2. The “3 D’S”
Set up a dredging station: Arrange 2 shallow dishes next to the cornmeal mixture. Place 1½ cups each all-purpose flour and low-fat buttermilk (or whole milk) in separate dishes. Then dredge-dip-dredge. Dredge steaks in flour; shake off excess. Dip in buttermilk. Dredge in cornmeal mixture, pressing to adhere.
3. The Temp
Proper oil temperature is key to frying right. Try my method. Place 1 bacon slice in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet. Add 2 cups vegetable oil; cook over medium heat. When the bacon is crisp (about 5 minutes), the oil is at 350°—and flavored. Transfer bacon to paper towels, reserving oil in skillet.
4. The Fry
Nestle steaks in skillet, 2 at a time, and fry until golden brown and crisp (3 to 4 minutes per side). The steaks aren’t submerged in oil, so I carefully spoon hot oil over the tops with a metal spoon during the first minute of frying. This promotes even browning on top while the steaks get crispy underneath.
5. The Drain
Transfer steaks to a wire rack set over paper towels. Keep warm on wire rack in a jelly-roll pan in a 200° oven. This prevents them from getting soggy while you finish frying the remaining steaks. Crumble bacon, and reserve for gravy. For our favorite gravy recipes, go to southernliving.com/gravy.
Illustrations by Ryan Kelly