Making chicken-fried steak or fried anything seems more difficult when you’re trying to do it without gluten.
After all, by nature, the gluten in the flour is what makes is sticky and ideal to use for certain types of foods. I made chicken-fried lentil patties one time using gluten-free flour only and it was a mess…I was very disappointed. Since then I’ve used a mixture of gluten-free flour and corn starch and it’s worked pretty well because corn starch is very sticky (get it on your hands or shirt and try brushing it off).
One of the things I hate about making chicken-fried steak (or any other fried food) is that in order to get the thick and crisp outside that most of us like, you have to apply several coats leaving time in between to sit. Basically it works like this: You put milk (almond milk or whatever kind of milk…for this I use buttermilk) and an egg in a bowl to dip the meat (or beans into) and then you dip it into the flour/cornstarch mixture that is seasoned to your liking. Then you let it sit for about 5-10 minutes and then repeat…and then repeat again. The process has to be done at least two or three times and the more times you do it, the crispier the outside.
With me staying at home, I certainly could make the time to do it, but honestly, I don’t want to. It’s a big mess and I don’t want to stand in the kitchen dipping meat into eggy flour for an hour.
Not only is time an issue, but you also have to look at the fact that gluten-free flour is EXPENSIVE. I understand why it is more expensive than other flours, but that doesn’t mean my budget understands it. Something I’ve learned about cooking gluten-free is that you don’t replace regular flour with gluten-free flours, you try to eliminate the need for it all together. Instead of buying expensive gluten-free flour tortillas or making them, you buy corn tortillas or make taco salad (just an example and completely off topic…).
In searching for a recipe for chicken-fried steak, I found one that cuts out even more flour than the current recipe. What is it? Instead of using equal parts of gluten-free flour and corn starch you use equal amounts of gluten-free flour, corn starch, and corn meal. Yes. Corn meal. At first the idea didn’t seem very appealing. After all, I didn’t want a corn flavor in my meat. However, I figured I’d try it.
So for four steaks I used 1/4 cup GF flour, 1/4 cup corn starch, and a 1/4 cup of gluten-free/GMO free cornmeal (this is about the same price at the health food store as regular cornmeal bought at Walmart…cheaper than GF flour). I seasoned it with salt, pepper, a little garlic, paprika, and salt-free Cavenders all-purpose greek seasoning (the other kind has MSGs in it). After the first round of coating I got impatient and decided I didn’t want to have to coat it several more times so I just patted the leftover flour/corn starch/cornmeal mixture on each side of the patties and let them sit while I prepped the oil.
I don’t like using the deep fryer because it uses a ton of oil and I think it’s a waste so I just put about an inch of oil in a skillet and turn on my overhead fan and cook them that way. The first thing I noticed about this new coating I tried was that it didn’t stick to the plate when I threw the steaks in the pan. A lot of times I’d pick up my other coating mix and the bottom half of the steak would be lacking in coating because half of it got left behind. The coarseness of the cornmeal prevented that. The next thing I noticed was that while it was cooking, the coating didn’t slough off into the pan. There were a few pieces that separated, but nothing like what you’d see with the flour mixture.
One thing I really liked was that the outside actually turned a lovely golden brown because of the cornmeal. Something I’ve started doing — since it’s hard to cook the rest of the food while frying the meat — is turning the oven onto 350 and when I take the steaks out of the frying pan I put them in a pan and stick them in the oven. That way they’re staying hot while I fix the rest of the food and the rest of the food wasn’t getting cold while I was cooking the steaks.
I was pleasantly surprised at the fact that the steaks were VERY crisp and thick on the outside and it stuck well to the meat. It didn’t become soggy even after putting gravy on it — the outside texture held up well and so did the flavor. This was all kind of shocking to me especially since I’d only coated it once and in my experience in order to achieve that type of crispiness you have to coat it multiple times. Needless to say, I will never go back to using the other coating recipes that I’ve used in the past. Using cornmeal is not only cheaper, but it also tastes better (by the way my steak didn’t taste like cornbread…). Next time I may even get brave and do 1/2 corn starch, 1/2 cornmeal and just leave the flour out. After all, the less gluten-free flour I use the better.
*Note: Obviously this is not a healthy meal, but an alternative to one of those deliciously unhealthy meals that many southern people like. Remember, gluten-free doesn’t necessarily mean it is healthy, weight-loss food. It just means that you’re cutting out gluten, which isn’t good for you, and replacing it with something a little bit less bad for you.*