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Batter Up!

Chicken and steak aren't the only things that are chicken-fried in Texas these days

Author JAY CHESHES

Chicken-fried lobster surf and turf at Fearing’s in Dallas

CHICKEN-FRYING STEAK is surely among the most unusual of Texas cooking traditions. To do it, you need beef, seasoned flour, oil and a pan. You don’t need a chicken, and you don’t need any chicken products. You can chicken-fry everything in your pantry even if there isn’t a chicken between your house and Mississippi. Such is the genius of chicken-frying.

Some claim that chicken-fried steak was invented in Texas in the 19th century, when a Czech or German immigrant—no one’s sure which—swapped beef for veal in his everyday schnitzel. Others believe it debuted later, in 1911, when greasy-spoon cook Jimmy Don Perkins confused two orders for one, combining steak and fried chicken to create a bizarre hybrid that took.

However it started, Dallas residents are today so enamored of chicken-fried food that local restaurateurs have begun applying the treatment to everything from quail eggs to mushrooms to pot roast. The mania has brought the technique to even the most high-end restaurant menus: Chicken-fried lobster tail is among the most popular items that chef Dean Fearing serves at his namesake restaurant, Fearing’s, in The Ritz-Carlton. Even the dirt-cheap original has gotten an upgrade at the tony Neighborhood Services Tavern, where the chef has traded traditional cube steak for rib-eye served over horseradish mash. And to the panic of poultry everywhere, there are still places where you can find “chicken-fried chicken,” which is different from regular fried chicken in that … oh, never mind.

PLAYING WITH FIRE
A Texas whiskey producer takes on Kentucky for the bourbon crown

They say the indigenous grain, water and climate make Kentucky the only birthplace of good bourbon. A few Texans, however, beg to differ. Firestone & Robertson, which opened in Fort Worth this spring, is betting big on the promise of Texas terroir.

The first whiskey producer in the north of the state—and Texas’ fifth overall—it’s the only distillery using Texas yeast culled from the state tree, the pecan. “We’ve got a very distinctly Texas product—aged in this climate, using only Texas ingredients,” says founding partner Leonard Firestone.

The first of that homegrown bourbon went into barrels in March, and Firestone and his partner, former finance man Troy Robertson, are hoping it will be ready to bottle in the next two years. In the meantime they’ll be showing off their blending skills in their first official product. Capped in boot-leather scraps and called TX, it’s a mixture of whiskeys imported from, well, Kentucky. —J.C.

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