Carla Hall's Technique For Chicken Fried Steak Makes It Extra Crispy

Is there anything better than the satisfying crunch of a piece of fried food, as that delectable crispy exterior pairs with a juicy interior? There are many ways to maximize this textural contrast. You can add a quick-cooking alcohol to batter, as in golden beer-battered fish and chips. Or, go the twice-fried method, such as in Korean fried chicken.

And then there's chicken fried steak, the classic Southern dish with origins dating back to the 1840s. It consists of a thinly pounded piece of beef that is coated in a craggy breading, deep fried, and often smothered in gravy. But there are ways to amplify it even more, as celebrity chef Carla Hall does, using a trick for making chicken fried steak extra crispy.

Hall takes the traditional batter of flour and spices up a notch. Rather than just use all-purpose flour, she uses a coating of cornstarch, dips the meat in eggs, and then dredges it with a mix of regular and rice flour. The cornstarch and rice flour are the key to the textural goodness.

The advantages of cornstarch and rice flour for frying food

The reason cornstarch works so well for this trick is that, when it's fried, it forms a crispier coating than all-purpose flour. This is because cornstarch has a higher amount of starch, and doesn't have the high-protein gluten of wheat flour. Fried foods crisp when all of their moisture has been dried off, and having more starch and less gluten means that cornstarch absorbs moisture more quickly, and it creates a more brittle — and therefore crunchier — structure when the water evaporates.

Rice flour doubles down on all of these properties. It's not only a good gluten-free flour substitute, it's also high in starch. This allows it to fry foods with a lighter shell than regular wheat-based flour. Rice flour also has a very subtle taste, which is helpful because you don't want your fried food to taste like flour. Moreover, the mildness will let any spice mixture come to forefront of the batter.

Carla Hall also includes some all-purpose flour. A batter exclusively made of cornstarch and rice flour will form a very thin, smooth shell. If this is your desired effect, as in flash-frying seafood, then it's ideal. Chicken fried steak requires a craggy, heavy duty crust to compete with the rich beef. So a light, tempura-style batter won't do the trick. This is where all-purpose flour comes into play. Adding this to the batter allows it to form the characteristic peaks and valleys of southern fried chicken.

More tips for chicken fried steak

Moving beyond the batter, the eggs are crucial for this recipe as well. In addition to helping the batter stick to the meat, they also provide important moisture. When this moisture hits the flour, it will form small clumps, and when the steak is cooked, these moist clumps will cook into extra-crispy crags. If you're using a marinade or brine, you can also mix a few drops into the flour to create even more texture. 

The steak isn't always marinated — Carla Hall skips this step in her process, for example — but doing this can provide extra flavor. As with fried chicken, marinating the steak in buttermilk will tenderize the meat and give it a pleasant tang. Regardless of if you marinade or not, you need to pound your steak out until it's very thin before cooking. This will let it cook quickly, and it will maximize the crunchy surface area. 

When you fry your steaks, don't let your oil get any hotter than 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything hotter will scorch the breading on your steak. Put all these techniques together and you'll have a beefy, super crunchy result you can dig into.