If I had to pick one dish that defined my West Texas upbringing, it would be chicken-fried steak. It was the first real supper I learned how to make on my own, under the guidance of my good-ol’-boy stepdad, Vern, and it was a staple at restaurant visits for many years, even into my Austin college days.
It’s tempting for me to think “My, how I’ve changed,” but, honestly, I haven't changed all that much. Okay, so I’m not flattening cube steak with a mallet anymore, among other shifts. But I still love the big flavors that go into dishes like CFS, and the hearty meal that results from pan-frying something and spooning gravy on top.
I owe the idea for CFC (chicken-fried cauliflower) to chef Amanda Cohen at New York’s Dirt Candy. She bathes hers in smoke first, while I tend to use smoked paprika or a chili powder to add that touch. And I use miso to do some of the same work the little meaty bits do in the original meat-focused recipe, deepening the flavor of mushrooms for a quick-to-the-table gravy.
One disclaimer: I cannot, for the life of me, imagine serving this to Vern. I don’t think he would appreciate it — or even if he did, I think he’d consider it an appetizer and hope the steak was on the way. But it’s a moot point. After all, I’m not in West Texas anymore.