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FLASHBACK: God invented chicken fried steak, right?

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Posted: Sunday, April 20, 2014 7:15 am

When folks think about the signature food of Texas — it’s certainly not barbecue, brisket or even chili (chili is the state dish) — it’s chicken fried steak.

It is one of the simple pleasures in life, and I know Texans who will travel far and wide for a good chicken fry.

But where does it come from? Perhaps divine intervention on some poor unsuspecting cook who was desperate to turn a tough piece of steak into a more delectable one? Well that’s kind of the story.

About 15 years ago, researchers decided to get to the bottom of who invented chicken fried steak question. They found recipes printed in papers in Los Angeles in 1924, in Canada in 1936 and in Kansas in 1949, but we all know, chicken fried steak was around long before that. In fact, there were recipes found in cookbooks dating back to the 1800s.

Foodies have debated this question for years, but I think God blessed Texas with the distinction of the origin of the chicken fried steak. Some folks have opined that chicken fry has German origins, since it is a descendant of Wiener Schnitzel.

Chicken-fried steak ranks with the best of the great foods that Texans claim the bragging rights to having invented. Foodies have debated the origins of the chicken-fried steak for years, but it seems that Larry BeSaw's 1976 version in the Austin American-Statesman is the definitive version of the tale.

The story goes that Jimmy Don Per kins was a short-order cook at Ethel's Home Cooking in Lamesa. One day in 1911, the waitress turned in an order for "chicken, fried steak." Perkins missed the comma and thought the order was for one dish. He dipped the steak into the fried chicken batter, and the rest, as they say, is history.

And, thank God, the Texas Legislature made the legend official in 2011. Since then, each April, folks in Lamesa throw a big party honoring this delectable Texas staple during the Lamesa Original Chicken Fried Steak Festival, which begins next Saturday.

According to Robb Walsh, former food editor of the Austin Chronicle, there are three distinct versions of chicken fried steak. The East Texas version is dipped in egg and then flour, similar to the way Southern fried chicken is prepared. Central Texas’s version is made with bread crumbs rather than flour, much like Wiener Schnitzel. There is also a West Texas version that is made without dipping the meat in egg; this is related to what cowboys called pan-fried steak.

I subscribe to the East Texas version, and it must have some country (cream) gravy.

If you are a CFS connoisseur, you understand the compulsion to travel to seek out the best chicken fry. Lamesa, about an hour and 15 minutes northeast of Odessa, may be a good place to start.

But if you’re traveling around the state, there are a few CFS stops you might want to make. Close to home you’ve got great CFS at the Barn Door in Odessa. Put the Wall Street Bar and Grille on your list too. I hear the CFS at El Paisano in Marfa serves up a giant version, with a beautiful jalapeno on top.

The first one on my list is Mary’s Place in Strawn, just at the foot of Ranger Hill east of Abilene. Owner Mary Tretter is famous for her gigantic plate-sized chicken fries. And then Jake and Dorothy’s Café in Stephenville. If you are en route to Austin from there, don’t forget to stop at the Bluebonnet Café in Marble Falls — the CFS is to die for.

As the Lamesa legend goes, unfortunately, ‘ole Jimmy Don Perkins' story didn't end so happily, according to the Lamesa legend. He left Ethel's because of a dispute over a waitress' affections. He was later found dead under mysterious circumstances in a Lubbock alley.

I hope he died with a belly full of chicken fried steak. Thanks, Jimmy Don.

Odessa, TX

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