Country-fried steak, sometimes called "chicken-fried steak," is an iconic cowboy dish. Traditionally made by taking a tough piece of meat, pounding it into submission, dredging it in well-seasoned flour and frying it, it's a comfort food staple — especially when slathered in creamy, black pepper-flecked gravy.
In my family, it was a summer staple, too, although I'm not sure why. Perhaps, as is also true with fried chicken, it's because there's no better partner to a sliced, juicy tomato or simply sautéed zucchini than something hot, crunchy and slightly decadent.
Whatever the reason, my Texan grandma, an early culinary mentor, had several versions of this classic up her sleeve. In all her variations, the coating stayed the same and only the meat changed. Sometimes it was the typical cube steak, other times it was a pounded pork chop. And, of course, sometimes her chicken-fried steak was actually a deboned chicken thigh.
I loved all her versions, but there was something special about a country-fried pork chop. I liked how it was flavorful and slightly chewy, like steak, but somehow lighter and moister, like the chicken thigh.
As an adult, I've made this dish a number of times, but still find a thinly pounded pork chop to be my favorite.
The dish starts with an all-purpose seasoning mix, made with paprika, onion powder, garlic powder and cayenne, along with a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Buttermilk and egg, mixed with salt and a healthy dose of the seasoning mix, create a brine, driving flavor and moisture into the chop.
The seasoning also finds its way into the flour coating, which partly consists of cornstarch. The cornstarch lowers the amount of gluten in the coating, making it shatteringly crisp without the worry of it turning tough once the coating mingles with the brine.
A creamy gravy, also seasoned with a sprinkling of the spice mix, along with an extra teaspoon of black pepper, is spooned over the top of the juicy, fried pork chop.
Mashed potatoes are a natural partner for this dish, if for no other reason than to enjoy with the gravy. Biscuits, for the same reason, are also a worthy addition. But whatever you do, don't forget to include a side or two of in-season, perfectly ripe summer veggies. They'll never find a better home than next to this family favorite.
Buttermilk Brined Country-Fried Pork Chops with Creamy Black Pepper Gravy
Note: A versatile spice mixture seasons these perfectly golden brown, crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside pork chops, from the brine to the ultra-creamy, black pepper-flecked gravy. This recipe needs to be prepared in advance. From Meredith Deeds.
For the spice mixture:
• 1 tbsp. paprika
• 1 tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
• 1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
• 1 tsp. onion powder
• 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
For the pork chops:
• 4 (4- to 6-oz.) boneless pork chops
• 1 c. buttermilk
• 1 egg
• 2 1/2 tsp. salt, divided
• 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
• 3 tbsp. cornstarch
• 1/2 tsp. baking powder
• Vegetable oil
For the gravy:
• 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
• 1/2 c. finely chopped onion
• 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• 1/4 tsp. salt
• 1 1/4 c. whole milk, plus more if necessary
• 1/2 c. heavy cream
In a small bowl, stir together the paprika, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and cayenne.
Place each pork chop between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and pound to 1/4-inch thickness.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 tablespoon spice mixture. Pour into a large zip-top bag. Add pork chops to the buttermilk mixture and turn the bag to coat. Place the bag with the pork chops in the refrigerator and chill for at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 hours.
In a large shallow bowl or pie pan, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon of the spice mixture. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the seasoned flour to use in the gravy. Whisk the baking powder into the seasoned flour in the shallow bowl. Set aside.
Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in 1 teaspoon pepper, 1/4 teaspoon salt and reserved 2 tablespoons flour mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in milk and cream and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. The gravy should be thickened at this point. If the gravy is too thick, stir in a little more milk. Taste and season with more salt and pepper, if necessary. Cover, and set aside.
Working with one pork chop at a time, remove from the buttermilk brine and place in seasoned flour. Coat each pork chop with flour, pressing firmly to adhere.
Heat 1/4-inch of oil in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Fry 2 pieces of pork until deep golden brown and crisp, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Drain on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Fry remaining pork chops. Serve with hot gravy.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Instagram at @meredithdeeds.