Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


One of my favorite Simpson's episodes has Homer calling out "bring me my ranch dressing hose!". If memory serves, he was suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning in his car at the time, but I got where he was headed with that. For certain foods we love, too much is barely enough.
I like ranch dressing plenty but what would have me calling for the equivalent of a food hose? That would have to be chicken fried steak with cream gravy.When it comes to eating chicken fried steak and cream gravy, I secretly adore those restaurants like Threadgill's, locally, where they bring you a humungous slab of chicken fried meat crowded by a berm of mashed potatoes, all swimming in delicious cream gravy. I don't order it often but when I do, too much is barely enough.

And while I love to eat CFS, I never loved preparing it at home. Whenever I tried I resented the mess I ended up with and always felt bad about all the fat and calories.

Add in the difficulties of securing the correct cut of grass fed beef since I am now trying to only eat responsibly sourced protein, and having even the occasional fix of chicken fried steak was not looking to be all that easy.

Enter this recipe for Buttermilk Baked Chicken. It makes its own version of cream gravy right in the dish.  Just as delicious as chicken fried steak in my book and even easier to make.  Local organically raised chicken parts are easy to find.  Problem solved!

Now if you are going to be enjoying a chicken fried steak dish equivalent at home, what could I possibly have to sound hesitant about in offering this recipe as a substitute? Certainly not the use of butter or buttermilk, plenty of other recipes for CFS use both.

Nope, the extra shove you might need provided to get you to try this will be because it is one of those recipes, you know, one of the recipes calling for a can of cream of mushroom soup.I have seen, participated, and even started a conversation thread or two on various foodie sites about the use of cream of anything soup in a recipe. My bottom line is this. I understand there are methods to substitute in a white sauce or healthier home made version of the canned stuff. I get that. I also understand there is something very appealing at times about only having to open a can to get to the same place with no more trouble than being careful with the lid once it's open.

I hear you about the needlessly high amounts of sodium in these canned soups and I promise you I take that into consideration when using them in a recipe. In this case, the soup gets used as a component in a dish that ends up providing 3-4 servings. Factored out, that takes the sodium per serving way down.

Buttermilk Baked Chicken

1/4 cup butter
4 chicken breast halves
1/2 teaspoon salt times two (1xchicken, 1xflour)
1/2 teaspoon pepper times two (1xchicken, 1xflour)
1 1/2 cups lowfat or nonfat buttermilk, divided
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 can cream of mushroom soup, undiluted (may use lowfat)

Melt butter in a lightly greased 13 x 9 pan in at 425 degree oven.

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Dip chicken into buttermilk and dredge in seasoned flour.

Arrange chicken, breast side down, in baking dish.

Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. Carefully turn chicken and bake additional 10 minutes.Combine remaining 1 cup buttermilk and cream of mushroom soup. Pour into pan, mostly around chicken (you want the chicken's crust to remain uncovered in spots to stay crunchy) and on top as needed. Bake 10 more minutes, shielding chicken with foil if needed to prevent over browning.

Remove from oven and take the chicken pieces out of the casserole. Carefully stir pan sauce to incorporate juices. Drizzle over plated chicken. Serve with mashed potatoes or rice, also drizzled with gravy. Serves 4

You'll note the original recipe calls for chicken breast halves. Prepared as suggested, you end up with a comforting, delicious Southern style entree that is worthy of any occasion when you want your diners to feel loved on. The second time I made this I switched to boneless skinless chicken breasts. It turned out great - we didn't miss the skin at all and we looooove skin.

If you take the recipe that one step further however, and substitute boneless skinless thighs in for the breast meat? That use of the darker moister cuts elevates the dish to an entirely new level. Buttermilk Baked Nirvana. I used a package of 6 thighs in place of the 4 chicken breast halves which fit neatly in the 9x13 pan. To accommodate the slightly smaller girth of a boned thigh, I reduced the second and third baking time spans to 8 minutes each, down from 10. Works like a charm.

The gravy, or pan sauce actually, is the absolute bomb. You'll want to have mashed potatoes, rice, grits, stuffing, or something starchy to go under the extra sauce not already destined to coat your birdy bits.

On a more industrious day, I'd consider bumping this up to a full on Southern Style feast, adding corn bread and greens to the mashed potatoes as the sides. Last night I was just trying to get a nice filling dinner on the table without spending hours getting there. I threw together a green salad, mashed some organic Yukons and steamed some broccoli so I could pretend I was addressing nutritional balance concerns.Who are we kidding? People who seriously care about nutritional balance probably don't stand in the kitchen with a glass of wine in one hand licking gravy off the serving spoon before taking the plates in to the table. Right? Right.  Probably not...

This recipe, while not low calorie exactly, yet has the advantage of making its own gravy in the dish, so no standing at the stove adding in extra fat. It is baked, not fried, and readily adapts to using boneless skinless chicken pieces. Make sure your chicken comes from a local responsible producer, and you end up with a fresh, healthy(er) yet decadently delicious version of the chicken fried steak with gravy meals you love.

This might not strike you as a particularly photogenic dish, what with all it's creamy graviness slopped around. I'm sure a food stylist could trick it out so the image would be as compelling as the eating experience. Not me. By the time I finished smelling it cooking and had gone through the three separate hoops of it's baking process, I was in no mood to pretty up the plates for posting. I was ready to eat, baby!

I hope you won't let the photos put you off. If you are ready to call for your own hose to deliver nonstop chicken fried steak with gravy, this recipe will ring those same gustatory chimes for you with a lot less fuss and muss.


Flapjacks said...

i'm like a zombie for gravy... graaavy, mmnnn...

TexasDeb said...

That being the case, perhaps you can see your way clear to trying a recipe with an ingredient as lowbrow as a can of mush soup.

If you use a pkg of Wville Buddy's Thighs, then you and two friends could potentially die, er, re-die? happy.

Flapjacks said...

oh, i'm not above the cream'o'mushroom soup. one of my favorite dishes growing up involved white rice and pork chops slow cooked in COMS!!!

yeah. i should make that...