They were awful.
My sides were alright, so I ate a couple bites and had seconds on sides. Dad, who will eat anything, ate one steak and said I should've fried them instead. I told him I had attempted country fried steak and gravy before and it turned out about as bad as these steaks were. I told him I would keep adding oil and flour, back and forth, and end up with a lot of questionable mushy paste. So Dad decides he's going to set me straight on making gravy.
He tells me to get the skillet hot with some oil and get out the rest of the steaks in the fridge. I grab the steaks, flour, and oil while he gets out the cutting board. Now, I'm wondering about this because he goes for the bamboo cutting board that I know he uses for other chopping and is not the dedicated meat board like I have. Oh no, there was no time to worry about cross contamination when Dad is cooking. He grew up in rural Georgia in the '40s, so cross contamination was to only make you stronger. Anyway, Dad then pulls out the biggest knife we have and says, "This is the way your grandmama cooked," then starts pounding the steaks with the knife making the kitchen shake and meat juice flying.
I cringed on the inside, and I am not a germophobe by any stretch of the imagination.
He then tells me to put the steaks in a bag full of flour and seasonings that he has picked out, which I think ended up being garlic salt and pepper but I can't be too sure. I think I was washing the meat juice off my hands and arms. I shake up the steaks and put them in the hot oil, filling up the pan with steaks. Then comes his most important instructions: "Now, don't touch them." So I stare at the pan and he goes to sit at the kitchen table. I start to wonder, "When are we going to flip them?" and I voice this concern. He replies, "I'll tell you when they're ready." But I really want to move them around the pan.
Oh how I wanted to move them around.
This made me realize one of my biggest problems with cooking. If I'm not working on things simultaneously, I get to a state of, I guess, boredom and start messing with the food I'm cooking right then. With these steaks, it would have been detrimental because what would become the crispy batter would slide off into the oil. So I decide to stop watching the steaks bubble and go sit down with Dad. I asked him about what sorts of things he enjoyed eating growing up and all about his childhood, which is still a partial mystery to me. He does not talk about it too much, so I always enjoy when he finally does start talking. I never met his parents so it's always nice to learn more and more about them. His mom seemed to be a typical Southern, self-sufficient woman living in a time where things were tight and could turn something into nothing. I aspire to be that type of cook where you only have a few things and can make a feast and can operate outside the confines of a recipe. I mentioned this to Dad and he said, "That's your momma." All I could say was, "Well, she taught me, so I come by it honest."
Eventually Dad says the steaks are ready to flip and I do so. The cooked side was perfect. He says that since the steaks are so tough they will need gravy in order to be edible after frying. After the steaks come out, he pours some of the oil out and tells me to get the leftover flour from the batter and pour a couple tablespoons into the oil. I stir that in making sure to get all the lumps out and he hands me the milk. I start pouring and he tells me he'll tell me when it's time to stop. My mind goes into overdrive because I'm trying to estimate quantities here and he's just telling me to pour till he says stop.
Man, I have got to learn to do this without flipping out.
After I stir all this up to make it smooth, Dad puts all the steaks back in the skillet with the gravy, pulls a plate out of the cabinet, and puts it in the skillet. I say in the skillet because it did not fit on top like a lid like I thought it was supposed to. Then he heads toward the door and says, "That's got to steam and thicken. I'm going to feed my chickens and will be back." I stand in the kitchen staring at the plate in the skillet and decide I have to leave the room because I will drive myself crazy when I start to reach out to touch something and draw my arm back in quickly after realizing I should leave things alone. So I leave the room and wait for Dad to come back inside so we can try these steaks out.
He finally comes back in around 20 minutes later and says to get the steaks out. The gravy had thickened and everything smelled wonderful. We sit down to try things out and they were incredibly good. I thanked Dad and he says, "You did it." I was in disbelief, but I guess I actually did do it, but with a little guidance. I will hopefully be able to recreate this later and show Giraffe that I can actually make gravy that does not double as an adhesive.
The evening was very heartwarming on several levels, but I will always remember the night that Dad taught me how to make country fried steaks and gravy and shared childhood stories.