Call it what you want—chicken fried steak, country fried steak, breaded steak or even the more highfalutin Milanese. Regardless, the idea that a thin, tender steak is lusciously coated in breadcrumbs and fried to a perfect, golden crisp is something that transcends cultures, one of life’s simple pleasures. So it’s not surprising Latin cuisine has it’s own take on it—the bistec empanizado.
A quintessential comfort dish, there are a few keys to making this the Latin way. First off, forget traditional breadcrumbs. Instead a classic bistec empanizado uses cracker meal made of ground Cuban or soda crackers, which are seasoned with oregano and cumin, that classic spice combination. (All you need to do is place the crackers in a blender or food processor and let the machine do it’s thing!)
Just as important—and one of the key distinctions between the Latin version and most others—is making time to marinate the steaks in lots of garlic and citrus juices. The idea, as with so many traditional Latin recipes, is to layer flavor upon flavor upon flavor. Lastly, when you’re ready to fry up these beauties, make sure the oil is hot enough. If it’s not, the steaks will absorb too much oil and become soggy.
From there on, do what you like. Turn it into a sandwich. Or serve it simply with rice, or with rice and beans. Squeeze a little lime over it to really bring out the flavor.
Bistec empanizado (Latin-style chicken fried steak)
1 lb top sirloin steaks, visible fat removed, pounded to 1/4 inch thickness
3 garlic cloves, peeled and mashed with a mortar and pestle
1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1/8 cup fresh squeezed lime juice, plus a few lime wedges for garnish
1/8 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
1 cup flour
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups cracker meal made from ground Cuban or soda crackers
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp ground cumin
Canola oil, for frying
1. Begin by marinating the steaks. In a wide, large glass bowl place the steaks and rub all over with the mashed garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Combine the citrus juices in a smaller bowl, then pour over steaks. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerated for at least 1 hour.
2. Meanwhile, set up an assembly line for the breading. In one bowl, place the flour. In another, the beaten eggs. And in a third the cracker meal. Season the cracker meal with a little salt and pepper, and mix in the oregano and cumin so that it is all well combined. Place a rack on top of a baking sheet and set aside.
3. Remove steaks from refrigerator and allow to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.
4. To bread the steaks, rub off the marinade. Working one at a time, dip a steak into the flour to lightly dredge. Then dip the steak into the egg, coating on both sides. Remove it from the egg, and place it in the cracker meal mixture, coating on both sides.
5. Remove it from the cracker meal mixture and return to the egg again, turning to coat. Finally, return it to the cracker meal mixture to coat one more time on both sides. Set aside and repeat this process with remaining steaks.
6. In a large fry pan, heat about one inch of canola oil to 350 degrees. Fry steaks two at a time, being careful not to overcrowd the pan and turning once to brown on both sides. Because the steaks are so thin, and if the oil is hot enough, the frying should take no more than 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the steaks, place on the rack and sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt. Serve immediately, with a lime wedge and fluffy white rice.