Charlotte is slowly gaining more acceptable Tex Mex restaurants, much to our relief. But for awhile, the only decent one was Paco's Tacos and Tequila. It's owned by a local restaurant guru (Frank Scibelli) who also has a few other fantastic restaurants which means it's not exactly home-grown Tex Mex... but beggars can't be choosers!
To be fair, they do Tex Mex quite well and have a wide variety of unique Texas inspired dishes on the menu. One of those is a chicken fried steak taco that they serve with a "cheese gravy." Just the fact that they call it chicken fried steak (and not "country fried sirloin" like lots of places around here) proves that Frank knows Texas quite well. Which means he gets a gold star. The dish is so good that I just had to attempt a home version!
Tender slices of chicken fried steak are loaded into a warm flour tortilla, topped with shredded lettuce, and smothered in a queso cream gravy concoction. The gravy sounds strange but if you're a fan of cream gravy, and a fan of queso, I think you'll love the combination. The cheese in the background adds a unique flavor and kicks it up a bit thanks to the pepper jack! And you'll be tempted to shovel it in with a spoon.
Or maybe that's just me?
Remember that cream gravy is not a science; the amount of flour and milk needed depends greatly on how much grease is in your pan, how hot your pan is, how you hold your head... Okay, not that last one but definitely the first two! If you're never made it before, don't be intimidated - it's super fast and super easy! If you're made it before, this is a super simple variation. You're essentially making a big pan of traditional cream gravy, thinning it out a bit more than normal, and adding shredded cheese to it.
I'm a simple taco girl and love just the cool crisp of lettuce alongside the meat and cheese gravy but feel free to load on the toppings if you are so inclined!
Chicken Fried Steak Tacos with Queso Cream Gravy
1 pound cubed steak (it's already been tenderized)
~2-3 cups milk
~2 cups flour
1/4 lb white American cheese, shredded (see note below)
1/4 lb pepper jack cheese, shredded (see note below)
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
Flour tortillas (or corn)
Any other desired toppings
Slice the cubed steak into thin pieces about 1 inch wide, similar to a chicken finger. Salt and pepper the slices and set aside.
In a shallow dish, lightly beat together the egg and 1 cup milk. In a second shallow dish, mix together 1 cup flour and plenty of salt and pepper. Dip each steak piece into the egg mixture followed by the flour mixture. Gently shake off any excess flour and dip it back into the egg and back into the flour. You want a double coat. Set each breaded piece on a plate until you've coated them all.
In a large heavy skillet (cast iron is perfect!) over medium heat, heat enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Test it's readiness by dropping a pinch of flour in the oil to see if it sizzles. Once it's ready, add the prepared steak pieces and fry until all the sides are golden brown. This will only take 1-2 minutes a side. As each piece finishes, transfer it to a baking sheet that you keep in your oven on "keep warm."
Once all the steaks are cooked, you'll make the queso gravy.
Your pan should have a nice amount of grease left behind (and lots of browned bits!). Turn the heat down to medium-low and sprinkle a few tablespoons of flour over top of the grease. Whisk until it's fully combined. If it's still liquidy, add another few tablespoons of flour. Keep whisking until it becomes a golden brown paste, adding more flour if needed. Make sure it is golden brown before proceeding.
While whisking, add 3/4 cup milk. Let cook for a minute. If it's thick, add another 1/2 cup milk and whisk well. Add more milk and whisk well until you get to your preferred gravy consistency. You want it a bit thinner than normal because you'll be adding cheese to it. Start sprinkling in the shredded cheese while you whisk. As you add the cheese, feel free to add more milk to thin it out if need be. Once all the cheese has been added, salt and pepper it well and let it cook for another 10 minutes, whisking often, until it's nice and smooth. Taste to make sure it's adequately seasoned.
Top a warm tortilla with a few pieces of the reserved chicken fried steak, hot queso gravy, and whatever toppings you prefer.
Note: it's cheaper to just buy the cheese pieces at your deli counter and shred it at home. Don't use pre-shredded; the powder they coat the cheese with will not result in a smooth gravy.
Source: inspired by Paco's Tacos and Tequila