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What is a Swiss Steak?

By Cassie L. Damewood
Updated May 16, 2024
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Swiss steak has been a popular American dish for nearly a century, with the first printed recipe for it being published in 1915. It is normally made from a round or rump steak that has been tenderized by a process called swissing. This technique runs the steak through a bladed machine that makes hundreds of tiny cuts in it to break down the connective tissues and tenderize it. When purchased at a retail grocery store, the steak is commonly labeled as cube steak or minute steak and is customarily used to make chicken fried steak as well as swiss steak.

Based on the inexpensive cut of meat used to make swiss steak, it is commonly thought of as an economical dish. It is frequently served in school and hospital cafeterias. Menus at all-you-can-eat buffets often feature swiss steak as an entrée. It was a dish often mentioned on television and in films in the 1940s and 1950s that focused on typical American families.

Although swiss steak technically refers to the cut of beef, most traditional swiss steak recipes call for the steak to be braised in a homemade or store bought tomato sauce or prepared chili sauce. Other common recipe ingredients include onions, carrots, celery and bell peppers. Preferred herbs and spices for the steak preparation generally include parsley, rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper. A dash of dry or wet mustard is customarily added to the dish to give it an added kick.

As with most classic American dishes, swiss steak has endless recipe variations. All of them include a pound or two of cube steak and an acidic sauce, usually tomato based. This type of sauce is generally preferred based on the boost it gives to tenderizing the meat during the braising process.

To make swiss steak, season some flour with salt and pepper and pound it into both side of the steak. Heat some oil over medium high heat and brown the meat on both sides. Remove the steak from the skillet and add some hot water mixed with mustard to deglaze the pan.

Cut the vegetables into a large dice of equal size. Add the vegetables to the pan along with the tomato or chili sauce. Cover the mixture and simmer for about an hour until the vegetables are fork tender. Add the steak back to the pan. Mix some hot water with beef bouillon granules or dissolve a beef bouillon cube in the water. Add enough liquid to the pan to barely cover the steak. Cook over medium heat on the stove top or in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius), for one and a half to two hours. The dish is done when the steak is tender enough to be cut with a fork.

A number of recipes call for the addition of diced potatoes during the last hour of cooking. Many cooks, however, believe the potatoes become mushy when added to the steak. Mashed potatoes are often served on the side with the dish's gravy on top.

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Discussion Comments
By Lostnfound — On Jul 08, 2014

@Grivusangel -- Our moms must have had the same cookbook! I ran across all the swiss steak recipes while searching for a good beef stroganoff recipe.

One of the weirder variations I ran across used canned tomato soup instead of tomato sauce or canned tomatoes. That kind of made me cringe. It's just so typical of the recipes from the 50s that used all the convenience foods, without much care for how the dish actually tasted.

My particular favorite variation includes tomatoes, onions and brown gravy. That actually works. I also add a lot of garlic and a dash of Louisiana Hot Sauce. That perks up the flavor quite a bit.

By Grivusangel — On Jul 07, 2014

My mom has a meats cookbook from the early 60s, and I'll bet there are 15 recipes for swiss steak in it. They're all variations on the theme, although some of them use cream of mushroom soup or something similar. It's all tomato, onions and then the cubed steak.

My dad used to get cube steak all the time and my mom would make swiss steak because it was easy and didn't take a lot of time. Pair it with a salad and mashed potatoes, and you had a quick family meal. I can see why it was very popular.

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