Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Best Food in the World

Tasty Steak Treat

Allow me to make something clear. I adore steak. I don't like it, I don't enjoy it. These terms are insufficient to describe my relationship with the king of the meats. I adore steak. I eat it fairly regularly, at home if Tinseltroos is out for the evening or occasionally some work buddies and I will head out for a steak frites lunch at The French House. The French House fillet steak has to be tasted to be believed. Their chateaubriand is also beyond compare though as I like my meaty steaks cooked blue I have to go with a similarly minded chum if I am to have this rarest (pun intended) and choicest of treats.

What is it about steak that has this hold over me? Well I think it's partly the simplicity and it's partly the mystique. Steak is like sushi in its total reliance on the quality of the source material (a cow). Crappy cows make for crappy steaks, although I've learned a few tricks for pepping up almost any steak but we'll come to that in a bit. The mystique of steak is the real hook that gets you. What cut do you get? I favour porterhouse when I can get it, rump when I can't. Both of these are very beefy flavoured cuts which suit being cooked little and hard. Tonight Waitrose only had rib-eye but when it is a good cut that really does me fine. I always try and get organic meat that's been allowed to hang a good while to develop its flavours. Too much meat is whisked out onto the chiller cabinets before it has had a chance to mature. Once you've chosen your cut, how will you have it done? Blue? Rare? Medium rare? Well done? This last option is not recommended if you wish to remain friends with me. For me it depends on the cut. For thick steaks with little fat I go for blue. It preserves the meat at its most natural and juiciest. Roland Barthes once wrote a lovely essay on the joys of steak frites in Mythologies where he deconstructed the whole steak experience. He describes the emotion of eating steak as taking the strength of the bull and I know what he means. The simple uncluttered joy of a piece of blue steak is as close as we pampered monkeys really get to the nature red in tooth and claw way of dining that our ancestors relied upon. There is something very grounding about eating steak, it connects you to the past and to the natural world in a way that a heavily prepared and flavoured meat or vegetable dish never can. It provides a deep sensual pleasure, something deeper than and more profound than just appreciating good cooking, it reminds us of our roots as predatory omnivores, it takes us back to the thrill of the hunt.

One also has to then choose what to serve your steak with. Again I favour simplicity. For me a steak is best accompanied by some form of potato and a green salad (with no bloody rocket in it) - just plain old round leaf lettuce. When I'm eating out, the lure of frites is generally too great to resist, but at Schossadlerflug there is no deep-fat fryer so alternative potato recipes must be called upon. I generally do potatoes the Italian way. You par-boil whole small potatoes in salted water, drain them and finish off cooking them by shallow frying in olive oil with chopped rosemary and black pepper. The final element is the sauce. There are many classics, bearnaise, pepper or garlic butter sauces are popular but I like a little one of my own devising. Once the steak is resting (a vital and oft forgotten step in cooking a good steak) I slosh a little red wine if I have any into the steak pan to deglaze it. Once it's calmed down from boiling the alcohol off I mix in a good dollop of crème fraîche and a splash of Worcestershire sauce. And that's it. A simple, but utterly delicious dinner: one that feeds both spirit and the body.

Over the years of cooking steak I have learned a few things that, I feel, improve your chances of cooking something special. You're always at the mercy of your butcher of course, so once you've found a good one keep them close, they're a dying breed. But assuming your butcher does know what they're doing these are the things I've found that get results:

1) Make sure the meat is at room temperature. If you're refrigerating it, take it out an hour before you plan to cook it.
2) Thirty minutes before I cook the steak I absolutely cover it in sea-salt. And I do mean cover it - covered to the point of not seeing any pink. Do this on both sides and let it sit like that until you're ready to cook. It has to be sea-salt too. If you use regular table salt everything will taste of iodine.
3) Heat up your pan for at least 10 minutes over a high heat. I find heavy bottomed cast iron pans cook steaks better than thinner, non-stick pans but that may just be me and my reactionary ways.
4) Just before the steak is to go into the pan rinse the salt off and pat it dry with a paper towel.
5) Into the pan goes the steak.
6) Leave it alone until it's time to turn it. Don't be tempted to move it round the pan, turn it before it's ready or any other act of impatience. How long you cook it for depends on how you like you steak of course. Any more than four minutes a side and you are no longer my friend.
7) Once both sides are done take the steak out of the pan and place it on a warmed plate. Let it rest for five to ten minutes before eating. This gives the meat time to relax and will taste better and have better texture.
8) Bon appétit.

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Blogger Churlita said...

That steak photo looks a little too rare for me. I like my steak medium rare. You should eat the corn fed beef that comes out of Iowa. We can't do sushi here, but steak? Steak we can do.

7:02 pm  
Blogger dmarks said...

I tend to prefer steaks cooked on a BBQ grill, usually. But this is a very nice post!

7:05 pm  

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