Thursday, June 4, 2015

The best steak I ever ate (so far)

Know how some folks say the perfect steak starts with the perfect cut of meat? I suppose we can go all dry-aged wagyu imported from Japan, grilled in a La Cornue Grand Palais Range; truth is I have only so much cash, even less time, and no proper equipment to speak of other than an eight-year-old electric range and a properly seasoned cast-iron pan.
I subscribe to a slightly different statement: the best steak you can cook starts with the best steak you can find.

Best steak I could find was at M & M Meats in Jim's Farmers Market, biggest in the area. Homed in on M & M because they offered the one thing you won't find in the Walmart or Giant meat section: hormone-free beef (from Brenneman's Meats), which apparently doesn't mean anything when applied to pork or poultry but does with beef (the gentleman at the counter also assured me the cattle were not given antibiotics just to promote growth).

Oh, and with porterhouse on sale at 6.99 a pound (see the little green sign on the glass display?)--cherry on the ice cream cake.

Ordered three porterhouses specially cut two inches thick (at $6.99 not impossible). Following a recipe at Bon Appetit Magazine, scored the meat with shallow crisscrossed cuts, then massaged the steaks with a dry rub made of a tablespoon of kosher salt, a tablespoon (maybe more) of raw sugar, a guesstimated half a teaspoon of cayenne (taking care to work the rub into the cuts)

Bon Appetit called for standing them up on their sides overnight--heck with that! Not as if I had a fancy Sub-Zero with plenty of room. Laid the meat over snapped wood skewers in a plastic bin, like so:

And the next day stuck the bin in our equally badly overstuffed freezer. 

And there they sat for a week till next Saturday, when I had enough free time to cook. 

Come morning I pulled out Ole Smokey (my trusty old 14-inch cast-iron pan) poured in maybe a quarter-inch of canola oil (3/4 inch according to Bon Appetit; maybe if I were made of serious oil money!), heated it on medium high till the probe thermometer read 350 degrees Fahrenheit, took the rock-solid steaks straight out of the freezer, and (careful, careful) laid them in hot oil for the recommended three minutes.

Too bad I didn't record the sizzle. It was practically a Pavlovian experience--drooled for all hundred and eighty seconds.

Put the steaks on a rack over a baking sheet, stuck them in a relatively cool oven--200 degrees max--for thirty minutes.

Meanwhile--the spiced butter! Done a leg of lamb slathered with harissa and roasted over dried apricots and olives for Easter. Was thinking: instead of using a store-bought spice mix, why not use that leftover harissa that I had made myself from an easy recipe? Melted the butter, steeped harissa in it while the steak cooked in the oven, then basted the steak every half an hour till the probe thermometer stuck into the thickest part of the steak read 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fired up Ole Smokey again then fried the steak a second time, till it looked like this:

Oh yeah.

The results are as follows: crispy salty-sweet outside with just the hint of a peppery bite (the crisp guaranteed by that second fry); meltingly tender bright-pink inside thanks to the low slow oven-roasting, and you know that gray-brown area between crust and rare you usually find in most steaks? 

Nada. Almost none at all. 

Oh, don't take my word for it:

For sides instead of the standard lettuce salad I used arugula bought specially from the North Square Farmer's Market (tell you why later) drizzled with a simple lemon-juice-and-olive-oil dressing (with mayonnaise instead of the usual mustard for emulsifier--it's less bitter, and arugula already has a peppery bite). 

The carrots were organic (also from North Square), the recipe I half-heard over the radio, from a nutritionist gushing over how she cooked carrots in orange juice with ginger. So I melted a knob of butter in a pan, added the sliced carrots with a smashed ginger button, splashed orange juice to carmelize, kept splashing till the carrots were tender, then served sprinkled with chopped parsley. 

The potatoes (also from you-know-where) were problematic. Sliced them, tossed them with olive oil salt and pepper, baked them in the oven hoping they'd come out crunchy; they were limp and soggy. Then I dropped them in the same oil I fried the steaks in for maybe ten minutes--voila! Crisp thick-cut chips with a faint beefsteak flavor; served garnished with more flat parsley.

On the arugula--about a dozen or more years ago I was in Udine, Italy (long story) and one Max Tessier treated me  (of course I was treated--you think I could afford it?) to dinner in a little bistro there (no it wasn't a date; there was a third party but kill me if you want me to remember cause I can't). 

Appetizer was slices of San Daniele prosciutto, and for those in the know that's prime Italian ham, arguably the best (and, as some say, for purer lovers of ham). What could I say? To be totally honest (and more than a little inappropriate), it tasted like the inner thigh of a trembling young virgin--sweet, dewy, with the salt that comes from sweat. Sourced of course from the region (San Daniele is a municipality of the province of Udine).

But I digress; my point is the main course, which was a bistecca con salsa di vino, and the salsa was tart and sweet (made from or so I was told the grapes of a nearby vineyard), the cow probably a neighbor's pet animal. The steaming meat lay on a bed of fresh arugula (probably picked from the proprietor's back yard), and the combination drove me crazy: the peppery arugula punched up the umami flavors of the beef; the rich fatty beef smothered the fierce arugula, turned its flavor into fine herbal smoke. 

The years since I've been trying to replicate that meal, one of the finest I've ever had; with this steak dinner I think I've taken a step towards that goal.  

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