Saturday, July 23, 2011
Fuck it, I'm Fixing a Steak
Most of the red meat I've eaten recently has been grilled by Tim Mydhiett in his back yard. He masters a beautiful ceramic egg barbecue oven and tends to rub things on his meat* before sticking it in there*. Lately he has been using a rub of finely-ground espresso, salt, pepper and sumac, and it has been exceptional every time I've had it. I generally dry age beef a few weeks in the fridge before cooking it, but the rub is a pretty good approach for meat being cooked without aging. I wondered if I could incorporate some of the flavors of the rub into the aging process to make the meat even more flavorful, so I set up a little experiment. I intended to cook two steaks, one rubbed and grilled immediately and one rubbed and aged prior to cooking. I made the rub of espresso, salt, black pepper, cinnamon, mustard powder, turmeric, chile de arbol and cardamom seeds ground together in a mortar and pestle, and coated the steaks with it. I didn't have any sumac so I used the other spices for a whiff of the exotic. Yma Sumac was a Nice Jewish girl from the Bronx named Amy Camus anyway.**
As fortune would have it, the Myddiette-Hunter household was planning a dinner of grilled meats and ice cream, so I had an opportunity to try my rub a-la-minute. I say they were planning, but really I called and suggested they make such plans. Sue me.
The grilled steak was excellent, and proved the merit of grabbing good meat the moment you spot it.* Cinnamon by itself doesn't play particularly well on beef, bringing to mind the watery horror that is Cincinnati chili, but when made into a kind of masala with hot pepper and other strong flavors it does wonders. Tim has been working on his ice cream chops and fuck me he makes some delicious shit. He made a pearl green mint-basil-pepper ice cream and a ruby red sorbet of raspberry, cherry and lime juice with some way back mint that both blew my mind. Complex and satisfying, they made me lust after one of those countertop freezers and Tim's ninja skills.
So the first part of the experiment was a rousing success. Meat cooked over fire is delicious, even if you put coffee on it. After sleeping off the effects of the meal I settled into a normal life while the other steak rested and matured in the fridge. When aging beef in this manner there are a couple of things to be aware of. You need to keep the meat elevated so air can get all around it or you risk anaerobic activity and potentially lethal poisoning of yourself and guests. I do this by arranging a couple of skewers or chopsticks on a plate in a grid pattern to make a little rick, and resting the steak on top of it. You need to rotate the steaks a couple of times a month so the juices redistribute and you don't end up with rawhide leather on one end and mush on the other. You need a kitchen towel or something under the meat to absorb the condensation and sweat runoff, and you need to change it frequently or your fridge will smell like a corpse. It will smell like a corpse anyway, I just put that in there so when your fridge smells like a corpse you won't freak out, you'll just change the towel and let the steak do its thing. One of the things it does is smell like a corpse.
Time passed, I learned some things about myself and other people and had a couple laughs. I got a haircut, then a trim of the same haircut and finally a trim of the trimmed haircut. I noticed my eyebrows are still pretty bushy, but have a lot more grey in them than I remembered. I wondered if men go bald in their eyebrows like they do on their heads. There's basically no baldness in my family line. My father, his father and my maternal grandfather all went to their graves with full heads of black hair. I never thought to check their eyebrows. For the better part of a month, I basically forgot I had a beautiful steak in the fridge waiting for me to cook it.
Then out of the blue one evening I was struck with the desire to eat a big fucking steak, and remembered that I had just such a thing waiting in my fridge, smelling like a corpse covered in coffee, and resolved to cook the son of a bitch and eat it. It was big enough that I could feed Heather with some of it and still stuff myself with the remains.
I love eating mashed potatoes with steak, but earlier in the week I had bought a giant celeriac bulb and thought it would make a nice accompanying dish, since mashed potatoes weren't JP. I sweated half a sweet onion and some garlic in olive oil, then added the celeriac and a small apple, both peeled and diced into half-inch cubes, and enough salted water to simmer them. While they were cooking I tended to the steak.
If cooked indoors, I prefer the finish of broiled steaks to any other method of cooking, but I've found that a thick, cold steak cooked under the broiler generally stays cold in the center, and that can make for an unpleasant sensation in the mouth. I have taken to starting the steak in a skillet, then finishing it under the broiler, and the meat comes out nicely rare. I cooked this beauty just like that, with a couple of minutes on top of the stove in olive oil, then another three or four under the screaming hot broiler on each face. I slid a couple of halved tomatoes into the skillet for both episodes of the cooking process to serve alongside the steak.
When the steak was done, I removed it from the skillet and let it rest on the cutting board. This step is critical for aged beef because the peripheral meat can easily dry out if served hot from the fire. I used the resting period to finish the celeriac. I buzzed the contents of the pot (celeriac, apples and onions) with the stick blender until smooth and tasted it. It was good, but I was a little concerned that the strong flavors of the steak would overwhelm it and it would end up being just a kind of neutral matter on the plate. I decided to make the puree into a kind of skordalia by adding some strong olive oil and a couple cloves of fresh garlic. That turned out to be a really good idea. I plated the puree and was about to nestle the tomatoes in it when I remembered that the alley basil had recently bulked up, so I ran out into the alley and grabbed some fat leaves to set the tomatoes on. Little leaf boats. Adorable. I cut the steak into pieces, laid them into the celeriac and drizzled olive oil over them. A little cracked pepper and sea salt and the plate was done.
This meal was exactly what I needed to break the rice-and-greens monotony of the JP diet. A big fucking steak, colored purple and red by the aging process, seared and crackly on the outside, stinking like bleu cheese in a wet sock, on a pillow of savory puree that stung my eyes with its garlic breath. The fat had dried into a kind of cheese, and when I bit through the crust of seared rub and beef essence it bathed my tongue in an unctuous, marrow-like butter. Even the tomatoes were terrific, hot, astringent and wet, they acted like both a salad and steak sauce. I horked the whole plate into my gut like I was trying to impress somebody and lay down on the couch feeling like a fucking emperor. I was asleep in minutes.
Did the rub make any difference in the aged steak? Hell I don't know. A thick, quality steak like this with a couple of weeks dry age on it is so incredibly good you could probably empty out Dave's shop vac on it and it would still rule.
*You heard me.
**No she wasn't.
Posted by Steve Albini at 6:29 PM