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The Perfect Steak

July 1, 2010

These are ribeyes, with perfect grill marks, cooking away over a properly heated grill.

This summer there seems to me to be an inordinate number of “how to make the perfect steak” sort of articles floating around the internet. This would be fine if most of them didn’t have some utterly terrible and fucked up advice that, if followed, will only eventuate in some mediocre to terrible steaks.

So here’s the deal: this is how you make steak. I learned this through many, many valiant attempts at making steak which met with different degrees of success. What I am presenting to you is truth. Both practically and metaphysically, this is how you need to go about making steak if you want it done good.

1. Have a clean, oiled, and extremely hot grill. The grill should be super hot. One of the hardest parts of grilling a good steak is getting a proper sear on both sides of the meat. Never ever ever cook steak of medium or even medium-high heat. A propane grill should be at least 450 degrees before you put steak on it. If you don’t have a thermometer on your grill, you can figure it out by eyeballing it. The grill should be smoking and too hot to have you hand near it.

2. Make absolutely sure to let the steaks come to room temperature before putting them on the grill. This is absolutely and utterly crucial. There is a lot of stuff flying around the internet right now about how you shouldn’t do this, it isn’t safe, it doesn’t help, etc. These are all lies from the pit of hell. You absolutely have to let the meat come to room temperature. It should sit out at least 2 hours and as many as 12 hours. It will be fine. You will not get sick. You will, however get good, perfectly cooked steak, which is not what you will get if you slap an ice-cold steak from the fridge right onto the grill.

3. If you are defrosting previously frozen steaks, listen well to what I am about to tell you, for it is utterly vital. You must take absolute and utter care to let your meat defrost as slowly as possible. That means taking it out of the freezer a few days ahead of time and putting it in the fridge to slowly thaw. The reason for this is that when steaks are frozen all the moisture in the meat turns into ice crystals, expanding, which tear at the fibers of the muscle. If you defrost the meat to quickly you will lose that moisture because the tissue, now having expanded and then quickly had the ice crystals turn back into water will lose that moisture. The result will be a steak that tastes alarmingly tough even if it is cooked correctly in every other way. Trust me on this, I know from experience. If you wind up forgetting and don’t have time to let it defrost in the refrigerator, ok. Leave it on the counter and let it defrost in the open, and leave it out till it’s at room temp. But for the love of God, do not stick the damn thing in a sink full of warm water to speed the process along. You might as well just throw it away.

4. You can season and/or marinate steak however you like, but you must make sure that when you put the meat on the grill it is thoroughly dry on the outside. That means mopping off any juices or marinade you may have used. This is vital to the steak being able to sear and caramelize properly on the outside. See, if you have all this moisture on the outside of a steak, guess what has to happen to it? It has to evaporate and cook off. Thus, by the time your steak is cooked to desired doneness, there will be no sear, no caramelized crust on the outside because all the heat has been working to steam off that liquid. So, no matter what you marinate your steaks in, mop it off, and then rub it down with some olive oil and hit it with some salt and pepper (Unless you had it in some ridiculously salty marinade or something, but trust me, its hard to over-salt steak on the grill. The far more pressing problem is under-seasoning your meat).

Just so you know, I typically don’t marinate my steaks unless I’m doing a Teriyaki or a Thai type of meal. For traditional steak steak. I usually just dry off my room-temperature steak thoroughly, rub them on all sides with extra-virgin olive oil, and then generously sprinkle a simple rub consisting of equal parts kosher salt, black pepper, minced garlic, and minced onion. That’s it. And it works deliciously.

5. Ok, we’re getting close now. The next thing to remember is to put your steaks on the grill and leave them be. Keep the lid of the grill open, but don’t move the steaks all over the place, and if possible, only flip once (this is different for other types of beef like tri-tip, but I won’t go into that here). If you want to try to get the nice sexy grill marks on the steak that crisscross, go ahead and rotate the steak by either 45 or 90 degrees after its been on the grill for 2-3 minutes. Now as far as total time on the grill goes, you have to kind of go by feel, but for a steak that is 1 inch thick, on a nice hot grill I typically go 3-5 minutes per side for medium rare (and do not have nor will I give advice to anyone who wants a steak more well done than that). A steak that is done to medium-rare should feel to the touch about like how the flesh between your lowest thumb knuckle and your lowest index finger knuckle when you make your hand into a loose, unclenched fist. But ultimately you just have to get the hang of doneness because every steak is a little different, every grill has its own idiosyncrasies, etc.

6. Alright, now we’re done. Steak was properly brought to room temp, it was properly dried off, oiled, seasoned, seared on both sides on a properly heated grill, and bam! Here we are. Ready to eat, right? NO! No, you stupid bastard it is not time to eat! Now is the time where you remove your steaks from the heat, place them on a platter and loosely tent them with foil and allow them to sit for at least 5-10 minutes and up to 15-20 minutes. Don’t worry, they’ll stay warm. This last phase is crucial because it allows all the juices to redistribute evenly throughout the meat. If you just cut into it hot off the grill you’ll lose all the juices and have a steak that is dry, frustrating, and seems raw instead of rare. The time spent under the foil finishes the cooking process, renders a perfectly juicy steak, and gives it that perfect medium-rare redness that we all so thoroughly crave.

That’s it. If you do these things, as described, you will make excellent steak. These are facts.

Now, one last comment. The big question that may be looming in your mind at this point is “What kind of steak should I get?” Well, there are many wonderful steaks. The first thing that I should say is to be careful of bone-in steaks. The bone takes longer to cook and will increase grilling time. It thus makes perfect, uniform medium-rare doneness more difficult to achieve. Secondly, the key to a good steak is marbling, that is, the fat which is distributed throughout the meat (i.e. not just the ribbon of fat on the edge). Thus ribeyes are really the best grilling steaks due to their generous marbling. Chuckeye steaks are a close second that sometimes surpass some ribeyes. New York strip steaks can be delicious when done right, but have less marbling to work with. Tenderloins are wonderfully tender but fall a ways short in terms of marbling, and as such are, in my opinion, better cooked as whole roasts than as individual steaks. Regular chuck steaks can be just great if you’re grilling on a budget.

The bottom line, however, is that whatever you grill you want it to be about an inch thick, and have plenty of marbling. If you follow that basic criterion, and always keep your eyes open for sales on ribeye and chuckeye, you’ll find yourself some great steaks.

Go forth and do all of these things.

The first Valdenkor Day was celebrated three years ago when fate brought Halden and me together with a large quantity of various meats and sundry beverages on Valentine’s Day.  Valdenkor Day has survived the intervening years despite my having moved to California and entered matrimony.  The hand of providence is clearly blessing our gastronomical adventures as, this year, my wife suggested taking a weekend trip up to Portland before I could even broach the subject of abandoning her to yet another culinary quest.

This year we venture to conquer air, sea, and land, our peregrinations fueled by Tiki magic and the dream of a better world for our children.  Well, we might not get to the dreaming part as there will be a lot of Tiki drinks but this is definitely a good idea.

Sure I take bathroom breaks a couple times an hour, and maybe I have a few more questionable farts when I let my guard down but I like to think that it is helping me out with a couple of my new year’s resolutions, namely exercising more and bringing my personal hygiene up to a level which my wife and Western civilization would dub acceptable.  But like I said, I am not yet ready to call this experiment a mistake, and mistakes are what I would like to write about today.

Mistakes are an integral part of the experimentation process.  It is through the many errors I have committed in the trial and error process that have allowed me to “MacGyver” many a poor fare into a dirtkid banquet.  There was a time in my life when my poverty and a love for booze fomented great creativity and spawned the fiscally responsible and efficaciously alcoholic world of Hobo-Suicide Cocktails.

These drinks weren’t completely unpalatable.  Some of them were pretty bad but none of them were bad on purpose.  Incontestably, the worst thing I have ever imbibed would have to be “Whitfield’s Big Mistake” which was drink I did not create but was forced to drink as I had inspired it through the retelling of the story of the same name.  I think it had something over-proof in it and maybe some sweet vermouth.  I know, however, that it had a pickled jalapeno, a tablespoon of horseradish, some barbecue sauce, and a surprise of a bit of raw beef at the bottom.  This drink was meant to be disgusting and succeeded admirably.  In fact, the only thing I would have added to it to make it truly embody the story of Whitfield would have been an STD.

The king of all Hobo-Suicide cocktails, however, was quite palatable, or, at the very least, something you got used to .  This drink was called Son of Ginskey.  The forebeverage (it’s like forefathers, get it?. . . I’m too lazy to think of real words today) was created through laziness and was simply called “Ginskey”.  As best as I can recall, this drink was invented one night as I was imbibing a Gin and Tonic and wished to switch to a Whiskey Sour.  I had so firmly committed to switching drinks that I could not bring myself to finish my G&T in that moment and yet I was drinking from my only glass and could not bring myself to waste a perfectly good drink.  This impasse was settled when I simply mixed the Whiskey Sour on top of the G&T.  Upon tasting, I decided that it wasn’t half bad (Actually, it was probably all bad but I was a Philistine back then.  For shit’s sake I only had one glass!).

As time went by I began adding ingredients.  I started by adding some cola which improved the flavor and added caffeine.  Next, I used my scientific* knowledge to increase the drink’s efficacy. Over the years I have noticed that people who like and often drink tequila tend to get tossed by a bit of whiskey and whiskey drinkers tend to get their shit turned sideways by tequila.  Science thus instructed me to add tequila and I threw in a couple of maraschino cherries for good measure, creating Son of Ginskey.  This drink was strong, large, and not horrible tasting.  It was the ultimate prefunker.  It was the type of drink you put in water bottles and sneaked into a theater and hoped you would be able to find your shoes when the credits were over.  This beverage was my personal riot punch.

As far as habitual mistakes go, at least I made this one interesting.  Now that I have made my confession, I would love to hear some culinary misadventures.  Can anyone top Son of Ginskey (I’m sure you can make a more disgusting drink, but keep in mind that this was my drink of choice for about six months.)?  Delve deep into the hazy paste of your mixological sins and share, absolution is at hand.

*No actual science was used in the making of this drink.

Gimme something

January 18, 2010

Screw you, long silence.

So here’s a little something I whipped up the other night. For those of you who like ribs and easy meals and maybe don’t have a smoker on hand, this is something to try:

Chinese-Style Spareribs

Meat:

  • 2 slabs of ribs, trimmed with the membranes removed
  • 1/4 cup of 5-Spice powder
  • Oil
  • Salt and Pepper

Rub the ribs with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Then coat each on both sides with the 5 spice. Place in an oven preheated to 275 degrees for 2.5-3.5 hours.

Glaze:

  • 1 cup low-sodium soy sauce (this is important, I used regular and it was too salty. I had to calm it down with extra brown sugar)
  • 1 cup fresh grapefruit juice
  • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce (or more, I used more like 1/3-1/2 cup)
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar (not the seasoned kind, regular)
  • 2 fresh red chile peppers, split
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed
  • A good ammount of ginger root, cut into medium-sized chunks
  • several green onions, chopped

Bring this to healthy simmer over medium heat and allow to reduce and thicken, stirring regularly (20-30 minutes).

After the ribs are tender and pulling away from the bone, remove them from the oven. Brush the glaze on both sides of the ribs and place them under the broiler, flipping and brushing with more of the glaze several times.

Cut and spoon the extra sauce over the ribs. Serve with rice, noodles, or whatever.

Original recipe found here. You should go with mine, though. The changes are small, but important.

So naturally I threw a little cocktail shindig for New Years Eve. Went great as far as I can tell and didn’t break my booze bank either. Here’s the states on the drinks

  • 5 Mai Tais (admittedly, four of these went to one enthusiastic individual)
  • 4 Lemon Apocalypses
  • 3 Richmond Gimlets
  • 3 Martinis
  • 3 Corpse Reviver #2s
  • 3 Contract Killers
  • 3 Bourbon Renewels
  • 2 Sangre de Agaves
  • 2 Old Cubans
  • 2 Jack Roses
  • 2 Diablos
  • 2 Daiquiris
  • 2 Blood and Sands
  • 1 Zombie
  • 1 Sidecar
  • 1 Manhattan
  • 1 Cascade Crush
  • 1 Cable Car

The only one of these that happened to be my own creation,  unexpectedly appeared part way through the night and became a mini hit. So, just to sate your curiosity, here’s the recipe for the Lemon Apocalypse:

  • 2 oz bourbon
  • 1 oz limoncello (Pallini or something better)
  • 2 oz lemon juice
  • 1 oz simple syrup
  • 2 dashes lemon bitters
  • 2 oz champagne or prosecco to top

Shake well, strain over rocks in a collins glass, top with sparkling wine.

So when you can find something certain, something tangible, something enduringly reliable, it is a great and rare occurrence. If this uproarious event happens to include perfect prime rib, then I submit that we have reached some proleptic form of carnivorous nirvana.

Impossible you say? I have some good news. About prime rib.

We’ve all seen perfect prime rib in restaurants. Maybe we’ve even tried to make it ourselves. In all likelihood its been ok but never that good. Well, I have for you here a fool-proof method for getting perfect medium-rare prime rib. (A brief aside: If for some reason you want meat cooked further than medium-rare I cannot help you nor do you deserve any help. Go eat a hamburger.)

So, here’s what you do. Its jarringly simple. You get a bone-in prime rib roast of whatever size you want (bone-in is essential for this method). The first step is perhaps the most crucial. You must bring the roast to room temperature. This is absolutely essential. Leave it out for at least four hours. Overnight is even better. Don’t worry, it will be fine. Then you season it however you want on the outside. I usually use some sort of mixture of butter, salt, pepper, garlic, and whatever fresh herbs I have on hand (rosemary, thyme, even oregano=all good). Also you can feel free to make some little stabs in the meat and insert some crushed garlic cloves if you want. Good deal, that.

Ok, next step is to preheat your oven to 500 degrees F. Then take you roast, put it in a roasting pan bone down and put it in the oven. Now, here’s the math part. You want to leave it in the oven at 500 degrees for exactly 5 minutes per pound. So take the exact weight of your roast and multiply it times 5 and that’s your cook time (my roast was 6.33 lb so I had it in for between 31 and 32 minutes).

Then, with the roast still inside, turn off the oven. Do not open the door at any point in the roasting process. Leave it in the oven with the door closed for exactly two hours. Once two hours has elapsed, remove it from the oven, and cut into the best prime rib you’ve ever had.

This works. It works awesomely. The only qualification I’d make for it is that I can’t confirm what might happen on an utterly huge roast. I imagine that it would be just fine, but having not tried it yet, I can’t be sure.

Also to give credit, this method was first handed to me by my favorite food blogger, Chef John. He’s to be trusted. Trust me.