Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Simple Steak Dinner

My readers may have noticed that I've been posting far fewer home cooking articles, and more about restaurant food. Over the past few months, my "day job" has been going through a few changes- I'm not home as often, so my wife ends up doing most of the day-to-day cooking, plus my job now involves occasional travel and more meetings with clients, vendors, and whatnot- meaning more opportunities to eat out at interesting places... In any case, this was my first opportunity in a while to spend a little time really cooking, so I chose something simple and classic that stands on it's own with little need for adornment...

When you cook a steak right- it really needs very little support. My plan was to cook up my two big top round steaks, and do it right- then simply slice them, and serve them over brown rice and some steamed cauliflower. It's a very simple, plain, idea, but it makes for a very good family meal. The only thing elaborate about it is the seasoning rub on the steak itself.

The rub itself is not particularly complex- salt, pepper, paprika, thyme, and a touch of mustard powder. While my flat-top grill heats up, the steaks get a liberal rubbing with the spice mixture. The key to a good steak is to get the grill very hot before putting the meat anywhere near it- you want to cook it fast so the surface forms a hard sear while the middle stays juicy. Put the meat down, let it cook, turn it once and do the same to the other side, then take it off the heat and let it rest for almost as long as it was on the grill. This sounds simple, but can be very unforgiving. Only a matter of seconds makes the difference between a nice medium to medium rare steak, and a dry overcooked train wreck. The rest period is crucial too- the interior of the meat will actually finish cooking during the rest, and as the meat cools, the fibers will relax and allw the meat to retain all those flavorful juices.

My inch think steaks need about 10 minutes on each side. I'm using the flat side of my indoor grill rather than the ridged side so I can get a sear on the whole surface rather than just grill marks. When the grill is hot, I coat it with a thin sheen of olive oil, and lay on my spice rubbed steak. The trick is not to move or fuss with the meat once it's on the grill- I give it it's full ten minutes undisturbed to allow than nice brown crust to form, then flip the steak, and give the other side 10 minutes. Aside from giving it a few pokes with a finger to see how firm it is (springy with a little resistance is medium rare, firm and less springy is well done), there is no reason to mess with it- anything more will mess with that rust you are trying to form. Once done, set the steaks aside on the cutting board and let them rest 15-20 minutes before even thinking of cutting into them. Cutting them before they rest will make them bleed out all the steak's flavor, and the meat will rapidly turn gray and lifeless. Let it rest.

When you slice your meat, use a very sharp knife. Slice in a smooth motion- try to use a single sawing stroke rather than rubbing the blade back and forth too much. Slice on a slight bias- angle the blade into the meat slightly, rather than holding the knife perpendicular to the cutting board- this will produce more tender slices since you will be severing more of the muscle fibers that way. When the steak is properly cooked, and rested, the slices will really look striking. The slicing process is an exciting moment- that's when you really get to see if you prepared your steak properly. Even when you know how to handle a piece of steak properly, you really don't know if you got it right until you make that first cut. I was quite happy with my results this time- juicy, pink, medium rare (but almost medium- which is the right balance between how all the different family members I was serving like their steak). The slices should have a vibrant, lively appearance, and while you will have some juices left on the board, the vast majority of the flavorful stuff should have reabsorbed into the meat.

I served up my steak sitting on a mound of slightly buttered brown rice, along with a few pieces of steamed cauliflower. The steak is juicy an flavorful enough to pull the whole thing together, and the rub has a nice balance of smoky (from the paprika) and a touch of brighter spice kick form the black pepper and mustard. While this worked well enough as a simple plate, A little sauce- while not entirely necessary, could have given the dish a push over the cliff to the next level- I'd suggest making an au jus, or even a small amount of a red wine reduction- just to tie the plate together a little better and make it a little more visually interesting.

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