For most people, grilling season is still a long way away. I’m a bit of a fanatic: I’ll use my Weber grill in the wintertime, often standing in a foot of snow while I’m carefully turning my steaks over the hardwood coals below. In the spring, I put the Weber away, and unveil my larger ceramic grill. I use it to grill or smoke anything from a great steak to a whole chicken or even a pizza.
Making a great steak isn’t difficult, but like all good things, takes a little care and finesse.
It starts with the beef. I only buy grass-fed beef. I think it tastes better, and I buy it from local farms that raise the cattle humanely. Some say that grass-fed beef tastes too gamey. I understand that, because I’ve had grass-fed beef from many different sources over the years. The taste of the beef depends on the breed of cattle as well as the environment they’re raised in. The general title “grass-fed” is convenient to use, but quality varies greatly. The only answer to that is to keep trying cuts of beef until you find the one you like. For me, here in Rhode Island, Pat’s Pastured in East Greenwich has the quality and taste I’m looking for. And occasionally, my local Whole Foods will offer great cuts of grass-fed beef as well.
Grass-fed matters to me because the cows eat what is natural for them to eat: grass. The meat naturally has better fats; it’s higher in Omega-3’s. Feeding corn and grains to cattle is cheaper and fattens them up faster, which is why most American farmers switched to that method many years ago and created the factory farms we now have. But feeding them corn and grains also makes them sick, so the farmers have to pump antibiotics and hormones in them to keep disease away. Make no mistake: whatever nasty crap they put into the cow, goes into you. To me, it’s worth paying the extra bucks to support the farmers that do it right. I have beef less often, but what I have is the best I can get for my family.
If none of that matters to you, and you simply want to grab a slab of beef from your supermarket, that’s your choice. But even then, there are varying degrees of quality. Cough up a few extra bucks for better beef and it will reward you later.
A perfect medium-rare porterhouse that was simply pan-seared. It was thin enough not to even go in the oven.
The cut of beef I select is as personal as the choice to go grass-fed or not. My absolute favorite cut is the porterhouse: NY strip on one side, tenderloin on the other, bone in the middle. (Not to be confused with a T-bone, which offers almost no tenderloin.) And it needs to be thick. The thicker the cut of beef, the more control I have over the final cooking temperature I want it to be. Unfortunately, because grass-fed beef costs more, farmers often sell skinny porterhouses to keep the price down. But the end product comes out over-cooked, because the meat is so thin. I would rather pay big bucks less often and get a real slab of meat than get a scrawny cut more often.
If you want to try grass-fed beef, but are put off by the high price of the more popular cuts (tenderloins, ribeyes, etc.), go for the less popular cuts: flank, hangar, etc. They cost a lot less and they’ve got great taste. You just need to be careful not to overcook them because they’re usually thin and contain very little fat.
Many articles have been written about it being okay to cook beef from frozen, but I don’t like to do that. I always take my slab of beef out of the freezer the day before I want to cook it, and thaw it in the fridge (out of its wrapper.) Then, about an hour before I plan on cooking it, I take it out of the fridge and place it on a plate to warm to room temperature. I like to rub the beef with sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper and let it sit that way for an hour. And that’s all I season my beef with. No need to hide the flavor of amazing beef!
But although I grill year ’round, it’s not always convenient to fire it up when I crave a steak. Few methods can rival the simple steps of searing both sides of the beef in a hot cast iron skillet, and then finishing it in the oven. I use pork lard or bacon fat in the cast iron pan, heat it, sear one side, flip it over, sear the other side, and place it in a 375-degree oven. How long to cook it is a matter of practice. Eventually you learn the quirks of your oven and you get the perfect steak every time. Until then, a thermometer helps, though you don’t want to poke the hell out of your beef and let all the juices run out.
And it’s key to let the steak rest. I’ve gone to all this trouble…it would be dumb to mess it up now! This is when I take a few minutes to make myself a nice cocktail. By the time the cocktail’s made, and I’ve taken a few sips, the beef is ready to be devoured.
That’s not scallions. That’s garlic! And a side of fresh oregano.
With the garden coming to life again this spring, I found a bunch of shoots popping out of the soil in my garlic patch. I pulled them out, and the garlic greens looked just like baby scallions, only with tiny garlic bulbs at the bottoms. I also found some fresh oregano growing in the herb garden. I washed them all, finely chopped them, and sautéed them in a pan with a little olive oil, butter, salt and pepper. I cooked them just until the garlic started to get brown and crispy, and I poured it all over my porterhouse. Fantastic!