To those that think cooking a juicy, flavorful, well seasoned, highly delicious steak is easy…you’re right.
Time and again I get asked; “what do you put on your steak?” The answer is always the same…kosher salt and coarse ground pepper. That doesn’t mean that other seasonings are bad or that you can’t use sea salt. Salt and pepper are maximize flavor without muddling the flavor of the meat.
I don’t cook a steak at home often enough to need added interest from spice rubs and marinades. I just want all my taste buds focused on the gloriousness that is high quality beef fat.
Since fat is what turns on the drool faucet, the most flavorful cuts are ribeye (when price is no option), and skirt. Skirt has so much marbling that when cooked to well done, it’s still moist and Mcfatty delicious.
This chef is of the opinion that most rare steaks are not Scottish. With love of fat being the focus, I need the fat to heat and render through the steak, which takes more time then rare will usually allow.
First, some basic guidelines:
There are two convenient preparations for cooking steak. Using an outdoor grill and using a saute pan. The pan method is faster and easier, but dirtier and void of charcoal or fire “flavor”.
For charcoal it’s really nice to have a chimney starter, Kingsford Original or Competition briquettes and “Weber paraffin wax fire starters” which can be found at home depot. Notice the specificity on the charcoal and the fire starters. Kingsford cooks and starts more evenly, while the the wax starters make lighting absolutely stupid simple. Sure you can use rolled up newspaper; but you usually need to do it twice and it creates alot of unneeded ash.
If a charcoal chimney is new to you, here are the steps–
Add charcoal to chimney, place and light a starter underneath. In about 15 minutes the billowing smoke will have dissipated and fire will be seen out the top of the chimney. Pour charcoal into grill, spread them out and cover with the grill grate to heat up. Once the grate is on, you’re at the same point as 7-10 minutes into preheating a gas grill.
Once grill grates are hot, brush with a wire brush, then oil the grates, brush again and oil again. The second time is to ensure a clean, oiled surface if you started with a gnarled grate. I use spay oil but if I’m out, I’ll oil a paper towel.
Blot the steaks with a paper towel to remove excess moisture, then season liberally with pepper and season heavily with enough salt so you’re questioning and remembering your last blood pressure reading. Alot of it gets lost in the process and animal fat loves salt,
so hook it up. Lightly oiling a steak before seasoning is necessary for lean cuts but not advised for fatty ones.
Place your seasoned steak on the hot grill surface. Depending on the power of your gas grill or the amount of charcoal used is what dictates cooking time, flare ups and how much you’ll have to mess with it. Cooking on the grill is fun and sometimes exciting, but like anything else, benefits from practice and familiarity. Remember to use your eyes and nose; your goal is to only think about one side of the steak at a time.
If your heat dictates you leave your steak alone and don’t “play” with it, (which cools down the grates and the steak), then don’t touch it. If you have good heat, the actual cooking process takes about 10 minutes.
The importance of high heat is so your steak browns before it cooks. Meat is wet and dense, and if you don’t get a good early sear or crust on the steak, it will likely bleed out its moisture, then steam and seize. Seized, overcooked, gray meat ensures no friends coming over for future BBQ’s.
So, your steak is on the grill and it shouldn’t stick, if it is sticking, it’s not ready to touch and/or your surface is not hot enough…(another reason a hot surface is required).
Once the steak is easily lifted from the grill feel free to rotate it two or three times ovfer the next several minutes to achieve more even browning on the surface. After the steak looks browned and totally delicious, flip it.
At this point is where flare ups can really start occurring so have a spray bottle at the ready.
Continue cooking for the same amount of time as the first side or a few minutes less; always less with thinner cuts. Checking for doneness is something you’ll have to learn and doneness has to do with quite a few variables. Thickness, temperature of raw steak, temperature of fire, density of cooking surface, manipulation during cooking, blah blah blah.
Resting IS important and should not be overlooked. Place the steak on a plate (hot side up) and either lightly tent with foil or place in a warm area; I put mine in the microwave. Resting allows the hot moisture to settle down and find a home. Cutting too early lets the hot running moisture escape.
Gas or charcoal doesn’t really matter other then the differences in preparation of your grill.
PAN: When using a saute pan you need something heavy that can retain heat, not warp under extreme heat and have an oven proof handle.
I use cast iron, but most tri-ply pans will work. Just beware that grease spatter can be hard to clean on a nice pan.
Heat oven to 500 degrees and place your pan on high heat. Blot the steak dry of any excess moisture and season liberally with salt and pepper. Turn on your vent hood and wait for your pan to get raging hot. A little water flicked into the pan should show beads of water dancing around and not evaporating very quickly. The pan should be hot enough that the water beads are hovering, not rolling. After the water is gone, swirl a tablespoon of oil into the pan and add your steaks, only one or two.
Now don’t touch ’em. Let the steaks cook until a clear and distinct crust is achieved. Your allowed to peek so you can gauge the crusts development. Once it looks evenly browned and delicious, flip and throw the whole pan in the oven. Cook for another 5-10 minutes depending on your thickness, then remove from the oven and place on a plate with the side that was on the pan, now facing up.
Slicing: Always cut against the grain. More important for some cuts then others but pay attention to the direction of the muscle fibers. Very easy to see on a flank steak, the idea is to shorten those long strands. If you see the fibers running up and down, cut side to side. If the fibers are running side to side, cut up or down. And remember that thin is always better and a sharp knife makes thin easy.
One last thing. I like to slice my guests steak for them for a few reasons. I can cut it thinner and more efficiently on a cutting board with a big knife. Also, I can toss the slices in any accumulated juices and, I don’t like people to fumble around their plate improperly cutting their meat.
It’s not the saffron or the succulent meat. The seafood or the lemon. Tis the socarrat!
Paella is and can be alot of things, but much of it has nothing to do with how good it tastes. The communality it demands between guests provides this surrendering force that relaxes everyone, and excites them at the same time.
I don’t mean to be so dramatic about it but with most great and memorable gatherings there is always a certain je ne say quoi.
Cooking a whole pig or goat can have a similar feeling; or a labor party when all your friends come over for a big yard project and afterwards you party into the night and revel in your accomplishment. Effort I think is the key here, (I know I’ve gone down this path before).
Paella has this kind of magic; where everyone gets to tangibly feel a part of an effort and a transformation.
There are three things involved that make a paella party fun and cool. One is the pan, called a paellera; it’s what gives paella it’s name, which is a Spanish root word for pan. Now I’ve made great paella on the stove top many times without this special pan, but if you want to have the experience I’m talking about, you’ve gotta get one.
Next is an outdoor fire. Both words are important; outdoor, and fire. Gatherings outdoors are great, but if everyone is communed around a fire pit, then the intrigue and anticipation for the dinner rises even higher.
Last is not the ingredients like you might think; but the common thread of all relaxing, fun social gatherings…booze. I know, I know; I beat this horse to death sometimes, but it’s true! Add a couple drinks to room full of silent people and BOOM! Conversation. As an added bonus–the combination of an outdoor fire and booze gets you a nice little peanut gallery that helps out with labor, un-needed tips and critiques.
Piled on top of all that, we’re finally to the pièce de résistance. The ingredients are not the “third reason” because we are not in Spain and therefore have no traditional binding that limits us to which ingredients we use. If anyone ever tells you your paella is not authentic because you didn’t have (insert unattainable ingredient here), tell them you canceled the party and there’s no reason to come over on Saturday.
Rice, saffron, a few veggies and meat are all you really need. I like the complexity of using Spanish chorizo, chicken thighs and seafood. Chorizo is spicy, earthy and full of wonderful fat and flavor, although probably the hardest ingredient to find. If you can’t find the cured Spanish variety, don’t substitute with the soft Mexican chorizo. Good butcher shops will usually carry it and I know Whole foods has it. I like chicken for the fatty skin and it’s always my first step–browning and rendering the chicken skin provides your cooking fat for the rest of the dish. Rabbit, and duck can also be used but it’s up to you.
After I remove the chicken I add the chorizo and veggies (sofrito). Traditionally the sofrito cooks up to a paste but I tend stop before the veg looses it’s shape. Next is the rice–once again, tradition states not to use long grain rice, but if that’s what you decide to go with, no one will be the wiser unless they “know” paella. I always use a medium or short grain rice, usually arborio. It’s readily available at all supermarkets and has the physical make up we need.
Arborio and other short grain rices have an outer layer that melts its starch. That starch (which so famously gives risotto its creaminess) is what helps form the socarrat.
The socarrat is the beautiful crust that forms on the bottom, adding textural variance and supreme richness. When the rice toasts on the bottom of the pan the moisture inside the rice is replaced with the fats and spices– then fries crisp. Ohm nom nom.
1tsp saffron threads, dried or lightly toasted
2T olive oil
2lb chicken thighs with bone and skin
kosher salt and fresh pepper
2c sliced or diced Spanish chorizo
2c finely diced onions
1c finely diced bell peppers
1c diced tomato
3c arborio rice
2-3lb assorted seafood
1c blanched peas or green beans
3T minced parsley
1tsp minced lemon zest
Heat the water and saffron in a pot to steep; set aside.
Prepare your fire and set the pan. Once hot; season the chicken, swirl in the oil and place the chicken skin side down. Render the skin until browned and crisp, then flip. Move the chicken to the edge of the pan and add the chorizo and veggies. Stir and saute until soft or mushy. Add the rice and saute a bit to toast. Add the saffron water with a couple teaspoons of salt. Nestle the chicken into the rice and adjust the fire so it’s not at a raging boil. Cook for 10 minutes and start layering on the seafood with the slowest cooking fish on the bottom. Cook another 5 minutes and flip any fish on the top that is’nt getting hit with heat. If your rice is starting to finish but the fish still needs a little time, lightly tent with foil or parchment to help steam. When everything looks cooked, wait for a crackling sound on the bottom which means the rice is frying. Garnish with peas, parsley and lemon zest.
This is the most badass mountain of nachos I’ve ever had; well…at least since the first time I did it in 2004.
Photos courtesy of Chrystal Cienfuegos
If you didn’t know, I love football. I love sports in general but football is all I have time for anymore. Although my team will likely never win it all, my friends and family create great memories every season rooting for our perennial loosers. With football having a much shorter schedule than other sports, it allows fans to continually make “an event” out of most Sundays that would otherwise be delegated to house work…shmouse work.
Like most football fans, our fall and winter Sundays revolve around food and drinks. Sometimes the food is easy and sometimes it’s a lot of work, but it’s always delicious and usually centers around a grill. This years Superbowl party was no exception.
Since I didn’t do much cooking during the regular season we tried to go all out this year and get everyone involved. And everyone DID get involved, it was beautiful. We weren’t rewriting the book on anything, but when you attempt to do things properly and there’s a bunch of hungry people, there’s just a lot to do.
We had fried chicken bites with dipping sauces and grilled carne asada nachos. Fried chicken is fried chicken, no real need to discuss that one other then stating how ridiculous perfect fried chicken is, ohm nom nom.
The event was around the nachos since 90% of the party had never been witness to such a thing. Granted we’ve all had nachos before, but never like this. I think we may have even missed the picture of just before the lid goes on which showed how tall the pile was. We were actually gonna do two batches but just decided to go big on one.
What pictures cannot show is the depth of flavor achieved from the charcoal. The BBQ smoke flavor permeates and the bottom gets all cheese fried crusty. We of course fried our own chips, grilled the meat, made the beans and made the salsa. The second batch was going to have some nacho cheese swirled in but we never got there. I think this was all done during halftime. How we pulled ourselves away from another mind blowing Super Bowl halftime show…I’ll never know :-|
Chrystal is a Local photographer and does an amazing job for any event. http://chrystalcienfuegos.com — I highly recommend her boudoir shots for any woman wanting to give their husbands whiplash. My wife took some and I’m still cleaning drool off the keyboard.
Mmmmm beef fat…
Not suet…which is clean, easy melting fat that’s obtained from just outside the kidney of a bovine. but beef fat trimmings. Not only is rendering fat kinda cool, but it’s a deeper flavor that reaches juuuust outside our norm. Easily obtained from a serious butcher shop, suet and fat is inexpensive, easy to render and gives you a clean, savory cooking oil. On new years eve I set out to make traditional carnitas. Slow cooking pork butt in pork fat until tender, then raising the temp to fry and crisp. Cooking meat in its own fat compounds the flavor and rings in that authentic bell. Unfortunate to those classic carnitas plans, my sister in law was coming over and like always, I forgot she doesn’t dig on the swine. So I switched it up a bit and decided to try the same thing with beef; after all, I had a few pounds of chuck in the freezer.
Went to the local butcher and asked ’em about getting some suet. They didn’t have it and I didn’t want to drive across town to get it, so I asked them if they had any fat trimmings. They didn’t right then, but would later in the afternoon. Cool. I went back later and got 10 pounds, came home and chopped it up into fist size chunks.
All it takes to render fat is a heavy bottom pan and a heat source on low. It took about 3 hours to render and I didn’t really do it to perfection. Towards the end my impatience got the best of me and I got it a little hot. It didn’t damage the oil to detriment, but it took away the clean purity of perfectly melted fat. I put it through a strainer to remove the fried pieces of crispy fat and any particulate matter. In went the lime soaked beef to a long slow bubble, bubble, bubble.
Towards the end of cooking and several cape cods later I over-cooked the beef a bit. The result was extremely delicious buuuuuut, a bit chewy. Not to jerky standards but still jaw wearing. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson at the family reunion (referenced here). Oh well.
Earlier that day when I got the fat, I realized I was gonna have a fry station ready to rock for midnight munchies, so i picked up some yukon gold potatoes and flour tortillas. Around 11pm I fried the potatoes and they were salty and luscious…and needed at that point. But what came next was an experience no one saw coming, and no one will forget. Well…it was New Years, so a couple people might forget :-|
“Did you suck the head? Did you get any juice when you sucked it?” –Most common question of the day and a great all-around, out of context quote. Gigitty.
What is a mud bug chug? A crawfish boil.
I’ve got a buddy named Doug. Doug (who is on loan from Louisiana) just threw his 2nd Annual: San Diego Mud Bug Chug. The big difference in a classic boil and this party is that Doug is a home brewer of scrumptious and original beer. Yes, pairing beer and crawfish is nothing new. But Doug does it really well, and in copious quantities. Again: home brewer.
As hop heavy beers gain in popularity, it still isn’t the standard for American beer drinkers…unless you live here :-)With San Diego’s growth in the craft beer world, the city has not only made a name for itself that is synonymous with quality, craftsmanship and originality, but it’s also known for it’s distinct style of hop heavy profiles; and in many circles, double IPA’s are referenced as “San Diego style Pale Ale”. This movement has made even casual San Diego beer enthusiasts familiar with quality, bitter, full flavored brews. I say this because (and correct me if I’m wrong), I question how many people have had the opportunity Doug gives us.
The experience of a crawfish boil with 3 outstanding home brews (out of a tap), all of which gave their own story to the day. So…thanks Doug.He brewed his flagship IPA coined, Matrimony Ale, which (me thinks), was made the first time as a wedding beer for a mutual friend. Matrimony Ale is classic, balanced, refreshing, and smooth; and whenever it’s around, is my favorite of the day. The other two beers of the day were a spiced ale and a smoked lager. The spiced ale was spiked with Kochu, a distinct Korean chile pepper that gave a perfect amount of heat on the back end; and when I say back end, I mean on the finish, lulz. The other brew was a smoked lager that tasted exactly like it was intended to taste. Nice and smooth with a bite of smoke that begged for a bug.
That begging is what blew me away. The perfect food pairing of the crawfish with the spiced ale or the smoked lager, both on their own or even together. Yes together…if you’ve never combined quality beers before I highly recommend it. If someone scoffs at the idea just let it go. Later on in the party their curiosity will get the better of them, and they will be forced to apologize and give you props. ***Disclaimer–This only works with tapped, high quality beer and a little forethought toward the end product. Meaning…no suicides. Crawfish are boiled in a powerful chile and spice broth that can go with any beer really. But these two beers, whether separate or combined, connected the dots to a perfect food and beverage pairing.
To the uninitiated, a food and alcohol pairing is successful when both food and drink are elevated as the flavors intermingle. This unlocks hidden flavors or pulls known flavors to the forefront.It was a gorgeous San Diego day with lots of friendly, happy people gettin’ down and dirty on a table full of authentic cultural cuisine. I relish communal eating experiences and I get fired up even more when I know someone took the time to prepare something artisanal; something that can’t be re-created by myself, or procured anywhere else. It lets your guests know that you care about quality and their happiness.Here’s some pics until next year, woot woot!
So, if your looking for something new in your diet, aaaaand feel like fixing a bunch of your free radicals, try these tasty little berries.
What is a Free Radical? Free radicals are atoms (usually an oxygen atom) floating around the body that have lost an electron through oxidation. These unstable atoms float through your body looking for another atom that has an outer shell that isn’t complete. The free radical then attaches to those atoms or molecules where it doesn’t belong; and when enough of them build up, you’ve started a tumor. Some free radicals don’t cause tumors, however; they will attack healthy cells and cause other ailments. Fighting free radicals is an easy answer—antioxidants.An unstable atom, by its very nature, wants to become stable. It will seek another atom to attach to so that the outer layer of electrons is complete. Luckily, antioxidants carry around an extra electron that the free radical can *weaz off of. Antioxidants will actually seek out a place to “lose” that extra electron; which is just really nice of them…very generous. We should have them over for dinner.