Beef, specifically. Let me start by saying that I personally am not a fan of Kobe style beef. I serve lots of it because other people love it, but I am a prime meat girl all the way. Kobe style meats are just too rich for my blood, which is not to say that prime meats are lean…they’re just more muscle than fat, with good marbling between the layers. I’d have to say that the opposite is true American Kobe meats, the good ones anyway. Some of them are actually more white than red. True to form, Alex loves Kobe meats. He loves the very richness and mouth-feel that makes me shudder. For the record, I’m not a fan of foie gras either and that’s one of his favorite foods.
So, the perfect steak for me starts with dry aged prime meat. This is not an easy beginning as there are very few places that age meat properly. The waste is incredible and much patience is required. You will be rewarded by intensely flavored, rich, beefy steaks. There is nothing like a well aged prime steak but if your choices are more limited, a simple prime steak with little or no aging is nothing to sneeze at. Frankly, if I’m going to sit down and savor a juicy steak I’m willing to make an investment in the experience. I wouldn’t recommend prime meat for burgers, chili, stifado, skewers, or any other meal where the meat does not have the starring role. For those moments when all you really desire is a good steak, a rich red wine, perhaps a leaf of salad in a very mild dressing and some good bread, aged or youthful prime meat is the only option. The cut of meat may change, I most often reach for rib eye, followed by porterhouse, hangar steak, perhaps a sirloin, and on very rare occasions I feel the need for filet mignon. Skirt steak is my breakfast steak of choice with eggs but prime meat is not a necessity there.
Once I have my steak it must be seasoned with sea salt several hours before I plan to eat it. This allows the salt to penetrate the fibers of the meat and travel to the center. During this process it will exude some excess water. This will help intensify the flavor of un-aged meat. Before cooking I pat the steak dry. If I’m at home an iron skillet will come into play. We generally cook 2-3 inch thick steaks, utilizing the leftovers the next day. Part of the soul of the steak dinner is its abundance, knowing there is more meat than you could ever possibly finish in one sitting. I put each skillet on a medium high flame with a light scattering of salt on its bottom. I heat it until it’s smoking hot and then gently lay the beef into the pan. I let it cook undisturbed until a thick crust forms on the bottom. Then I flip it over and continue to cook it until beads of juice appear on the surface. I remove the steak to a warm plate, top with butter and loosely cover with foil. While the meat is resting I deglaze the pan with chopped onions and whatever bottle is handy, leftover wine, tequila, dark rum, good beer, all will make a nice pan sauce with the caramelized onions. I pour the sauce over the steak, swirl the wine in the decanter, pull the warm bread from the oven and serve.
In the restaurant we are little bit more refined. The beef is part of a composed dish, the starring element but not a solo performer. This week we are cooking beef in the immersion circulator for 25 minutes at 125 degrees for a steak that is about an inch and a half thick. Alex likes his meat rare, which is red and warm in the center. I prefer my steak medium rare, reddish in the center and hot in the middle. The reason I prefer medium rare to rare is the chew factor. Rare steaks tend to be too chewy for me. They’re like bubble gum, I could sit there and chew for days without being able to swallow. The slow cooking technique works for both of us. The meat retains its bright color and beefy flavor but the chew factor is completely eliminated. The meat is tender and toothsome, juicy and meaty. We’re very happy with the way the technique has worked out. We’ve cooked the steak straight, wrapped in nori and wrapped in Hoja Santa leaves. Each developed it’s own flavor profile, but the actual cook was very consistent. As most things in our kitchen tend to be, that slow-cooked beef is the best of both worlds.