Gorgeous steaks are on the menu today. We’re cooking at home and so they will be served simply to accent the luscious beefy flavors of the meat. We have indulged in prime beef from Lobel's . Today’s choice is a pair of twelve-ounce filet mignons to be seared and served with salad. The salad will probably be a mélange of chopped romaine lettuce leaves, sweet onions, avocado and tomatoes lightly dressed with lemon juice and the pan drippings. The steaks are dry aged prime beef, tender and juicy. Filet mignon is a cut that has fallen out of favor although when you have high quality meat it can be revelatory. Although I love a rich, fatty rib eye or a gorgeously marbled and chewy sirloin, there is still something to be said for the much maligned tenderloin. It is a subtle cut of meat, one that you don’t have to wrestle with a steak knife, as it is one hundred percent edible on the plate. Its leaner qualities allow it’s elegant flavor to quietly shine and its softer texture allows the abundant juices to wash across my tongue in cascade of succulent flavors.
When I was growing up filet mignon was still in vogue. Bacon wrapped, charred steaks dripping with melted butter were seen everywhere paired with hash browns, cottage fries, fried onions and creamed spinach. The tenderloin was very expensive and considered to be the crème de la crème of fancy dining and special occasions. Meals were begun with shrimp cocktail or chopped salads and finished off with cheesecake, fresh berries with whipped cream or impossibly tall chocolate layer cakes. The traditional steak houses still exist and these meals can be had for exorbitant price tags. The filet is still on the menu, usually without the bacon, and offered in petite and king-sized portions. These days they are considered steaks for tourists and sissies. The true aficionados usually demur. They turn up their noses at filet mignon and talk of marbling and flavor. Everyone knows that real connoisseurs eat rib steaks because they taste so much better. Everyone knows this except me. I would argue that the rib eye possesses a different flavor as opposed to a better one. It has a stronger, beefier flavor, a chewier texture and part of the pleasure is ferreting out the most succulent morsels from their webbing of sinew and fat. It is a very masculine cut of meat and it too has its place in our culinary lexicon. In this particular shipment we also received a three-pound boneless rib roast made up of natural prime beef, which I am looking forward to cooking and eating with anticipatory glee. I love knowing that it’s tucked away, waiting in the wings for its moment in the spotlight. But today, today is about the filet. It is an equal performer with an entirely different routine and this particular relaxed afternoon, dedicated to good food and good company, it has the starring role. Somehow I don’t think we’ll be disappointed in it’s performance.
Just for the record, at home we temper our steaks for about an hour before we cook them. We season them liberally with sea salt when we pull them from the refrigerator. We cook them in a smoking hot black iron skillet sprinkled with a fine layer of salt. We do not add any additional fat to the pan until the very end of the cooking process when both sides of the meat have formed a thick crust. At that point we add a generous spoonful of cold butter and baste the meat until the butter turns brown. At that point we remove the steaks to a warm plate and let them rest for at least five minutes before serving. If we’re feeling decadent, we rub them with a bit more butter while they rest and then pour the juices over the greens we are serving alongside the steak. We enjoy the combination of a cold crisp salad with the full flavored juiciness of prime meat. It’s taken us years to eschew the traditional creamed spinach and potatoes but we believe that you need something that revives the palate alongside any truly decadent main attraction.
Some notes after the fact:
We drank a 2004 Novy Syrah from Sonoma. The wine was brambly, spicy, and peppery, with hints of ripe blackberries and suede. I know suede sounds strange but that really is what the wine tastes like. It is high in alcohol and slightly sharp although I’m sure that it will mellow with age. The multi-layered edginess of the wine actually paired quite well with the sensuous nature of the meal. It’s not something that I would drink on its own, but it was a perfect foil to the richness of the meat and the buttery smoothness of the avocado.
We had the odd perfectly ripe avocado that makes you realize why these fruits are so special. It was rich and velvety, still slightly chilled and just yielding to the tooth. I love to dice them into salads to add a luxurious texture without adding any dairy or fat to the dressing. The generous portions of salad were a nice contrast to the beef. Alex benefited from my smaller stomach and finished the last third of my steak. We agreed that only thing that could have made the meal better would have been the sight, smell and sound of the ocean in the background. We’re just nitpicking though because the mountain views are no slouch. Frankly the meal was spectacular. When we cook extravagant steaks at home it always makes us wonder why people go out to steak houses. You can get high quality meat for less than you would pay in a restaurant. Ditto for the wine. Last but not least, you don’t have to drive home afterwards. The only things you give up are the luxury of being waited on and not having to do dishes. Really if it’s that important to you, you can bring in a server and still save money. On the other hand, if everyone cooked at home we’d have no business to support us. Occasionally though, it’s a wonderful treat to buy the finest of ingredients and enjoy them at home. We recommend the experience to everyone, as long as they don’t do it all of the time.