Monday, January 26, 2009

Steak & arugula with wild mushrooms.

If you haven't noticed for the past few entries, I've been mucking about in a lot of italian food, and I found a little recipe in a book my mom gave me that was essentially "Take some steak, salt & pepper it with some olive oil. Cook. Slice. Serve with arugula."

Seriously that's about how in depth it was, and it made me laugh. Then again, isn't that sort of the point if you're going to have a steak? If you have anything with it, keep it simple stupid! You paid, what, around ten bucks for that piece of meat, maybe more? This is always why things like A-1 sauce drive me bonkers. Do you know what's in A-1? What about Worcestershire sauce? Can you rattle off those ingredients? I can't without crib notes.

Look, that's not to say things like that don't have their use. Would I bat an eye at that on a hamburger, or something like that? No way, that's a good idea. But the reason steak costs as much as it does is that it isn't ground chuck. Steak has a story to tell and it's all about texture, fat marbling, color and so much more. So, whatever you put with it should help to tell that story, and never ever get in the way.

Back to that recipe. It got me really inspired to make something simple that could compliment steak. Arugula, if you've never had it, is an awesome wild green that's just slightly bitter & slightly buttery. It's like baby spinach, but even more awesome. I thought I could get away with one more degree of flavor and still keep this a steak dinner at the heart of the matter, so I reconstituted about ten or so dried porcini mushrooms in some boiling water & let those reduce to make a nice mushroom sauce thing. Good mushrooms have that really awesome earthy & musty baseline that pairs really well with beef.

So, with those matters settled, I slicked down some big ribeyes with olive oil, and added sea salt and crushed peppercorns. Now, with it being generally cold and dark a lot this time of year (yes, even in the South), I make my steaks in the cast iron skillet, on as high a heat as I can get away with, to get a slight sear on the bottom. From there, I just chuck the skillet into my oven, which I set the rack up high and preheat the broiler during prep work. If you go to a restaurant for steak, you're likely getting something that's been broiled rather than grilled. The only difference is that grilling lets fat drip into open flame. The "grilled taste" meat gets is that fat burning, and the smoke carries the flavor back to the meat. With mushrooms a part of my game plan, I won't lose sleep over avoiding the grill. Now, being that close to the broiler top is going to cook your steak pretty quickly, so you really should keep a sharp eye on it. I'll also mention that my wife and I eat steak at about that divide between medium rare and rare, usually, so this is advice with that in mind. If you like it more done, still do the broiler thing, but set the rack down lower and give it more time.

Now, take the skillet out (please remember to use an oven mitt) of the oven and transfer the steaks to a cutting board. Go have a glass of merlot and just walk away for a bit. Don't give into the temptation to tuck in. I don't remember who told me, but one of the best things I ever learned about cooking steak or any other meat is to give it that time to rest. What you do if you cut meat straight out of the heat is basically let the juices, which are expanding outward, just spill all over the plate. This causes a mess, and it causes the rest of the meat to be comaratively dry. Instead, by letting it rest a good five to ten minutes, that moisture cools a little and retreats back to evenly distribute inside the meat. When you cut, it leaks less, and your meat stays consistently moist.

Once you've let it rest, get a sharp knife (this is where it pays to have a good knife) and get some good, thin, bite-size strips cut. If you can, get it somewhere between deli meat and how you'd normally cut steak. Once that's done, wash and towel dry a good full handful of arugula, and spread it onto a warmed plate. Add your steak, then add your mushrooms. On top of that, go and pour a little bit of the mushroom sauce over it all. Accompany that with merlot (my personal preference) or really any full bodied red wine.

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