August 10 – August 23
Monday 8/10: Turkey Burgers / Tomatoes with Ricotta Salata and Basil
Thursday 8/13: Chicken and Rice Soup with Napa Cabbage
Wednesday 8/19: Creamy Zucchini and Pumpkin Seed Soup
Friday 8/20: Penne with Celery and Tomato Sauce
Saturday 8/22: Grilled Strip Steaks, Tomatoes with Mozzarella and Basil, Corn Salad / Apps of Watermelon with Ricotta Salata and Basil and Cheese and Crackers / Sticky Chocolate Cake with Ice Cream
I confess that I have been afraid to cook great steak for a crowd. I don’t mean flank or hanger steak or London Broil or the other tough but wonderful cuts which after marinade or tenderizing, require minimal tending on the grill, and then a thin slicing against the grain and a tasty chimichurri. I can do those standing on my head – well, that is, if I could still stand on my head. But I have given that up, along with mountain climbing, alligator wrestling and snake charming.
No – what I mean by great steak is Ribeye or Porterhouse or New York Strip. These cuts are costly and must be cooked no further than medium-rare. And cooking them on a grill with hot spots and variable temperatures along with the varying thickness of the meat is always a bit of a gamble. If you try to pile that on to greeting guests, making drinks and serving horse-doovers – well, for years my guests have been getting flank steak, chicken or ribs.
But two weeks ago, Tim and Hilda (I think it was mostly Hilda) cooked some steak before dinner and then served it at room temperature and that gave me an idea. So, on August 16th, with Billy and Emily as our guests, we did a test run. I cooked strip steaks in the afternoon and served them at room temperature in the evening. In the meantime, I watched a fine golf tournament, did the NYT Crossword, spoke to my brother Mark in Roseville, California, walked the dog, and probably could have washed my car. The steak was superior and I was ready for the next week when we would be entertaining eleven people for dinner.
There are a few tricks to achieving the perfect rareness and the bit of sear on the outside that meat lovers crave. But they are simple, you can learn them in the time it takes to read this post, and you now have no excuse, when inviting us for dinner, for not cooking Tomahawk steaks to medium-rare carnivorous perfection.
Note: I know that I have conflated two weeks into one (see above) giving the lie to the title of my blog. “It should be,” you say, “some of what we cooked over the last two weeks.” Well, point conceded. But that would be a terrible name for a blog and I needed to catch up having drifted because of the sheer summeriness of the last 10 days (it was almost too hot to breathe), and most of all, I couldn’t wait to share this new way to cook steak with you.
Perfect Steak on the Grill – Reverse Searing
(adapted from Hilda and Andrew Zimmern)
The key to cooking your steak perfectly is called ‘reverse searing.’ The objective is simple – perfect medium rare all the way through the steak right out to its surface where you have created a lovely, seared crust.
Even when you cook steak well, if you begin with searing it – the traditional method – there will usually be a ¼” or so of tasteless grey between the medium rare center and the surface. That’s because it takes so long to cook the interior that the outside becomes overcooked.
One way to beat the odds is to take your steak out of the refrigerator a few hours before you intend to cook. It’s a lot easier to cook the interior if it’s not chilled.
Trim the steak of any hard fat and salt it well on both sides.
Set up your grill with hot and cold zones. You’ll be cooking the steak for 20 minutes or so in the cold zone, using indirect heat. Then you’ll finish the steak directly over the coals or the gas burner to give it some caramelized crust.
I used my barrel grill because I had to cook so many steaks – but a Weber would be better because it produces more heat and more even heat.
In a barrel grill, pour the coals into the center, leaving room for the steaks to cook indirectly on either side. In a Weber, pile the coals against one side. Take the time to heat your grates – close the lid and let the grates heat up for 5 minutes or so.
Now oil the grates to prevent sticking – including the grates over direct heat – and place your steaks at a right angle to the coals (i.e., one end of the strip pointed at the coals, the other end away from them. You’ll be cooking them for about 10 minutes with the grill closed until you flip and reverse (put the ends of the steaks that were closest to the heat, away from the heat and turn the steaks over). After another 10 minutes check the temperature or press the meat, if you’re experienced enough to know what medium-rare feels like. You’re looking for a temperature around 120 F – a little higher is ok.
Note: To take the temperature, insert an instant-read thermometer into the side of a steak and push the tip toward its center.
Meta-Note: If you’re using a Weber or a really hot gas grill you’ll need to adjust the cooking time downward. I actually had to adjust the time upwards, the first time I did this, because I didn’t close the lid of the grill.
Scolding Note: The deal here is to pay exquisite attention while cooking the meat – remember, once this is done, you can take a nap before joining friends and family for a night of feasting.
Now you’re ready to sear the steaks over the hot zone of the grill – maybe 90 seconds per side and another 30 seconds for each of the edges.
Now let the steak rest for 10 minutes and then – and this is important – slice it all as quickly as you can to stop it from cooking.* Now, lay it out on a cooling rack or sheet pan in a single layer – if the pieces are on top of each other they will continue to cook. You’re finished, except for assembling this carnivore’s delight on a platter before serving.
*Well, look, if, after the first slice, the steak is not cooked enough – put it back over indirect heat for 5 minutes. If it’s overcooked, make beef stew or hash. If you overcook this for a wife from this ‘hood, plan on moving into a motel or sleeping on the couch for a few weeks.
Took no pictures of the wonderful crowd on Saturday (Dave and Colleen, Mary Ann and Hoddy, Tommy and Jojo, Annie, Hilda and Tim) – but here is a picture of Hilda’s gift of flowers and herbs from her garden:
And here are some of Diane’s zinnias – another great gift: