Tuesday, November 24, 2009

T-Bone Steak ("Ray Steak," p.28), A Meditation on Home Fries (p.10)

Well, here we are. Sorry for the delay, but I just couldn't seem to bring myself to write this one. I mean, the last recipe from the Achewood Cookbook. Could I really be finished? I have a hard time finishing projects. When I get to the end of a screenplay, I always drag my feet for a few days when I get to the third act. It always feels like I'm killing off a friend, or worse, a child (seeing as how it's something I've created). If I've done a good job creating characters, I feel like I'm going to miss them, and miss creating their world. There may not be any characters (aside from myself and the food) in this blog, but the feeling is the same. It took me a long time to gather the courage to log on and write this thing. I CRIED 8 OR 9 TIMES (not really). Oh well, on to the final recipe.

I knew the last meal would have to be a big deal (and it's important to me that this sentence rhymed), and dogeared this recipe specifically for the grand finale. Nothing says "class" and "celebration" quite like a T-Bone Steak (or, as the book subtitles it, Ray Steak). And since the recipe recommended it, I served it up with Roast Beef's Meditation on Home Fries. As my brother so succinctly reminded me, "French fried potatoes and a T-Bone steak." A more classic meal there isn't. Let's start with the potatoes.

I was nervous about this one. My last fried potato experience with Achewood hadn't gone well. But I was determined to make this meal special, and I wasn't going to let some starches and oils stand in my way. There's a lot of text in the recipe where Roast Beef tries to come up with a universal standard for what constitutes "home fries." It's simple really: small, computer keyboard sized cubes of potato, salted and pan fried in oil. Don't go loading a bunch of dang spices on them or throw in vegetables to make them fancy. Potatoes are a staple, and they're perfectly fine without a lot of fancy presentation. Red potatoes were recommend, as their texture and consistency lends itself well to the cooking process. They took longer to cook than I had expected them to, but I was mostly able to let them sit while I focused on the steak. In this recipe, Roast Beef confirms my feelings that one of the things a young chef needs to learn is the confidence to let things sit alone in hot oil and cook without disturbing them. I'm pretty sure I've talked about this before, but I don't feel like digging through the archives to find the article. You do it.

The finished product was a complete opposite result of the "perfect oven fries." These things were delicious. The potato cubes were crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside, just enough salt to add a nice seasoned kick- a perfect compliment to any meal. Melissa and I both loved them. Possibly the best preparation of potatoes I have ever done. If you were to take the cubes and build them into a castle or something, you could serve these in any fancy, pretentious restaurant. That sort of goes against Beef's whole manifesto, though. Still, you get the idea, these things are good. See for yourself:
And that blows the surprise on the steak, so let's jump right in. The t-bone is a large cut of meat - each one is over a pound (and I asked for small ones). I'm not that familiar with the cut, I prefer a ribeye or prime rib for my "special times" steak. Hm, "special times steak" seems to imply something sexual...it's not intentional, but I'm not going to change it. I have cooked steak many times before. I try not to eat too much red meat, but for a meal where you feel like rewarding yourself, you can't go wrong with a good steak. Still, I usually cook my steaks on a grill. I currently have a tiny, insufficient camping grill that is capable of cooking two average sized steaks in approximately an hour and a half. No worries, this is a stove cooked steak. This is important because without a pan, you can't make the red wine reduction that constitutes the sauce for the dish.

Teodor walks you through this recipe, and it shows. Even though there's nothing terribly complicated in the instructions, everything is described in a way that makes you feel like you are doing something fancy. I had to cook these in two separate stainless steel pans - I didn't have one that was big enough for both of the steaks. I got the feeling that cast iron is probably a better fit for this one. My beautiful stainless pans were charred and black when I was through cooking, even after deglazing. Don't worry, they cleaned out ok (I know you were worried). But I've told you time and time again- I just don't have room for a decent cast iron skillet, nor do I have the patience to season one. If you have a pre-seasoned one you want to send me with a suggestion of where to put it, I'll accept it. E-mail me and I'll tell you where to send it. Outside of that, I'll make do with what I have.

The recipe makes a big deal out of letting the steak sit out before and after cooking. This lets the juices adjust properly to their new situations and means you won't be left with a sloppy mess on the plate. Top Chef has made a point of this, too. I had never known it before I undertook this cooking project, and now it just seems like common sense. It's amazing how fast you can start to feel like a smug, elitist, expert, a-hole. When you flip the steaks (which is really all you have to do in this recipe) Teodor tells you to put a brick wrapped in foil on top of it to prevent the natural bowing that happens from having one side of the meat cooked and the other not. Well, you know what, I don't keep bricks laying around. Is this a common thing? Am I supposed to steal a brick from a construction site? Or is the book assuming that its target demographic will just take the brick that's holding up their coffee table? Either way, Teodor does offer the alternative of weighing down a heavy pan with cans for the same effect, and this is what I was prepared to do. However, I forgot about it because I was afraid my kitchen was about to catch on fire.

See, steaks on the stove smoke. A lot. And my burners were burning a bright shade of orange I've never seen them glow before. Usually they stay a serene, happy blue. So, as the steaks were going all concave, my apartment was filling with smoke and the fire alarm was blaring. That kind of became focus number 1. Apparently the tiny ventilation hood on our oven is not equipped to handle this kind of cooking. I can't say I'm surprised, it's a sad little stove/oven, the kind you get the feeling Sears gave away for free in 1976 if you bought a fridge from them. Melissa helped to fan the smoke out the window and eventually things calmed down, but it was probably as panicked as I've ever been in the kitchen. My response to panic is to get all depressed and apologetic, but it passed. And when it did, it was time to make the sauce.

I've deglazed and made reductions once or twice, but it's always fun to hear that sizzle. Plus, this was the first time since I got my stainless pans so I was actually able to scrape up the little black bits like the recipe told me to. I kept expecting the sauce to thicken more, especially when I added the "cornstarch slurry," but it remained ever-liquid. The recipe said it should turn to a gravy-like consistency, which I took to mean kind of thick and syrupy. Melissa thought that the runny sauce seemed like gravy to her, and I can see her point. Gravy is kind of a broad term to use as a descriptor. Either way, it was delicious. The steak didn't really need the sauce since it was plenty tender and juicy, but the vegetables and the wine really enhanced the flavors. It was smoky and rich and every bit as good as anything I've made on the grill. It came out a perfect medium rare, which I was happy about. Between the steak, the potatoes, the Diamond Juice and the wine, it all felt very decadent. A fitting end to a fun experiment.

Well, since this post has run on long enough, I guess I lied to you. This isn't the last one. I'll post a wrap-up in the next couple of days where we'll reflect on what we've learned on this journey and a bunch of other hippie crap. Join us next time for a time of reflection.



  1. Yeah that smoke thing is a pain. Sounds like it was a great meal, though, and congrats for seeing the project through to the end.