Friday, May 22, 2009

Filet mignon... eat less, eat better...

First, don't tell my brother that I have cooked and dined on that filet mignon. When it is about meat, people in Anatolia and the middle east subscribe to a different religion. Yes, preparing, cooking and eating meat is a religious ritual in that part of the world. And to my brother, who is a seasoned cook specialized on meat, that filet mignon is devil's play. 

In most of Anatolia, most of the cooking is done via marinating the meat before putting it on fire. The Anatolian and middle eastern marinating techniques have evolved and been perfected over centuries out of necessity. Animals wander freely over lands there, not to graze on green lands, but mostly to look for food over planes or mountains. So they develop leaner but also less tender muscles. That is why tenderizing the meat via marinating becomes an integral part (art) of cooking there. Also, as the meat in the middle east (and in all warm places for that matter) is potentially contaminated with bacteria, cooking the meat thoroughly after a long marination period is a well established standard.

It took me several tries in the US before breaking my taboo about cooking meat. Although I have not converted, I still like kebabs, I have learnt to

and appreciate differences.

The high quality meat sold in the US is truly and simply amazing. There is no need to treat the meat, if bought highest quality. I intentionally emphasize the quality here. My first trick in having a truly spectacular steak is "to eat less in order to eat better". If I have $10-$15 for the meat, I would spend all of it on half a pound (200 gr) of the highest quality meat instead of buying one pound of lower (not necessarily low) quality meat. That makes a huge difference, believe me. Many things can go wrong while cooking, especially while cooking a steak. Of course, a steak is a steak, how wrong can it can go after all? It will turn out to be delicious if it is a decent cut,  marinated right and even if it is a little over- or under-cooked. But I am talking about a spectacular steak experience here. And I don't want the most important ingredient to fail me at the start. That is why, when it comes down to a spectacular steak (or any other spectacular dish), I prefer to spend all of my money on tiny amounts of highest quality ingredients.

My next trick is to buy the meat on the day of cooking, and take it out of the refrigerator at least an hour before putting it on the grill. I very generously salt the cuts on all sides with sea-salt and then put some freshly grounded black pepper, then extra virgin olive oil. I set it aside for half an hour until grilling time. 

My third trick is to follow the tradition of precision timing for steak. After trying many online suggestions and failing on many good cuts, I have settled down on this Lindauer Farms instructions. It works pretty well for me. That is not enough though. Once the searing is done, I take a few temperature readings, but I am never confident with those readings. I also keep doing the palm test. If you are lucky, you have two hands. Use one of your index fingers and the palm of your other hand. Press with your index finger on your palm just 1/2 inch (1 cm) below the joint of thumb. Now press with your index finger on the middle of the steak. The steak and your palm should have the same firmness for medium-rare.

The side dishes are chosen to complement but not to dominate the taste of the meat. Lightly steamed asparagus and shitakee mushrooms dressed with olive oil that is infused for about 20 minutes with one small chopped garlic clove, and fingerling, red and purple potatoes, baked with only salt, black pepper and olive oil.

I have one last trick that you will not be able to find anywhere else: I put the potatoes in the oven a little early. Once they are roasted, I take them out, place them on the stove and cover the baking pan. Then we start with our salad. Only after finishing the salads, I start grilling the meat. At that point, I turn over another baking pan and place it on a rack in the oven and place two big plates on it for warming. When I am done with grilling, the plates are warm and the oven is no longer hot, actually a little warmer than the room temperature. I place the steaks on a warmed plate and let it rest in the oven for about five minutes. Baking potatoes early gives me a chance to prepare the plates and a resting place in the oven for the steaks. But setting the baked potatoes aside for about twenty minutes also helps the potatoes develop their sweet taste. I prefer that to the taste of potatoes that are just taken out of oven. 

I am not here to be humble, especially after cooking such a spectacular steak. I would not be able to compete with only the very best steak houses around the country, otherwise that steak you see here can easily beat the steaks from any other steak house. While chewing the crunchy and salty surface, the juicy meat inside just melts in the mouth. And you drool while magically experiencing the meat in your mouth... You know umami. But have you ever really experienced it? That steak is it...


  1. So this post and the photo dictated what we are having for dinner tonight - strip steak, a cut that we don't often eat because it is expensive. But it is tender even when served rare.

    question for you: what are your feelings regarding grass fed versus corn fed beef?

    we're going to open an aged Bandol...

  2. Glad to hear that. I hope you enjoyed your steak and the wine, sounds like a perfect match.

    Re beef, I would go with grass fed for ground beef and with grain-fed, or better grass-fed-grain-finished for cuts just because of its higher and more even fat content in the latter. What was your steak, grass fed or corn fed?

  3. i like grass all the way. i like the taste of grain finished beef, but it seems to me that bovines eat grass, not grain. i don't want to mess with that.