The search for the elusive great steak
June 17, 2006
People ask me all of the time about my secrets or expertise in cooking a steak. There are many different cuts of steak in today’s market (filet mignon, New York, Delmonico, culotte, top sirloin, flank, London broil, rib, top and bottom round). To cover all of these different cuts, in even short detail, would take half of today’s newspaper. So we’re going to talk about the filet mignon, New York and (my favorite) the Delmonico cuts.
To prepare your barbecue or grill, you want it to be very hot, approximately 400 to 500 degrees in the middle and about 300 degrees in the outside areas. While the grill is heating, season the steaks. I like to do a minimal starting seasoning, using a light rub of fresh garlic, pepper and a touch of salt (salting steaks at the beginning of the cooking process has a tendency to draw out what moisture and juices can be found in the filet or any steak for that matter.) Salt at the end of the cooking process by putting a little extra-virgin olive oil or butter on the steaks before you remove them from the barbecue/grill. Then, while the meat is moist, sprinkle with a little sea salt or kosher salt and a couple of pinches of fresh-ground pepper.
I like my steaks cooked to medium. As I have said in the past, each barbecue/grill is different. What I like to do at home is place steaks on the hottest part of the grill for approximately 3 to 4 minutes per side (all sides, including edges). Then place them on the cooler edges of the grill for another 3 to 4 minutes on all sides. Total cooking time should be about 10 to 14 minutes. The steak should be medium-firm for medium doneness and more bouncy for medium-rare.
Obviously the firmer the steak, the more cooked it will be. Medium to medium-well should almost be firm. (In my experience with cooking steaks, medium to medium well, you don’t want to totally cook the steak on the hottest part of the grill.) Char and cook 3 to 4 minutes on all sides then move them to the cooler part of the grill and cook for 8 to 10 minutes per side. This inexact science is more about your experience with how you like your steak cooked and the temperature and condition of your grill at the time of cooking. In short, pay attention.
The following are some guidelines for selecting a great steak. In a filet mignon you want it to be approximately 2 to 21Ú2 inches in height and the same in width. Filets, because of the area in which they come from (the tenderloin) tend to be very lean after trimming the outside fat with minimal marbling. Because of its proximity to the muscle the meat itself is very tender. It doesn’t have a lot of flavor because of the lack of fat and marbling. It’s the fat that really gives a steak its rich flavor.
The New York strip and Delmonico steak are the same, except for one very important difference: The New York steak has been trimmed off the feather bone from the short loin. The Delmonico steak has the bone from the short loin left on.
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My preference is the bone in Delmonico steak. Leaving the bone in gives it a couple of advantages. First, it gives the steak a lot more flavor, and secondly, the steak has a lot more juices left in, thus more flavor.
Finding a Delmonico steak is next to impossible on any of our grocery shelves. But if you go to a good butcher like Butler’s, I’m sure you can order, in advance, the steaks you will need for your special barbecue. Order your steaks about 11Ú2 inches thick and pre-trimmed so you can just season and cook them.
The New York is a much more widely accessible cut, and should also be approximately 11Ú2 inches thick. Look out for a vein in the New York cut. If you see a vein of gristle that resembles a half moon through the middle of the meat, stay away from it. You will have to cut out the vein before cooking, or the meat will be tough.
The New York and Delmonico steaks typically have more fat and marble than the filet mignon. They also have more flavor but are not as tender. Again, I like to cook my steak to medium. To cook the New York steak, lightly season as with a filet and cook 3 minutes per side. With this steak, just cooking the top and bottom is sufficient. With the Delmonico, because of the bone, cook 2 minutes per side longer than the New York.
Again, the same conditions exist. For each barbecue/grill ,use your personal experience to dictate the cooking time.
Shopping for the perfect steak
You want the steak to look fresh and bright with a good amount of marbling. As I always say, you want to purchase natural or organic products. Albertsons and Raley’s carry Coleman natural beef. These cattle have never had antibiotics, growth hormones or steroids. Talk to your butcher, and he’ll guide you in the right direction.
Topping your steak
Roasted garlic: Put approximately 6 peeled garlic cloves, per steak, in a casserole dish and cover with olive oil. Place on the grill (or in the oven) for about 25 minutes or until slightly browned. Remove, let cool and then remove from the oil. Finely chop or slice the cloves. Sprinkle over your steak at the time of service.
Grilled onions: Take a large sweet onion (I like yellow or white) and slice in rounds about a half inch thick. You will want to serve two slices of onion per steak. Rub down with salt, pepper and olive oil. Place on the grill in the hot area at the same time as you fire the steak. This gives the onions a great flavor and they will cook in about the same amount of time. Turn the onions over when you turn the steak.
Roquefort cheese with horseradish: (This recipe is for one steak only.) Place 1Ú8 cup of crumbled Roquefort cheese or a good bleu cheese (like Maytag from Iowa or a gorgonzola), 1Ú4 teaspoon of prepared horseradish and 1 teaspoon of heavy cream in a casserole dish. Do not stir. Place in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 12 minutes. The cheese should be soft but not totally melted; keep an eye on it. You want it warm, so put it in the oven at the same time as you put the steaks on the grill. The timing should be perfect. Mix the cheese, horseradish and cream together at the very end. A little kick of fresh-ground pepper and a couple of dashes of Tabasco and Worcestershire sauces at the time of mixing adds to this great topping.
Two styles of wine come to mind that will accompany a great steak – cabernet sauvignon or a syrah. I tried a very good California cabernet sauvignon, ZD Winery, Napa Valley, 2002; and a syrah from the Sierra foothills (Shenandoah Valley), C.G. De Arie. Another excellent wine from the C.G. De Arie Winery is their barbera. This winery is worth a day trip to visit. It is lovely and has wonderful hospitality.
Speaking of hospitality, share these recipes in your own home with family and friends. They will love it. As always, enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!!!
• Charlie Abowd is the owner and chef at Adele’s. He and his wife, Karen, have lived in Carson City for 22 years. Charlie is a fourth-generation restaurateur.