Beef may be what’s for dinner, but steaks? Now that’s for the grill.
By now, we should have our grills cleaned up and ready to go, and there’s nothing better than a grilled steak to open grilling season with a bang.
Saturday night was steak night when I was growing up. I miss that image of my dad at his little charcoal grill with rib-eyes sizzling, and a Jack and Seven-Up in hand. Just the smell would drive you crazy. You know what I mean. The smoke rises, filling the neighborhood, making all who aren’t grilling insanely jealous.
Like many, I have cut back on my beef intake. That being the case, when I do grill a steak I want it to be exceptional. That always starts with the meat. When I can get prime beef, I do. Dry aged beef is a real treat. Grass-fed adds another dimension.
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Thanks to some brave folks who believe in the quality of our proteins, real butcher shops have opened in our region, making all types of well-handled and processed-from-the-carcass beef. Another advantage is the choice of lesser-known cuts.
I bet you have a favorite steak cut. Dad’s was a rib-eye. Mine is a porterhouse, thick cut and pretty rare.
One cut that I enjoy on the grill is not one normally thought of as a grilling cut, but the intense and deep flavor of a boneless short rib really gets me excited. No, it’s not a tender cut, and you must cut it across the grain to make it an easy chew. The cut reminds me of a hanger steak, which is really hard to find, and expensive when you do. But if you’ve ever had a hanger steak you know how awesome the flavor is. Give the short rib a try, but don’t cook it past medium; medium rare is better.
Here are a few reminders for grilling steak.
▪ Keep it simple.
▪ Take the steaks out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before cooking. Pat them very dry with paper towels. Moisture retards the caramelization, which is flavor.
▪ Clean your grill grate.
▪ Season the meat with salt and pepper and a little garlic, then drizzle with olive oil. The oil helps the heat transfer faster, resulting in that steakhouse crust we love so much.
▪ Start over a hot flame, then move to a cooler part of your grill to finish. And don’t be flipping the thing all the time. Turn once. Want those fancy crosshatch grill marks? Just rotate the steaks 45 degrees.
Now back to that exceptional experience. A little sauce is a good thing with steak. This cherry tomato vinaigrette is perfect with many foods, but the acidity against the fatty luxury of a steak is memorable. It’s quick, simple, can be made ahead, even up to a day, and will keep for four to five days.
Don’t stop with just a steak. It’s wonderful with pan-roasted fish and really great with pan-seared scallops.
The scallops are one of my favorites with the sauce. In this case, put the sauce on the plate first, then, the scallops on top.
A cold pale ale is a good choice for a paired drink, as is a new world Merlot.
Give this a try as a way to experience the ever-changing cuts of beef.
Fred Thompson is a Raleigh cookbook author and publisher of Edible Piedmont magazine. His latest cookbook is “Bacon.” Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette
This will dress 4 to 6 steaks. If you don’t have sherry vinegar but have balsamic and white wine vinegar, just substitute equal parts.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 large shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, such as grape style
1-2 tablespoons of good sherry vinegar, depending on how acidic you want
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, optional
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium skillet placed over medium heat. When the oil is hot, it will shimmer. When hot, add the shallot and cook, stirring occasionally until soft, and slightly colored, about 3-5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes to the pan with the shallots. Cook until the tomatoes are soft and beginning to burst. With the back of a spoon, mash the tomatoes slightly.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sherry vinegar and the remaining olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.
To step this up, swirl in 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter.