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October 2011

Mushroom Sauce for Steak

Over the weekend, I had a chance to work on my steak-cooking skills. We don’t eat red meat very often, at least not steak, and so I’ve never felt confident about cooking it. The more I make it, though, the better I get at it. It's a bit like learning to ride a bicycle.

On Saturday, we threw a dinner party for my brother-in-law’s fiftieth birthday, and I took the gamble of serving steak. I had six steaks to cook, and I filled the house with so much smoke it looked like a Civil War battlefield. I knew this was going to be the case, so I had sent Santa Maria and the kids out of the house for a half hour. I was left along with the meat.

I have a crutch when I make my broiled leg of lamb—the instant-read meat thermometer, and I figured I could use it to help insure that I got the meat right. I was feeling a lot of pressure—my brother-in-law is from Texas, and he’s the one who schooled me over the summer on how to grill steaks. I had to get these right.

Three different cuts of meat—New York strip, rib eye, and Delmonico—were before me, and they were each of a varying thickness. I took them out early, got them to room temperature, and salted them heavily. I heated a cast-iron pan until it was smoking, then rendered in the pan the big side strip of fat on the steak. I charred one side nicely on a high heat, then flipped them and turned the heat down.

I was cooking the meat about an hour or two in advance of the dinner party, so I wouldn’t have to work when my guests were here, so I knew I would have time to let the meat sit. This, it turned out was key. I cooked each steak until it was 125+ degrees internally (raw, according to the printing on the thermometer's dial), and figured I had it made. The steaks would sit while we had our drinks, and they would be nice and pink inside.

Alas, it didn’t turn out exactly that way. A few of the cuts were a bit too raw inside for me. I think that next time I will cook them to 130 degrees, and see how that goes. It didn’t make a difference the night of the party, though. At the last minute two guests cancelled because their child was sick, so there was more than enough well-cooked food for everyone.

Nina and Pinta gobbled up their servings. It was the first time they ate steak, and unlike other new foods, it one went down without any problem. In fact, we had steak for lunch the next two days, and then we ran out. That didn’t stop Pinta from asking for it at the other evening. When I told her I was serving flounder, she said, “Why aren’t we having steak?” Yes, why not, indeed.

I served the steak with fennel risotto, and a simple mushroom sauce. The sauce proved to be as popular as the meat; here’s the recipe.

Mushroom Sauce for Steak

  • One medium shallot, diced
  • A handful of Cremini mushrooms, washed and sliced thinly
  • ¼ cup or more of a decent red wine
  • Some very good butter

In a good sauté pan, sauté the shallots in a bit of olive oil until they are soft.

Set the shallots aside.

On a high heat, sauté the mushroom slices until they brown a bit on the edges. You don’t have to cook them all the way. Work in batches, if necessary, and don't crowd the pan.

As each batch of mushrooms cooks set them aside with the shallots.

When the final batch of mushrooms is cooked, toss the shallots and the previously cooked mushrooms back in the pan. Add the wine and the butter and reduce to desired thickness.

Salt to taste, and if you have a herb you like, such as thyme, or tarragon, by all means add that, too.

Server with the steak, and allow guests to spoon it over their cuts of meat.

The Great Pancake Race

“The time it takes to make a baby, is the time it takes to make a cup of tea,” Billy Bragg once sang, and I thought of that lyric last Thursday morning. The kids were out of school because of Rosh Hashanah. That holiday had caused me trouble earlier in the week, but on this day it was a blessing. With, no lunches to pack, we were having a slightly more relaxed start to the day than usual.

I was in the kitchen, making breakfast. The flame of the front burner was licking at the sides of the kettle, and I could hear the water inside starting to come to a boil. As it rumbled beside me, I was mixing up pancake batter from scratch.  I wondered, could I get it done before the water boiled?

Last week, Mark Bittman, wrote an excellent article about the cost of home-cooked food versus fast or junk food. I was thinking of that, too (if you haven’t seen it, it is here).  One of the arguments against home cooking is that it takes too much time. If I could get my pancake batter done before the water boiled, then that would be evidence that the working parent could make a good home-cooked breakfast on a weekday.

They say that the families that eat together do better in life. The kids don’t do drugs, they do better in school, etc. etc. The great photo essay in yesterday’s New York Times magazine shows a wide range of families eating together, and Sam Sifton in his intro to it talks about the difficulty working parents face getting everone to the table. Breakfast, in my house, is the one meal we almost always eat together. My girls are so young, that this is the only way we can do it. They are often in bed by the time I get home to cook dinner.

So, a lot was riding on those pancakes. The kettle boiled before I could get the wet ingredients mixed with the dry, but I figured if one was to mix up the dry ingredients the night before, one could win the race. My pancake recipe is here. Billy Bragg singing “This Guitar Says Sorry,” the song with the tea-and-baby line, is here.