Tricks for perking up summer steaks

slerner General

In terms of summer rituals, grilling fat steaks over hot coals is one of the best.

On a warm California afternoon, San Francisco chef Louis Maldonado and I are doing just that. Wreathed by smoke and dappled with sunshine, I’m learning some tricks from the chef.

Grilling is his preferred way of cooking on his days off, and steaks – rib eyes cut from the center because they’re more uniform and well marbled – are his preferred meat.

A good rib eye requires little more than salt, and Maldonado is generous with it, showering the steaks, then letting the meat come to room temperature.

To enhance the savor of salted beef, he adds a dusting of ground bonito flakes. The dried fish shavings, pulverized to a fine powder in a spice grinder, are a traditional part of the Japanese diet and a natural source of umami. It’s a simple addition that enhances the meat, the best kind of chef’s trick.

As a side dish, Maldonado grills potatoes, using that classic campfire trick of wrapping ingredients in foil and cooking them directly on the coals. Within each “hobo pack,” the par-cooked potatoes are seasoned with a drizzle of sesame oil, some crunchy fleur de sel and a chiffonade of shiso, a pungent frilly-leafed herb that’s another traditional Japanese ingredient.

Maldonado transfers the potatoes to a platter, cuts the steak into thick slices, then spoons pickled chiles over the top. The salty meat juices pool on the plate, melding with the sesame oil and lime juice.


Grilled Rib-eye Steaks with Potato Hobo Packs & Pickled Chiles

Makes 4 servings

For the steaks

2 (1½-inch-thick) boneless rib-eye steaks (about 18-24 ounces)

2½ ounces dried bonito flakes

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons kosher salt

Olive oil, for drizzling

For the potatoes

1 pound scrubbed new red potatoes

Kosher salt

1 tablespoon sesame oil

4 shiso leaves, cut into chiffonade

Fleur de sel, to taste

For the pickled chiles

Juice of 2 limes

2 serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded and minced

1 tablespoon minced red onion

Kosher salt, to taste

Instructions: Place the steaks on a plate. In a spice grinder or small food processor, grind the bonito flakes to a fine powder. Transfer to a bowl, add the salt and mix to combine. Season the steaks evenly on both sides with the salt-bonito mixture and let the steaks come to room temperature, about 2 hours. Just before grilling, drizzle the steaks on both sides with a little olive oil.

To prepare the potatoes, put them in a large saucepan. Add water to cover and about 1 tablespoon of kosher salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil until the potatoes are firm-tender, about 10 minutes; drain.

Cut the potatoes into 1-inch pieces. Arrange a large rectangle of heavy-duty aluminum foil on your work surface, pile the potatoes in the center of the foil and drizzle with the sesame oil. Pull the ends of the foil together and fold them over to seal and create a packet. Set aside.

To make the pickled chiles, combine the lime juice, minced chiles and red onion in a small bowl. Mix to combine, then add salt to taste. The pickled chiles can be used right away, but for a mellower condiment, refrigerate for a few days before using.

Jalapeño chiles can be substituted for the serranos, and spring or green onions can stand in for the red onion.

To grill the meat, prepare a charcoal grill for direct, high-heat grilling (about 450-500 degrees), using a full chimney’s worth of coals to build the fire. When the charcoal is ready, add the steaks and grill, turning once, about 2 minutes per side.

Cover the grill, closing the vents in the lid, and continue to cook the steak, turning about every 5 minutes, until the internal temperature registers 120 degrees for medium-rare. Depending on the size of the grill, the thickness of the steaks and the temperature they were when they went on the grill, this may take 10-15 minutes. Transfer the steaks to a plate or cutting board and let rest about 10 minutes.

While the steak rests, finish the potatoes. Carefully remove the grill grate and set the aluminum packet of potatoes directly onto the coals.

Cook for 10 minutes, until the potatoes are brown and tender.

Transfer the potatoes to a large platter; season with a bit of fleur de sel.

Slice the steak into thick slices and arrange on top of the potatoes, then spoon some of the pickled chiles on top of the steak. Serve immediately.




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