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Steak Lover's CookbookThe Great American Meat

Doggie Bag Steak Salad
Hungarian Steak Soup
Grilled Flank Steak with Eggplant and Red Pepper
Six-Step Guide to Great Grilling
The Touch Method

May 10, 1997

"You must say 'sirloin' or 'flank,'" William Rice says in the introduction to his new Steak Lover's Cookbook. "There's a reason a chuck steak costs less than a T-bone. It is less tender and cooking it will require more attention and time. But the reward is in the taste and flavor."

Throughout his new book -- timed perfectly to summer cookouts and the general American revival of red meat -- Rice describes with great charm the various cuts of steak and how best to buy and prepare them. The book is published by Workman and designed with the easy layout and useful sidebars and tips (sorry) that made the Silver Palate Cookbook and its many successors so popular. I'm glad to know which wine to choose and pour to accompany steak, and finally to understand the difference among such cuts as porterhouse, sirloin and tenderloin, chuck, flank, and skirt.

The recipes are varied and easy, and Rice himself singled out some of his favorites to me, which I include: an easy but delicious marinade for flank steak that will be perfect on the grill; a main-course soup that initially looks heavy but is actually a relatively low-fat, very satisying one-dish meal; and a salad that efficiently and appetizingly uses up leftovers snagged from one of the steak houses whose names and addresses Rice includes. And do bring home a doggie bag, considering the humongous portions these places think their customers require.

I also include his Guide to Great Grilling, essential Memorial Day reading, and insider's instructions on how professional chefs test for doneness, which Rice calls The Touch Method. Besides, I find arresting any instructions that begin, "Let one hand hang limp." Like the rest of the book, the guide is written with exemplary clarity.

  -- Corby Kummer

From Steak Lover's Cookbook, by William Rice

The Touch Method
It will take some practice to turn the following ritual into a practical skill, but soon the touch system will be your number-one guide to judging doneness.

For Rare: Let one hand hang limp. With the index finger of the other hand push gently into the soft triangle of flesh between the thumb and index finger of the hanging hand. It will offer very little resistance, give way very easily, and feel soft and spongy. That is the feel of rare steak.

For Medium-rare: Extend the hand in front of you and spread the fingers. Press the same spot with the index finger of the other hand. The flesh will be firmer but not hard, springy, and slightly resistant. This is the feel of medium-rare steak.

For Medium: Make a fist and press the spot. It will feel firm and snap back quickly, offering only a minimum of give, as does meat cooked to medium.

No need for a further comparison. Cook your steak any more and it will be a lost cause.

Bill's Six-Step Guide to Great Grilling

Before you start, realize that no self-respecting manufacturer would sell a grill unit without attaching detailed operating instructions. If you won't read those, you won't read this. If you read those, you probably don't need to read this -- so I'll be brief.

1. Be sure the grill is outdoors (unless you are using a stovetop grilling unit) and on level ground.

2. Open the vents and pile about two dozen top-of-the-line briquets on the grate. Using hickory or apple wood as fuel and a flavoring for the steak is appealing, but wood is expensive and takes quite a while to reduce to coals. Wood chips on charcoal may be the best course. Since I rarely venture far from the house, I use an electric coil starter. (Ask someone to remind you to unplug it once the coals are burning.) If using a liquid starter, the one absolute prohibition is: Never, never squirt fuel onto a burning fire. If using a gas grilling unit, none of this matters.

3. For well-trimmed steaks 1 1/2 inches thick or less, chops, and burgers, there's no need to set up a drip pan and cook over indirect heat. An activist cook equipped with a squirt pistol and a willingness to tend closely to the meat and move and turn it as often as needed will do just fine working over direct heat.

4. There will be about half an hour of warm-up time. Pace yourself in consuming liquid refreshments. Once the coals are ready (covered with gray ash and glowing), flirt with pain and place your hand, palm down, over the fire at grill height. If you can hold it there for 4 seconds, the coals are hot and ready for the steak. (Gadget lovers with a grill thermometer can skip this ritual and start grilling when the temperature reaches 360°F.)

5. Don't put the meat on the grill, however, without checking you have an apron on, and a mitt or mitts, tongs or a spatula, and the aforementioned squirt bottle close at hand. (You'll notice no pronged fork and no sharp knife are in the vicinity. Piercing the steak will do irreparable harm.) I subscribe to the "sear one side, turn, and sear the second side, then let the meat cook" school of grilling unless the steak is an extra-thick monster. For planning purposes, allot 10 to 12 minutes to cook a l-inch-thick steak to medium-rare and 12 to 14 minutes to medium. If the steak is 1 1/2 inches thick, add 2 minutes to the calculation. But due to the variables, using the touch system to gauge doneness is essential.

6. As you prepare to snatch the perfectly cooked steak from the grill, it's very disconcerting to realize you neglected to arrange for the presence of a cutting board or platter ready to receive the meat. Tell yourself to do this under Step 5 the next time. In the interest of coordinated dining, it's equally important to alert those responsible for other parts of the meal of your progress. That done, you can take your bows.

Doggie Bag Steak Salad

Here's an example of how a relatively small amount of leftover steak can be recycled to make several people happy. The amounts given here should satisfy three healthy appetites as a main course or provide a first course for six. The salad is especially nice in summer when there's a chance fresh garden beets, beans, and corn will be at hand. On a hot day, consider chilling the salad plates and the greens.

Serves 3 as a main course or 6 as a first course

6 to 8 ounces cooked strip steak or filet steak
1 small red onion, cut into thin rings
2/3 to 3/4 cup (1 ear) cooked corn kernels
4 ounces cooked green beans, cut on the diagonal into strips
2 medium cooked beets, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
6 cups mesclun (mixed baby greens) or other mixed greens
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons olive oil, preferably extra virgin
6 cherry or cocktail tomatoes, halved

1. Cut the steak into 2 x 1/2-inch strips and set aside.

2. Combine the onion, corn, green beans, beets, and greens in a large salad bowl. Combine the mustard, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Using a whisk or a fork, slowly stir in the lemon juice, then the olive oil. Add all but 1 tablespoon of the dressing to the salad bowl. Toss until the greens and vegetables are well coated.

3. Divide the salad among 3 large or 6 small plates. Arrange the meat slices on top, drizzle the remaining dressing over the meat and garnish the salad with cherry tomatoes. Serve immediately.

Hungarian Steak Soup

Rightly or wrongly, central European cuisine has the reputation of being rich, heavy, and dull. This recipe is none of the above. A sprightly main course soup, it has very little fat and no thickeners and offers a tongue- tingling array of pepper flavors, including the paprika so prized by Hungarian cooks. My preference is to make this soup in a pressure cooker, even when not pressured by lack of time. It will be equally tasty, however, made by the conventional method.

Serves 6

1 1/2 pounds boneless round steak, cut 3/4 inch thick
1 medium onion, preferably a sweet onion such as Vidalia
1 medium green bell pepper
1 medium red bell pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon sweet paprika, preferably Hungarian
1/2 teaspoon hot paprika, preferably Hungarian
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds, briefly toasted (see Note)
6 cups beef broth
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon salt
6 ounces wide egg noodles
Sour cream
Peeling Garlic and Shallots
Mash garlic by placing it under the flat side of the blade of a chef's knife and hitting the blade sharply with the side of your hand. The peel will pull away easily from the crushed clove. Peel shallots by taking off the first layer of the shallot with the skin. You lose some, but you'll save time because the skin by itself is very hard to pull away from the shallot.

1. Pat the meat dry. Trim away any excess fat and cut the meat into 3/4-inch cubes.

2. Cut the onion in half and coarsely chop one half. Thinly slice the other half. Set aside. Core, seed, and cut the bell peppers in half. Cut one half of each pepper into chunks and the other half into 1/4-inch strips. Set aside.

3. Heat oil in a pressure cooker or large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until it simmers, about 3 minutes. Add half the meat and brown on all sides, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Add the remaining meat and repeat.

4. Add the chopped onion and bell pepper chunks to the pot. Stir frequently until the vegetables soften, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the sweet and hot paprika, black pepper, and caraway seeds and stir for 1 minute. Pour in the beef broth. Add the bay leaves, garlic, and tomato paste. Return the meat and accumulated juices to the pot.

5. Cover and seal the pressure cooker, if using, and bring to full pressure over high heat. Regulate the heat and cook for 20 minutes. If using a saucepan, simmer, partially covered, for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Release pressure and uncover the cooker. The meat should be cooked through and tender. If not, re-cover the pot, bring back to full pressure, and cook for 5 minutes more.

6. Pour the soup through a colander into a bowl, leaving as much of the meat as possible in the pot. Pick out the meat cubes in the colander and return to the pot. Discard the bay leaves and vegetables in the colander as well as any remaining in the pot.

7. Add the onion slices and bell pepper strips to the pot and pour the broth back in over the vegetables and meat. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, until the vegetables are just tender, 7 to 8 minutes.

8. Meanwhile, bring water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the salt and noodles and cook until the noodles are just tender. Drain the noodles.

9. Spoon 1/2 cup of noodles into each of 6 soup plates. Ladle the hot soup over the noodles and serve at once. Pass the sour cream at the table.

Note: Toast the caraway seeds in a small skillet over medium-low heat, tossing often, until aromatic, about 5 minutes.

Grilled Flank Steak with Eggplant and Red Pepper

Why are cooks and those they feed so enamored of Mediterranean fare? Because of the wonderful colors and flavors of vegetables such as eggplant and bell pepper and seasonings such as lemon, anchovy, olive oil, and garlic. Combine them all in this recipe, then pretend you are in Provence. Serve a cold soup to start, a Cótes du Rhóne red such as La Vieille Ferme with the steak, and a berry dessert. A simple meal? Yes. A feast? Yes again.

Serves 4

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 anchovy fillets, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 flank steak (1 to 1/4 pounds)
1 medium eggplant, ends trimmed
1 medium red bell pepper, cored and seeded
Olive oil, garlic flavored if available

1. Combine the lemon juice, anchovies, parsley, and garlic in a small dish and stir to mix. Stir in the virgin olive oil. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.

2. Score both sides of the flank steak in a crisscross pattern, cutting about 1/8 inch deep. Place the meat in a shallow dish that it just fits in. Rub the steak all over with 2 tablespoons of the sauce. Cover and marinate at room temperature for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

3. Prepare coals for grilling or heat a ridged grill pan.

4. Cut the eggplant crosswise into 1/4-inch slices. Cut the red pepper into 1-inch slices. Brush the vegetables with oil and grill until softened on both sides, 5 to 7 minutes. Cut the eggplant slices in half or quarters and the pepper slices in half, if desired. Place the warm vegetables into a dish and toss with the remaining sauce. Set aside at room temperature.

5. Cook the steak until seared and nicely browned on one side, about 4 minutes. Turn and cook 4 minutes more for medium-rare. Remove to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes.

6. Carve the steak on the bias across the grain into thin slices. Serve with the eggplant and peppers.

  • More by Corby Kummer in Atlantic Unbound

    Copyright © 1997 by Corby Kummer.
    Recipes from Steak Lover's Cookbook by William Rice. Workman Publishing: New York, New York 1997. 246 pp. ISBN: 0-7611-0080-6. $13.95. Copyright © 1997 by William Rice.
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