Steak #4: Grilled with Beets

All right, guys, I think I’m getting somewhere. In this edition of Notes for Next Year: a well cooked steak (well cooked, not well done!), a simple and attractive side dish, and some pretty good photographs.

The Big Idea: It’s nearly November, and it’s been kind of cold and rainy. The prominent displays of charcoal and lighter fluid are long gone from the grocery stores, but I figured it’s never a bad time for a barbecue. (At least when you have a covered back deck.) The idea for steak #4 was to grill it on charcoal, along with a side of beets, because I saw them at the farmer’s market and they looked good.

Credit Where Credit is Due: I sought advice from google on grilling the beets, and found this recipe from epicurious, which is a great site. When my initial search for a recipe or ingredient turns up an uninspiring and somewhat untrustworthy-looking bunch of recipes, I repeat the search term followed by “epicurious.” Sometimes this returns a too-inspiring bunch of recipes that I don’t have time or specialized ingredients to cook, but it always gives me good ideas.

The Steak: I let the steak rest with some salt and pepper on it while I did a few other things in the kitchen. After about a half hour, I fired up the grill using a charcoal chimney, which is a remarkable contraption. I will admit that I don’t understand how a few sheets of newspaper can light coals just as well as a half-bottle of incendiary chemicals, but I’m happy about it. Based on the expert advice of a grill-master friend, I let the coals go in the chimney until there’s a solid amount of white on the top layer, and then dumped them into the barbecue.

There wasn’t a lot to this one. I let the steak cook on one side, then flipped it over, and poked repeatedly to evaluate doneness. The beets surrounding it actually seemed to take more work. In keeping with my resolution from last time to err on the side of raw beef, I pulled it from the grill as soon as it seemed appropriate (and fearlessly did not cut it to check my instincts, so that I couldn’t second guess myself). I messed with the beets for a few more minutes, and then found I had cooked a really good steak.

Best one yet, hands down. The texture, especially in the middle, was excellent, and it really didn’t need anything more than salt and pepper to be totally delicious. My hope and dream is that by the sixteenth steak, I’ll be able to do this consistently both on the grill and on/in the stove.

The Side: I can see how these could have been amazing, but to be honest, mine turned out on the good side of so-so. They were pretty, though! From the epicurious recipe, I took the rosemary marinade, though I used red wine vinegar with the olive oil and skipped the herbs de provence. I also took the idea of pre-cooking the beets. Some grilled beet recipes do not suggest pre-cooking, but I put my beet slices in the oven in foil for 20 minutes before grilling, and actually felt I could have done it for longer to maximize sweetness and get some better crispy-from-grill/soft-from-the-oven texture going on.

I did have some trouble finishing them on the grill, simply due to the small area of coals. I don’t know if charcoal chimneys come in sizes (I just used the one we happen to have here at the house) but it only filled about a third of the barbecue, so there wasn’t a lot of space to work with.

Though they could have been better executed, the beets showed progress over my last side dishes, in that they were a nice accompaniment and certainly not a distraction from the steak.

The Verdict: I’m very proud of the steak, and though the beets could have been better, they were still a pretty good and very attractive side. Encouraging progress.

Notes for Next Time:

  • Continue to poke the steak regularly and fearlessly err on the side of raw beef. It’s clearly an effective game plan.
  • A well cooked steak needs no additional flavoring.
  • Grilled beets with rosemary are definitely worth another shot, but next time I should use a mandolin or just made sure to slice them a more even thickness, and pre-bake them for a bit longer. Oh, or maybe I should roast them whole in foil first and then slice them before grilling? That might be the way to go.

Metablogging: I got my first food-photography tip from a friend. She told me that pro’s put the food by a window to get as much natural light as possible, and use a wide angle lens. This, of course, is the exact opposite of what I’ve been doing, which is using a point-and-shoot under fluorescent light with a flash. I don’t expect to have a lot of opportunities for natural light while cooking dinners (or breakfast, for that matter) at this time of year, but this weekend steak gave me a chance to experiment, and I think the pictures turned out much better. Good to know, at least.

Questions:

  • What else do I need to know about charcoal grilling? Do I need to find a larger sized chimney to fill my (average sized) grill?
  • Now that I’ve done steaks on a gas grill, on the stove, under the broiler, and on a charcoal grill, what’s next?
  • A couple friends keep telling me to braise one in some Italian fashion, but I have yet to find a convincing recipe that doesn’t look like a misuse of an already tender cut. Thoughts on this?

This is part of the Sixteen Steaks series, in which Welcome to the Sixteen Steaks project, in which I try different ways of cooking sixteen steaks I won in a charity auction, and hopefully, become really good at in the process. You can read the rest of the series here.

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