The Big Idea: With eleven steaks to go, I turned to the internet for some inspiration. Searching “sirloin” on Epicurious, I got a number of ideas, including this one for steak with Blue Cheese Walnut Butter. Beef with butter and cheese? Sounded like a triple-crown meal to me, and I figured I could serve it with a salad on the side for a lighter touch. After all, I had some arugula that I wasn’t sure what to do with. And since I had such good luck on the charcoal grill last time link to steak #4, I decided to use it again for Steak #5.
The Steak: Well, while my steak-sense may be improving, that was not enough to save steak number five from my charcoal tending skills, which clearly have a ways to go. After tasting the finished product, which was disappointingly reminiscent of Steak #1, I would say that I did not let the coals get hot enough. They seemed hot enough. But patience is a lesson we can never learn too many times, now, isn’t it?
Once it went on the grill at the wrong temperature, there wasn’t much that could save it, but there were a few positive notes as well. It did have some good flavor – I let it come to room temperature slathered in a paste of garlic and rosemary with salt and pepper, and I would do that again. I also could tell pretty soon after it started cooking that things weren’t going well, when my poking revealed that it was cooking unevenly and not as quickly as I expected. I’ll chalk that as a point in the win column, because you know you’re learning when you can recognize your own mistakes, right?
The Butter: One fun side-effect of this project is that it provides me with an excuse to do things like turn $5 worth of blue cheese into a condiment, something I would ordinarily deem too extravagant for my habits. But this was fun and tasty. I just blended the cheese, butter, rosemary, salt, pepper, and parsley until well mixed before putting it on the steak. I wasn’t sure at first about the parsley, but it actually gave the whole thing some good brightness. I intended to include the walnuts suggested in the recipe, but never got them out of the cupboard. Oops.
The Side: Another fun side-effect of this project, is that it’s gotten me thinking about how different parts of a meal can complement each other. I don’t want to mislead anybody here – I’m big on one-pot cooking and one-dish-on-a-dish meals. They’re easy. But picking out side dishes is turning out to be almost as much fun as figuring out the steaks.
This side, an arugula salad, was a solid, but with room for improvement. It was an arugula base, topped with grilled delicata squash and delicata squash seeds that I toasted in coconut oil with salt. I also sprinkled on a few remaining blue cheese crumbles, and then a few slivers of red onion, added at the spur of the moment because I had half a red onion sitting on the counter and the red was so pretty. This was a mistake – the fresh fall arugula did not need the additional kick of the onion, though the crunch was nice. The strong blue cheese did not need it, either. A much better move here would have been a few slices of apple, which would have given the color and crunch as well as some additional sweetness to complement the squash. At one point, I was thinking about a dressing, but then the steak was ready and I forgot about it. The right one could have been an asset to the salad, but I’m honestly not sure what I would have used.
The Verdict: Woah! This was a very sharp, flavorful meal. All the blue cheese, plus the garlic in the steak, plus the arugula, plus that impulsive red onion…it was kind of a kick in the teeth. Not painful or indisputably unwelcome, like an actual kick in the teeth, but an intense mouth experience. The meal would have benefited from some mellowing. And clearly, the steak could have been better cooked had I done a better job with the coals. Both the steak and salad were just a few tweaks away from success, though, so I’ll write this off as a learning experience and call it a good one.
Notes for Next Time:
- As I’ve mentioned, I need to assess the flavor balance of the whole meal when selecting and fine-tuning sides. In retrospect, my arugula salad with a little squash was probably not as good a fit with that blue cheese steak as a squash puree with a little arugula would have been.
- Timing. I’m not sure what to say about this, except that I’ve got to get it right, or at least err on the correct side. With steak, err on the side of raw. With coals, err on the side of soon to cool down. Patience is probably as much a virtue with coals as haste (or daring?) is with a steak. I suppose I could also try getting a stop watch, or a kitchen timer, and try to master it that way, but I think I’ll continue to try to feel it out.
- How do you handle timing? With some kind of chronograph, or by feel?
- How do you design a salad dressing?
- What, if any, method exists for salvaging a steak that’s started to go wrong?