Thursday, September 21, 2006

Eating. steak.

Once in a while I will think about going vegetarian, feeling guilty about savoring the grilled carcasses of dead animals, instead getting creative with vegetables and tofu with its myriad forms and infinite possibilities. And then the moment passes, and the craving for steak takes over me again. Perhaps, if I am lucky, I will go out to a steakhouse with my father and order a gigantic rib-eye or New York steak, a huge slab of expensively marbled beef, grilled until crusty and perfectly medium-rare. Perhaps there will be a mountain of garlic-scented mashed potatoes, or a simple baked potato, some green vegetables on the side. Burning-hot plates arrive, heavy white china gleaming in the light, and for a moment there is silence as we dig in.

However, dinner at a steakhouse is a rare occurrence, which is probably a good thing. Usually when I crave beef I take matters into my own hands. I've tried different cuts - New York strip, Spencer steak, onglet, skirt steak, rib-eye. We've experimented with different methods - under the broiler (somehow I always manage to set it on fire), on the stove, a combination of stovetop/oven. There have been different pans - a nonstick frying pan, a cast-iron grill pan, and a cast-iron skillet. Now I use the cast-iron skillet, barely filmed with olive oil and gently heated until smoking.

At Whole Foods the other day I bought a gigantic steak. Seriously, it was huge. I will eat half the first night and then save the second half for the next night, sliced thin and sautéed with vegetables. (In theory). Early this morning before breakfast I crushed several cloves of garlic and threw them into a ziploc bag with the steak. I poured in some olive oil, added a splash of Worcestershire sauce and a few sloshes of soy sauce. Left it in the fridge to marinate all day. This is a new conceit, totally unnecessary, but I love the flavor and fragrance of garlic, and the Worcestershire and soy sauces lend a certain depth to the taste of the beef, so I always marinate my steaks now.

I am not used to my new kitchen yet. It's smaller, with less counter space, but with a surprising amount of storage. I miss my gas stove at the old house, the comforting snick-snick-snick as the blue flame ignited and held. The old electric range at the new place is almost as old as I am. The largest burner has a tendency to tilt, pooling the oil at one side of my pan, but so far it has not seriously impaired my cooking. The exhaust fan is pitifully anemic compared to the behemoth of the old kitchen, but it seems to do well enough. The aged coils heat quickly and evenly, and in just a few minutes the lightly oiled cast-iron skillet (my faithful Le Creuset, a birthday present a few years ago) is smoking hot.

The sizzle of steak on the pan is like music to my ears. I leave it there to sear properly, putter around putting things away, taking out the garbage. I can hear the ssssssssss all the way out by the elevator (my door's open; I don't have the key. I can just envision myself getting locked out and rushing down to the concierge for the spare key while the steak burns to a cinder). I don't have chopsticks yet, so I use a silicone spatula and the back of a fork to flip the meat carefully. Another few minutes pass. It's done, and I let the steak rest on a plate, leave it for another few minutes before it's ready to eat. And it is perfect.

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