Friday, June 22, 2007

It's About Time

It's with no small sense of irony that I finally post here on Medium Rare Please the way I cook my steaks. That is to say medium rare. When I was teaching I gave a once a year lesson that became legendary with the boys in my classes- the "how to grill the perfect steak" lesson. I justified this action as a "note taking exercise," but the reality was I just liked talking about this kind of stuff, and the kids were happy to talk about anything other than grammar. I almost always received an email or two from parents afterwards thanking me for the lesson after their 12 year old blew 'em away with a tasty dinner.

First step: the rub. There are rubs a plenty available in the grocery store, but there's nothing to making your own, and then you can say you did it. Also it's way cheaper to make a big batch of your own, which is important to us now that we're living on student loans for the next two and a half years. For the rub you need a container with a lid; it really doesn't matter what size you use because we're going to deal in proportions instead of precise measurements, ya dig?

The rub serves two purposes- first it imparts your own special flavor to your meat (or veggies if you want), and second, it gives you something to do while your grill is getting hot enough. Start by adding three parts brown sugar to your container. This is an essential ingredient, unlike all the others. If you look at any store bought rub, it'll be the first thing on its list of what's inside. It also adds a hint of sweetness that will contrast nicely with the heat of any chili powder you might add, which you should. The next ingredient, by the way, is chili powder. I make this about one and a half parts, or about half of the amount of brown sugar. Then after that it's pretty much a free for all. I add pinches of this and that, and smell and taste as I go. Onion powder, garlic powder, ground cumin, and coriander usually make the cut. Spanish smoked paprika, and dried thyme went in my last batch too, and that worked out quite well. I don't put salt in it because I like to control the exact amount that goes on, and that's hard to do when I can't see it. I added a tablespoon of coffee in my current batch, and it will now be a permanent member of the family. Once you've got everything in the container put the lid on and shake it until your arms hurt. Voila: you've got rub.

Now, go turn on your grill, if it's a gas grill, and let it start getting super hot. Not just hot, super hot. You want grill marks, don't you? Eat with your eyes before your mouth. Once the grill is on, apply rub to one or both sides of your steak. Cara actually prefers salt and pepper only with a decent steak, and I can respect that, but on lesser cuts of meat (fajitas and such) I rub it all up. The sugar in the rub will then begin to melt and combine with the other ingredients making a glossy red finish on the steak. By the time it looks like that, you're ready to grill. Don't forget the salt when you apply the rub, almost forgot that part. I prefer kosher salt in case you care.

Now for the important part- the grillin'. Like I said, I get the grill mega-super hot. This is important for the maillard effect, which is a fancy way of saying "meat brownin'." Contrary to popular belief, searing your meat does not, I repeat, not, "seal in the juices." It does make meat taste better, so you should do it. It also makes it look better. So you should do it. Now that your grill is mega-super hot, lay your steaks on at a 45 degree angle to the grate. Like this:I apologize for the flash photography, but the smoke was making the camera focus on the smoke and not the steak. Now, and this is very important, leave it alone. Walk away for a minute if you have to, but if you want these to look like they were lifted out of a commercial, you've got to trust me on this. And you should be using tongs for all handling of the meat. Got that? No forks or other stabby implements. You want juice in your meat, right? Then don't stab, cut or otherwise impale your food until it's time to eat it. Okay, now that a couple of minutes have passed, rotate your steaks until they're 45 degrees to the other side of the grate, or 90 degrees from where you had 'em. However you want to think about it. Like this:By the way, I do my veggies the same way. Sharing the grill is some squash with a little olive oil and salt and pepper.

So how do I know exactly when to turn things over? By touching what I've cooked over the years I've developed a feel for how done things are. Really spongy= raw, and really hard=well done, not that I've ever cooked a steak well done in my life. As the name of this site would suggest, I like my steak closer to the spongy end of the spectrum. You should too. When it's been another minute or two, flip 'em and repeat the process. Nothing is more satisfying than flipping your steak to see this:Looks good, huh? After you repeat the process and take them off the heat, you've got one more thing to do: wait. Do not cut into that steak until it's had a chance to rest for five minutes. This gives the juices time to redistribute, keeping them from running all over the plate once you cut into it. This makes every bite juicy instead of only the first bite. So there you go. Follow these simple steps and your next slab o' beef will be too good to ever bother eating at a steak house again.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Cooking = Art?

If you known me for any length of time you know that I've gone through many phases of artsyness. My first foray into the world of self expression was the visual arts. I even had an art scholarship at Alvin Community College (now that is something to be proud of)- where I painted this:
Which is about four feet tall, and even scarier in real life. I quit painting when I started playing bass, which is mode of self-expression number two. I still play bass, and since I've been in Florida I've begun to gravitate toward more funky, island style bass lines. We'll just have to see if I come up with anything remotely original in that department. I have a friend that plays guitar and leads worship at a local church that I'd like to play with if we can ever get a break from the constant studying.

I did paint once more, by the way, for my old band's second album cover:
I thought it came out fairly well given the ten year lapse between painting projects.

So, I've covered art from the visual media, as well as the auditory. But cooking covers all the senses. Great chefs (and me) know that you eat with your eyes before you eat with your mouth. Therefore the presentation of the food appeals to the visual sense. Smell and taste should be fairly obvious for the intelligent crowd that visits this site. Preparing the food with the slicing and dicing and stirring and all that covers the tactile/kinesthetic senses. What else is left? Hearing you say? How is that covered? One of my favorite sounds is the moment diced onions hit a hot pan. Also high on my list of things to hear is the phrase, "dinner's ready."

And one more thing about the art of cooking. You gotta eat.