Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Meat and Potatoes

Bottom line up front:

Most of the time when I cook, it's trying things out, seeing where they get me. I get a nice meal, a mediocre one, or  I give up and order a pizza, make a tuna sandwich, whatever. It's about the process. Tonight, however, was about indulging. While I'd like to call this a common dinner at Balls and Pie HQ, red meat, white starch, and butter with green crap in it is a rare occurrence. It needed to be good. Fish, whole grains, and identifiable vegetables can be just great (check out the pan roasted tilapia, for instance), but for some of us, it's tough to beat a good steak.

What you're looking at: A Ribeye steak - perfect medium rare, roasted red potatoes, and creamed spinach. With the exception of the steak, this is not a particularly demanding or technical meal. And the steak is hard to screw up badly. Just - if you take nothing else away, pay attention to the steak preparation. Putting care into your preparation goes a long way. And I guarantee 50% of you will think I'm wrong. Whatever - I nailed it with this one.

What you need:

Ribeye steak - at least 1" thick. My steaks were about 12 ounces, plus or minus.
Spinach - frozen works just fine (as above) - fresh can better, of course.
5 or 6 red potatoes
Olive Oil
Canola Oil
Sea Salt

Potatoes first - These are easy. Preheat your oven to 350F. If, like me, you've only got one oven, a countertop convection or toaster oven works just fine. You're going to want to save the real oven for the steak. Rinse the potatoes, cut into 1/4" - 1/3" coins, pat them dry, and toss in olive oil with sea salt, pepper, rosemary and garlic to taste. You should have a nice even coating - put them on ungreased baking sheet, and bake for 35 minutes, or until done to your preference. I kicked the convection oven up to broil for the last couple minutes to finish them with a lightly browned crispy top.

This is probably a good time to preheat your oven to broil (high). 

Next up, creamed spinach. I have no idea if this how you're supposed to make creamed spinach. I suspect not, but my Mom came up with it, and it tastes like creamed spinach to taste. I'd love to give you precise measurements for this one, but it's best done by feel. 

We'll start with a light roux. Melt a stick of butter (and use butter, this meal is not about compromise) in a medium pan over low heat. Whisk in flour until you've got thick, but free flowing roux. If it's gets pasty, you've gone too far (it's usually salvageable, add more butter). Season with salt, pepper, and NUTMEG. The nutmeg really ties everything together here, and all the dairy fat cuts the sharpness pretty signficantly. At this point, you can start mixing in milk. Just a bit to thin things out, and fine tune as you go. Last, add in the spinach (frozen is fine, as long as it's in clumps, not a huge block). Stir frequently for several minutes. If it's too creamy, add in more spinach, if too thick, add milk. Season to taste. 

Lastly, and most importantly: The Ribeye. More specially, that's an USDA Choice Boneless Angus Delmonico Rib Roast. Purists will argue with you if you call it a Ribeye. That's their business. Starting with a good steak is super important. Make sure you get a good cut, and don't cheap out. This is  nice, quality piece of meat, but not an extravagant one. It should be 1" thick at minimum, and well marbled. You should see fat. Fat is good. Fat is what makes a properly cooked ribeye taste good. The nice thing about this cut, is that it is very flavorful on its own, which means that a) you don't need to much in terms of preparation and seasoning, and b) you just shouldn't. You don't need to marinate, get exotic with rubs, garnishes, sauces, whatever. This is a meat-lover's steak, and you want to taste the meat.

This is pretty straightforward. You'll want a dry cast iron skillet warming on high, an oven heated to broil, a broiler pan, and tongs. There a umpteen variations on this preparation; after a few iterations over time, this works best in my kitchen. Season each side generously with sea salt and pepper. Brush lightly with canola oil. That's it. Sear for about a minute on each side, turning with tongs. Put the steak onto the boiler plate, and broil several inches (4-ish is my oven's sweet spot) under the heating element, 3.5 minutes on each side, with the oven door cracked open. Take it out. Do not cut, poke, penetrate or otherwise violate your steak with anything other than a meat thermometer. 

Let your steak rest for 5 - 10 minutes (generally, the more done, the longer it needs). This is important. The juices and melty fat need time to settle down and distribute evenly through the meat. If you cut in too early, they'll end up draining out, along with all of your flavor. 

If things have worked out right, you should have a juicy medium rare steak with a tasty carmelized crust. This part can take some practice - but like I said, it's hard to get this so wrong that you can't eat it and enjoy it.