The man loves steak. He lives in China now, Nanjing, and he says the most impressive cut he can find is maybe an inch thick. And that’s if he’s lucky. There’s good food to be had in China, but none of the ostentatious, excessive hunks of meat we have here, fatty and red and well-marbled. Say it with me: I am complicatedly proud to be an American. I am thankful for the Whole Foods down the street.
Thinking of my uncle in China—there with his wealth of handmade noodles and his poverty of steak—doesn’t exactly sink me into a true blue melancholy, but some sadness filters through, maybe sympathy. Steak is complicated. Steak is cruel. But steak is also very good. When I eat meat something inside me quivers and growls, and I can imagine, I am convinced, that the act is necessary for my survival.
A more equivocal meat eater might, at this point, dive into a history of Mankind and summon to his defense the fact of our wild ancestors, who would certainly have died if they did not hunt down and kill and eat meat. But it’s a weak defense. As long as we’ve known how to make bread and rice and gather eggs and milk we haven’t really had to eat meat. When we eat meat, it’s because we want to. We eat meat because we can.
Slicing through that perfectly rare, and I mean still-bloody New York strip, I know that what I’m doing is essentially selfish and cruel. It’s bad for me, it’s bad for the planet, it sucked for the cow. But I also know that I would regret it very much if I had to stop because life is a pleasure, or can be. Life is a pleasure and we do damage. I know this and I try not to think about it too much, because I’m in touch with the animal in me and meat is good.
And every time my Uncle comes back to California, I make sure that there are at least two very thick, very bloody rib-eyes waiting for him on the grill. He smiles, he’s thankful, we eat. We’re intelligent animals and we’re sensualists and we can still feel grateful for our meat, knowing all we know. We’re the lucky ones.
Steak au Poivre
The French do it right. This is the best recipe for steak I’ve found that doesn’t require warm air and open fire, two things that make meat taste unspeakably better.
- 2 well-marbled, thick-cut steaks
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup shallots, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 1/4 cup black peppercorns, very roughly ground or pummeled
- 1/2-1 cup stock, beef or chicken
- 1/4 cup brandy or cognac
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 tbsp butter
- Couple dashes Worcestershire sauce
- Kosher salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Once the steaks have reached room temperature, season them liberally on both sides with Kosher salt and pepper. Heat vegetable oil in a large, heavy, oven-save skillet over medium-high. Once the oil just begins to smoke, set steaks in the skillet. Sear on one side until brown, 2-3 minutes. Cut the heat. Flip steaks.
Move skillet to oven, placing it on a lower rack near the flames. Bake until the finger test yields a medium rare, anywhere from 4-7 minutes, depending on the thickness of the steak. Pull the meat out of the oven when it’s still rarer than you’d like, as it will continue to cook as it rests. Remove steaks to a plate and tent with foil.
Return skillet to stove. Over medium heat, soften shallots in beef drippings and 1 tbsp butter. Deglaze with brandy or cognac, scraping stuck-on bits off the bottom of the pan. Add peppercorns, parsley, stock, cream, and Worcestershire sauce and simmer over medium-high heat until the sauce thickens and begins to pull away from the skillet. If your spoon leaves a trail when it’s dragged through the sauce, it’s done. Season with salt to taste.
Plate steaks. Pour any remaining juices back into the sauce. Spoon sauce generously over steaks. Serve, with great pleasure and minimal guilt.