The Daley Question
June 13, 2012
Father's Day grilling around my house was always fraught with tension. My dad was not the genial Fred MacMurray type. He paced irritably, chain-smoking, beside the Weber grill in the backyard of our cottage in Madison, Conn., with a kitchen timer in hand.
Woe be the designated griller (me) who was not standing at attention, grill tongs and platter ready for action, when that timer dinged. My father firmly believed every second counted when it came to grilling. The steak had to be his idea of rare: lightly charred on the outside, rare to the point of moo on the inside.
No wonder my sister is a vegetarian and I like my steak medium rare.
But Father's Day need not be as, um, memorable around your home. Here are easy ways to give dad the steak he craves without wishing you were orphaned. Some of these tips I learned the hard way — thanks, Dad! — and some were delivered far more pleasantly by Lynne Curry, author of the new book, "Pure Beef: An Essential Guide to Artisan Meat With Recipes for Every Cut" (Running Press, $27).
"A perfect steak is a steak well-selected and well-cooked," the Joseph, Ore., resident says, reassuringly. "It's any steak done right."
My father liked the pricey classic cuts from the loin: T-bones, strip steaks and tenderloins (aka filet mignon) with a strip of fat tied around the middle for moistness. All take beautifully to grilling. If your dad has no preference and is willing to try one of the new, trendy cuts, consider Curry's choices: top blade steak, also known as flat iron steak, and the top sirloin cap or coulotte.
Top blade steak comes from the chuck or shoulder. It is "only second to the tenderloin in tenderness," Curry writes. "Depending on how it was butchered, blade steaks may have a line of gristle running through the center, which you can either cut out to make two long, skinny steaks before cooking, or remove it afterwards." The top sirloin cap "is a flap of muscle covering the sirloin that is sometimes separated and cut into steaks," she writes.
Curry says these cuts are growing very popular with restaurants and the food industry; availability may be difficult. If you can't get them, she recommends a rib steak because it is a classic can't-go-wrong-cut. Get the bone-in version for great flavor.
Whatever the cut, a thicker steak cooks more evenly and is less likely to be overcooked. A 1- to 11/4-inch steak is Curry's usual go-to thickness. She's still dreaming about the 3-inch-thick rib steak she grilled during a recent book demonstration. A steak like that "will make quite an impression and you will pay for it," she says.
Bring the steak to room temperature for quicker cooking. Let it sit out for 45 minutes on paper towels, which absorb surface moisture that can retard the flavorful browning action on the grill, Curry says.
A healthy sprinkling of kosher salt, evenly applied on both sides, is all the seasoning a good steak needs, Curry believes.
Charcoal or gas grills, your choice. Curry prefers hardwood charcoal.
Grill directly over the coals or gas burner. Don't put the steak on the grill until the lightly oiled grate is very hot; you want to hear that sizzle when meat hits metal.
"You don't want to move or prod or poke the steak" during grilling, Curry adds. "On the bottom edge, you will see some pretty caramel color and some of the meat juices will begin beading on top. When you see both of these things after 3 minutes, you're going to flip it."
As the second side cooks, gauge the degree of doneness. An instant-read thermometer is perfect for beginners, while more experienced grillers will be able to tell simply by touch: Meat firms as it cooks.
Be conservative in your timing. "There's no crime in undercooking a steak but you don't want to overcook it," Curry says, noting an undercooked steak can always be returned to the grill for further heating.
Let the steak rest to allow the juices to settle. Three minutes for the average steak; 15 minutes for a big, 3-inch-thick rib steak.
Serving and saucing
As much as my father was a stickler for grilling, his father was even more strict when it came to enjoying the steak. My grandfather once banished a dinner guest to the kitchen who innocently asked for ketchup.
"I would like to think you don't have to use it," Curry says of the commercially prepared sauces and condiments often splashed on steak. (She's fine with homemade butters and sauces.) "A steak with a classic steak sauce is missing out on what steak should be. Let's find an exceptional cut of beef from a source we know and trust and really celebrate that steak."
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