It’s been too long, so let’s get back to basics with an all-American classic.
The Perfect Steak & Salad
Go see your favorite butcher and tell her you need a one-pounder of God’s own cut: The ribeye.
This first step is vital. 24 hours before you grill this beauty, pat it dry with paper towels, season it liberally with kosher salt and coarse-ground pepper. Place uncovered on a plate in the fridge. Go to bed. In the morning, give it a flip. An hour before grilling time, remove it and let it come to room temperature.
Why so important? You’ll be doing a mini-dry age on the beef, reducing the moisture in the outer surface. That will make it sear in less time, allowing you to move it to the indirect heat sooner. I picked this trick up from Michael Symon, and it’s brilliant.
Also, even smart people have this idea that you should leave the beef in the fridge until the last minute, to reduce your chances of accidentally overcooking it. No, no, no! Cold beef cools off your cooking surface, resulting in a second-rate sear. And it’s all about the sear.
You’ll also need a salad.
It should look like so.
That’s a Caesar, and I make a damn fine one. I should — I’ve been making them for 32 years. Finally, too, I’ve standardized the recipe. You’ll need:
3 hearts of Romaine lettuce, torn into bite size bits. Throw out all the dark green stuff. It’s useless.
1/2 baguette, roughly torn.
1/3 cup quality extra virgin olive oil.
Another tbsp or two of light olive oil.
1 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice.
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce.
1 dash Tabasco.
1 egg yolk.
1 garlic clove, cut in half
2 garlic cloves, smashed.
3 anchovies, chopped.
1/4 tsp Dijon.
Fresh cracked pepper.
1/3 cup coarsely grated Parmesano-Reggiano, the undisputed king of cheeses.
First, pour a tablespoon of your EVOO into the bottom of your salad tossing bowl. Rub the cut ends of the garlic clove around in there, getting the garlicky juices into the oil. Don’t remove them. Set the bowl aside.
Now for the croutons. Put the light olive oil in a saucepan on medium heat and drop in the smooshy two garlic cloves. When they start to turn brown, discard them. Fry the torn bread until crunchy, turning often, and season with a little salt and pepper. You might want to season them with a little of the parm, too.
Do this well beforehand, giving them a chance to fully cool off. Hot croutons do nasty things to a cool summer salad.
While the croutons cool off, get your mise en place done for the salad.
Get four small ramekins or custard dishes. In the first one, put your chopped anchovies, lemon juice, Worcestershire, Tabasco and mustard. The second one should hold the egg yolk. The third one, the olive oil. The fourth one, the parm. Line them up, in order, by the salad bowl.
Have a cocktail.
Fire up your grill — and if it isn’t charcoal, I honestly can’t help you. Gas is flavorless and doesn’t get hot enough. You might as well be cooking in a pan with the heat on medium-low. Charcoal is easier, cheaper, funner, manlier and tastes better.
Build one hot-ass fire. Let it cook down to all-white coals, put the grid on top and let it heat up a few minutes. Make sure your lower airflow is all the way open, and put all your coals on the far side of the pit.
Have a cocktail.
Grill the steak directly over the coals for 90 seconds, at a 60 degree angle to the cooking surface rails. Flip it, and do the same on the other side for another 90 seconds. Flip back to the first side, but turning it so the grill marks make perfect diamonds. Grill for one minute. Flip again to the second side for one more minute.
Put the steak on the near side of the grill, away from the charcoal. Put the lid on, making sure the upper airflow is open — this is no time to kill off your fire. The top vent should go above the steak, not away from it.
My rule of thumb is, a one-inch thick steak goes covered on indirect heat for four minutes. Every quarter inch over or under gains or loses one minute of cooking time. Steak goes back on your cutting board, and back inside to rest, untented, for five minutes.
ASIDE: I’ve given you the instructions for a really nicely marbled ribeye. If yours has less fat, sear it 15-30 seconds more on each side, total, but use the same rule of thumb for the indirect cooking.
Back to the salad.
Take the garlic halves out of the salad bowl and discard.
Take a salad fork, and whisk the contents of the first ramekin into the garlicky olive oil. Then whisk in the egg yolk. Now slowly whisk in the olive oil, careful not to break the emulsion. Give the dressing nine or ten twists from the pepper mill. Finally, stir in the cheese. But not all of it — hold some in reserve to finish each plate.
Dump in the lettuce without ceremony and toss until thoroughly dressed. Serve the salad on plates, finishing each one with a bit more parm & pepper on top. Slice the steak in half and plate right alongside the salad.
Serve with a big, dumb Cabernet Sauvignon or a super-peppery Zinfandel.
It sounds like a lot of work, and maybe it is the first few times. But once you’re well-practiced, the only thing that really takes any time is waiting for the grill to get ready. And, hell, what a nice time to open and pour the wine.
Or have a cocktail.