ALHTOUGH the dark nights of January have gone, February can still be a bitterly cold month and planning cosy, comfortable nights in feels like the perfect way to get through the last of winter.
There’s nothing that says Saturday night supper quite like steak. It’s the kind of food many people treat themselves to when they dine out but, in fact, it can be easier than you think to make a steak supper in your own home. The key is in the quality of the produce – get that right and everything else will fall into place.
Friday and Saturday night entertaining doesn’t happen often for me as both nights are spent in the restaurant, but if you’re going to do steak supper at home, you need to do it well. For me, that means cutting no corners. Steak is not cheap, but I recommend spending just a little bit more to guarantee that extra special quality you should expect from a premium cut of meat. The difference between great steak and mediocre steak is night and day. Always start with a visit to your butcher.
The beauty of this dish is that it can be fairly fast and simple to master. To many people it might seem difficult to get right and timings might cause a little added stress – what if it’s under-cooked, or what if you over-cook it? – but try not to worry as practice really can make perfect.
When cooking steak, use the thumb trick as an easy indicator for knowing when it is ready. Firstly, open the palm of your right hand and relax the fingers. Take your left hand and push the skin area by the base of the right thumb and that’s how the raw meat feels. Then you can press your right thumb and little fingertip together and you will feel the skin area harden – this feels like well-done meat.
To simulate the feel of medium-cooked meat, press the thumb and ring fingertip together. For rare, press the thumb and index finger together – the skin area should give quite a bit and be a lot softer. Now press your steak to check it is cooking just how you like it. It may seem simple but it really does work as a great indicator.
Chat to your butcher about the meat and how best to cook it. And get to know the different cuts while you’re there. There seems to be this fixation with sirloin but there’s so much variety that is well worth trying. A good rib-eye can be hard to beat, but you can also ask for T-bone steak, maybe a filet on the bone or even a rump cap. It’s fun to experiment and see what you like best.
Asking your butcher or visiting a farmer’s market is the best way to learn. They can tell you where the meat comes from and how long it has been hung. The meat should always be as fresh as you can get it. A light marbling of fat running through the meat is a good sign: it gives succulence and flavour and, without it, the meat will be dry once cooked.
One way you can add a twist to your steak supper is by serving it with different accompaniments. Friends tell me they can’t seem to make a good sauce to go with their steak, and it can be tricky to achieve that depth of flavour you get in a restaurant, so I have experimented with some different recipes at home and they seem to have proved a hit.
My shallot and parsley marmalade works really well. Everyone loves a well-made Béarnaise sauce but my personal favourite is this roasted bone marrow compote. You can get the bone marrow from your butcher, although you may have to ask for it to be ordered in for you. Lots of home cooks might shy away from this recipe, but trust me, once you try it, you will fall in love with it. Add a good quality glass of wine and good company and you’ll be in for the perfect weekend.
• Rib-eye steak with shallot and parsley marmalade
4 rib-eye steaks, about 250g each
olive oil for cooking
12 shallots, peeled and sliced
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
250ml white wine
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tbsp grain mustard
2 tbsp chopped parsley
Remove the steaks from the fridge, ideally 20 minutes before you need to cook them, to bring them to room temperature.
Heat a heavy-based saucepan and add a drizzle of olive oil. Add the shallots, season with salt and pepper and sweat gently for four to five minutes. Pour in half the white wine and reduce right down until dry, then repeat with the rest of the wine. Remove from the heat and set aside until ready to use.
Meanwhile, heat a heavy-based, non-stick frying pan over a high heat. Season the steaks well with salt and the cracked black pepper. When the pan is very hot, add a little drizzle of olive oil, then the steaks. Colour them quickly, for four to five minutes on each side, depending on how rare you like your meat, lowering the heat to medium after a couple of minutes on each side.
Remove the steaks from the pan to a warmed platter and set aside to rest in a warm place for five minutes before serving.
While the steaks are resting, return the frying pan to a medium heat and add the cooked shallots, mustard and chopped parsley. Cook for one to two minutes and serve on top or alongside the steaks.
• Béarnaise sauce
Makes about 250ml
50ml white wine vinegar
50ml white wine
5 peppercorns, crushed
1 shallot, peeled and finely sliced
5 tarragon sprigs
3 egg yolks
3 tsp water
150g clarified butter
1 tsp chopped tarragon
Put the wine vinegar, white wine, peppercorns, shallot and tarragon sprigs into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Let it bubble to reduce down until only one or two teaspoons of liquor remain in the pan. Remove from the heat.
Add the egg yolks and water to the reduction and whisk over the lowest possible heat until the sauce starts to thicken; do not overheat or it may curdle. You may prefer to heat the sauce in a bain-marie (a bowl over a pan of simmering water) to reduce the risk of overheating.
Remove the pan (or bowl) from the heat and slowly whisk in the clarified butter. Pass through a fine sieve then stir in the chopped tarragon.
• Roasted bone marrow compote
1 clove garlic
1 sprig thyme
150g bone marrow or
½ kg bone marrow on the bone (this means you will have to prepare it yourself and push the bone marrow from the bone)
1 tsp chopped shallots
1 tsp chopped parsley
splash sherry vinegar
salt and black pepper to taste
Boil 1 litre of water and season with salt. Add a clove of garlic and a sprig of thyme, then place the bone marrow into the boiling water and poach for four to five minutes until soft.
Remove the bone marrow with a holey spoon and allow it to dry slightly.
Chop the bone marrow with a knife – making sure you do so while it is still warm. Don’t wait until it goes cold or it will turn like dripping and won’t achieve the same taste.
Place the chopped bone marrow into a bowl and add a teaspoon of chopped shallot, a teaspoon chopped parsley and a splash of sherry vinegar. Season with good-quality salt and cracked black pepper.
Mix all the ingredients together and pour the compote over your steak to serve.