Category Archives: Beef

8 Steps to Grilled Steak Perfection

steak and wine 2One of my very first restaurant jobs was working on an outdoor charcoal BBQ, as patio grill chef. I learned how to build two-zone fires (hot side and cool side of the grill), how to tell the doneness of the meat by poking it, (not so easy!) and what cuts of beef were best for grilling. Since it was my job to schlep the 50 pound sacs of hardwood charcoal down from the patio’s rooftop, my arms were beautifully toned that summer. The only downside was the black soot that stubbornly remained under my nails, even after scrubbing with bleach and a nail brush. The kitchen staff nicknamed me Cinderella. The smell of musquite in my hair became my signature scent and excited my husband. It was a fun summer!

It was around this time that my husband revealed something to me that made me rexamine our relationship. He told me that when he was in University, he and his friend Joel would get together in his dorm room on Friday night and cook dinner. The night before he’d marinate rib steaks in red wine. Then Friday night, he dumped the steaks and wine it into an electric frying pan, added some dried spices and a tin of sliced mushrooms. He covered the frying pan and  basically braised the rib steaks! They thought they were quite the gourmet men about town! Braising rib steaks is a crime. A tender, well marbled piece of beef should never be braised. Luckily I have schooled him in meat cookery and he is now quite skilled in grilling.

I thought I would share with you some of the wisdom I picked up from my Cinderella summer. Here are the Eight Steps to Grilling the Perfect Rib Steak (my personal favourite).

1. Make friends with your butcher. Don’t buy those skinny steaks lined up in the display case. Ask the butcher, very nicely, to please cut you some well marbled steaks between 1 1/2 and 2 inches thick. Yes, that is a big hunk of meat, over a pound, but one of these behemoths will feed 2-3 people,. The only issue might be the fight over who gets to gnaw on the bone. Most butchers won’t mind doing this for you. Some of my favourite people are butchers (Hi Joel and Gabe!)measuring steak2. Salt early and heavily with Kosher salt. It used to be thought that you should never salt meat ahead of time because it was thought that would cause the juices to leak out and make the meat dry. Turns out that isn’t true. When you first salt the steak, the salt dissolves and sits in a little puddle on top of the meat, but within about an hour, the salt begins to break down the meat’s muscle fibres and the juices will be reabsorbed, along with the salt. The salt contributes to a juicer steak since it helps the cells hold on to water. By salting ahead of time you get meat that is seasoned all the way through and very tender and moist when cooked. The steak does not taste salty, it tastes properly seasoned.salted 33. A Chilling Nap: Once salted, the steak should be set on a wire rack over a baking sheet and refrigerated for at least 4 hours and up to 2-3 days. (I usually do it for overnight). The wire rack allows the air to circulate around the meat and lets the surface get nice and dry. A dry steak will brown much better than a wet one.

And while we’re here, let’s address the “Let meat rest on the counter for 30 minutes, so it can come to room temperature before grilling” myth. Yes, I said myth. First of all, this is a honking’ big piece of meat. After 30 minutes, it may have warmed up by maybe 3°. What really helps with even browning is having a dry piece of meat. And salting it and letting it sit on a wire rack in the fridge overnight is going to do that work for you. So go ahead and cook fridge cold meat. Tell them I said it’s ok.

4. Make it hot! I am only going to address gas grills here. The debate about gas vs. charcoal continues to rage on with the same ferocity as Montreal vs. New York style of bagels. I have cooked on charcoal and I will admit that, if you know what you are doing, you will end up with a stellar steak. There are plenty of tutorials online for how to grill with charcoal, but, “been there, done that”. These days I am all about the ease of a gas grill.

Turn both burners on the gas grill to high. Close lid and give it 15 minutes to it get rip roaringly hot. After 15 minutes, turn the other burner to low.

5. Start High and Finish Low. Start the steaks on the hot side of the grill and cook each side for about 3 minutes, until it is well charred. Then, move it over to the cool side of the grill, close the lid and let it go for another 5 minutes, before checking the temperature.

There is a school of thought out there that advocates for the reverse sear, starting low and finishing high. Meathead Goldwyn of amazing has me almost convinced to give it a try.

When you start with high heat, you load up the exterior, and by the time you are done you have a thick band of overcooked meat. If you reverse the order, start the food in the indirect zone at a lower temp, warm everything until it is close to uniform on the inside, and then hit it with Warp 10, you get both a better interior and exterior. That’s reverse sear, and this is another technique you should master. It is the best approach for many foods.

I will report back to you as soon as I try it.

6. Don’t Poke! If you take anything away from this post today, let it be this. Buy yourself an instant read thermometer. This is a great one, and I see that they have just come out with a little sister. Poking the meat to see if it is done is a fool’s game. A thermometer takes all the guesswork out if it, and makes you look like a rock star.

Blue (very, very rare) or, as we call it around here, “Steak for Ed” 105°F
Rare 115°F
Medium Rare 120-130°F
Medium 140°F

Stick the thermometer in the steak from the side into the center, not from the top.IMG_06597. Let it rest. Put the steak on a plate and cover with foil to let it rest for 5-10 minutes. According to Nathan Myhrvold, James Beard Award winning author of Modernist Cuisine, the resting time down not really allow the the juices to redistribute themselves and get sucked back from the edges to the center. What is really going on here is that as the meat cools, the juices  thicken up, so that they stay in the meat, rather than flooding out into your plate.

8. Slice steak, and arm wrestle your partner for the bone.

Click here to print recipe for Perfect Grilled Rib Steak.

sliced 625 2 sq

Hanger Steak with Corn Relish

with corn relish 3About 10 years ago I noticed a new, well new for me, cut of steak appearing on restaurant menus. Suddenly it seemed that “hanger” steak was on every trendy bistro restaurant menu. Curious,  I ordered it and discovered for myself how delicious it was. It had a full beefy flavour and richness that reminded me of skirt steak, but it was a bit more tender.

I began to do a little research and I discovered that until recently, butchers were hogging this cut all for themselves, hence the steak’s nickname, “Butcher’s Steak.” Now I have nothing against butchers, as a matter of fact, some of my favourite people happen to be butchers, but that seems kind of selfish to me, not sharing this amazing cut with the rest of us!

Upon further investigation, I discovered the geographical location of this cut on the cow. I found this great diagram on the the meat loving website chomposaurus. For all you carnivores out there, you must check it out!location of hanger steak It comes from the plate section of the steer and it “hangs” off of the cow’s diaphragm, hence the name “Hanger” steak. It is a vaguely V-shaped pair of muscles with a long, inedible membrane down the middle. If you have a good butcher (and luckily I do!) who knows how to break this down properly, he or she will remove the connective tissue and silverskin surrounding it and break this down into two separate, well-trimmed steaks. Each one will be about 12 inches long and weigh in at about 8-12 ounces. That’s only 1 – 1 1/2  pounds of hanger steak from each cow! No wonder the butchers were hoarding it. There was hardly enough to share with the whole class.

whole hanger steak 2trimmed hanger steaks 2

It is a tough piece of meat that needs to be marinated and must be cut across the grain. This shortens the long grainy muscled fibers and preventing chewiness. It should be cooked to medium or medium rare (125-130°F). Using an instant read thermometer, guarantees you get it right every time! Anything above medium will result in a rubbery steak and anything less than medium rare, you will be eating a very mushy steak.slicingI marinated mine in a mixture of red wine, olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, bay leaves and thyme. At least 6 hours or up to an overnight soak in the marinade is ideal. Cook it on a medium-high heat. Let rest for about 5 minutes before wine

seasoningsI served it with a yummy grilled corn salad. I was very excited when I saw the first local corn of the season at the market. However, last night, reading the newspaper, I discovered that agency responsible for governing food labelling in Canada, The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has greatly expanded its definition of local food. The old definition defined local as food that is produced within 50 kilometres of where it’s sold.local cornHowever, under a new interim policy, they are expanding the definition to mean food produced in the same province in which it’s sold. What that means is that in Ottawa, I could be eating corn that has travelled over 700 kilometers (435 miles) from Lambton Ontario, and it could still be labelled local in Ottawa. Certainly gives new definition to the term local. grillingThe contrast between the rich tender steak and the crunchy, slightly spicy corn relish makes for a perfect bite! I made Mark Bittman’s spicy-sweet green beans to go along with the steak and corn.

Click here to print recipe for Hanger Steak with Corn Relish.with corn relish 2

Grrrowl for Brrrown Food!

with mashed potatoes 2

As  food blogger, I struggle with presenting “brown foods”. They are not exactly the most appetizing to look at, and, to boot, they are a bitch to photograph. However, that being said, a certain food network host has been known to growl, “Brrrrown food tastes grrreat!”

For those not familiar with Anne Burrell, her larger than life personality and growly voice puts some people off. But I am in awe of her wealth of culinary knowledge. I have learned so much from watching her show, “Secrets of a Restaurant Chef.” Every recipe I have tried of hers has come out perfectly. She cooks foods that are full of flavour and her concise, easy to master techniques make her a rock star in the kitchen.

The main reason brown food tastes better, is because of a chemical process known as the Maillard Reaction. If your eyes glaze over at the mere mention of the phrase chemical reaction, then John Willoughby, meat guru and former senior editor at Cook’s Illustrated is your go-to guy to explain these things.

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Chile-Coconut Braised Beef Short Ribs

Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d hear myself utter. “I’m one blog post away from being considered a stalker.”  When it comes to the blogsphere, I don’t think there is an official definition of when you have crossed the line from fan to stalker, however, this is my third blog post where I gush about Melissa Clark and her genius book, Cook This Now. I think if I give away any more of her recipes or continue to fawn over her, she may have me arrested.

Trouble is, every recipe in her book really does scream to you, “cook this now.!!”, and I just can’t help myself from blabbing to everyone I know about Crisp Roasted Chicken with Chickpeas Lemons and Carrots or Double Coconut Granola.

I actually made these short ribs over three weeks ago, when it was still actually still  winter here in Ottawa, and you wanted to eat hearty beef ribs. I just got a bit distracted and am only getting around to posting about it now. Kind of bad timing for me to post about them when today’s record high temperature reached 28°c (82°F for any non Canucks reading this), and the only kind of coconut you may be wishing for is the scented sunscreen kind! However, just file the recipe away for next week, when no doubt we will be freezing once again.

Click here to print the recipe for Chile-Coconut Braised Beef Short Ribs.

Against the Grain (A Lesson in Slicing Skirt Steak)


I can remember the first time I ever had skirt steak. It was about 15 years ago and I was in Florida. I was out for dinner with my husband, his sister and her husband. I can’t exactly remember how we found this place. It was a Mexican restaurant called Armadillo. It was in a strip mall in Davie (just south of Fort Lauderdale). When we pulled into the parking lot I had my doubts. It looked like a dump, but the parking lot and restaurant were packed, always a good sign.

I just know my husband is shaking his head incredulously as he reads the above paragraph and thinking to himself, “She remembers a restaurant we ate in 15 years ago and she can’t even remember the details of our wedding day?” Sad but true, I am not a romantic, but food, I have a memory for.

I can even remember what my sister-in-law ordered. “Chile Rellenos”. Chile Rellenos literally means “stuffed chile.” It is a roasted fresh Poblano pepper stuffed with melted cheese, usually Queso Fresco (a fresh white cheese), covered in corn flour and deep fried. It is typically served with a spicy tomato based sauce. This I remember, as my sister-in-law still talks about the Chile Rellenos she ate there 15 years ago. She also has an excellent food memory. We are great friends! Sadly,  Armadillo restaurant closed about 5 years ago.

I’m not quite sure what prompted me to order the skirt steak, as I had never heard of this cut of meat. But it was part of the Fajita platter and as I watched them bring a sizzling hot black cast iron plate covered in beef to the next table, I knew this is what I had to have. It was like no cut of beef I have ever had before. Rich and beefy, a little bit chewy and so flavourful. I was an instant fan. As soon as I got home I called my butcher and asked him to get it for me. It’s not always available, but I get it whenever I can.

Skirt steak is a long flat cut of beef. It comes from the plate section of the cow. In order to minimize toughness, it is typically grilled very quickly or braised slowly for a very long time. It has very strong graining and the key to tenderness is in slicing correctly. You must slice against the grain. If you slice with the grain you will end up with tough stringy beef. It wasn’t until years later, after I had eaten and enjoyed countless skirt steaks, that I discovered that the “plate” section of the cow is also known as the diaphragm. Had I been given this tidbit of information 15 years ago, I may never have tried this wonderful cut of beef.

The timing of this anatomical knowledge coincided with my taking up the practice of Yoga about 12 years ago. I had been practicing yoga for about 12 weeks and when we got to class one day, Cathie, out teacher said we were going to do a Pranayama practice that day. Simply speaking, Pranayama is the science of breath control. As we lay on the floor we learned different breathing techniques which focused on utilizing both the lungs and the diaphragm. As I lay there, trying to fill my lungs with oxygen, beginning at the base of the diaphragm, I had a hard time not thinking about skirt steak. To this day, over 12 years later, I still get hungry during Pranayama practice.

This week I marinated the skirt steak in cumin, lime, cilantro, jalapenos, garlic and olive oil. Sometimes I make a red wine marinade.

Cumin seeds are toasted and then tossed into the blender with all the other ingredients. The green cilantro marinade smelled like spring.

Just a note to all you cilantro haters out there. I used to be a member of your tribe. Cilantro smelled like wet running shoes to me. But then, one day, magically, I went over to the dark side and became a cilantro lover.

After a few hours marinating in the fridge I grilled the skirt steak for 3 minutes per side and then let it rest for about 5 minutes before slicing.

The key to great skirt steak, (as well as to a great life)  is to, in the immortal words of Garth Brooks, “Go Against the Grain!”

Click here to print recipe for Mexican Marinated Skirt Steak.