Tag Archives: steak

Budget Brilliance – Part 1 “Steak on a shoestring”

When it comes to meat, and particularly beef, there are a few truisms that everyone should know.

  • The more a muscle works, the tougher it is to eat, BUT the more flavour it has.
  • The closer to the horn and the hoof, the more work the muscle does.
  • Tough cuts of meat should be tenderised before eating.  This can be done mechanically (mincing, chopping, perforating), chemically (acids: marinades, or enzymes: kiwi, papaya), or by cooking for extended periods of time.
  • Tender cuts of meat are expensive, whilst tough cuts tend to be cheaper.
  • Restaurants buy the best of the tender cuts, leaving the public to fight over the second grade leavings…whilst quality tough cuts can be found for a fraction of the cost.

So, knowing the best way to tenderise a tough cut of meat will mean you can not only save plenty of dollars from your beef budget, but you can get the best of the the most flavourful options available.  It’s a win-win situation for us all.

Let me introduce you to what is arguably (though almost certainly dollar for dollar) the finest steak that you can buy.  When the purse strings tighten, and I have the kind of hunger that only a steak can satisfy, there is only one cut of meat that I turn to.

Skirt Steak.

Skirt Steak comes from the cows diaphragm, so it is a muscle that is used every second the beast is alive.  The unique qualities that make skirt steak so attractive is that the muscle fibres are uniform in direction, and long in design.  This means that whilst the steak is tough as old boots, thanks to it’s constant use, it is also very easy to mechanically tenderise…and it has flavour in spades.

  • You can see there is a little surface fat, which can be easily trimmed, but very little marbling. Skirt Steak is very lean, and great for heart health.
  • The fibres (running the length of the steak, and vertically, are very distinct and easily recognised. This is important later.

Step 1, and possibly the hardest step, is to find your Skirt Steak.  Granted, it’s not the most popular of steaks on the market (despite my loud, but singular efforts), so don’t count on your local box grocery store to have any.  Hit up a local butcher instead.  If quality meat is what you want, you should be building a healthy relationship with your butcher anyway, and buying your meat from a source that knows it’s stuff.

Step 2, bring the meat to room temperature, and fire up your bbq.  You want a heat source that is as hot as you can get it.  You can cook this indoors, but I’d recommend a cast iron pan, 20 minutes preheat on a max burner setting, and several gas masks for the smoke you are about to produce.  For me, it’s a flat out BBQ preheated to pizza oven or tandoor proportions.

Step 3, trim and season the meat.  There can be an opaque membrane left on the muscle, and you should do your best to remove this.  Trim the fat off as well, if you so desire.  As for seasoning: I use cooking (or Kosher) salt, and little else.  The salt will help draw a little protein ladened moisture to the surface and assist in the creation of that tasty crust.  Note, this DOES NOT SEAL IN THE JUICES.  That is a cooking myth.  It does, however, taste delicious 🙂

Step 4, prepare a place to rest the meat after it’s cooked.  And by prepare, I mean chop up some fresh herbs with a little garlic, oil, and salt/pepper.  By laying the freshly cooked meat on this when resting, you will do more to add the fresh herbal goodness to your steak(s) than by trying to add them prior to cooking.  Also have a sheet of aluminium foil ready.

Step 5, cook the meat.  Medium rare is best (in my opinion), and it is not the thickest piece of meat on the market, so it wont take long.  My preference is to cook for a couple of minutes on one side, then rotate the steak 90 degrees to allow the criss-cross pattern to form.  After another minute, turn the meat over and repeat.

Step 6, rest the meat.  This is probably the most important step in affecting the final result of the meat.  Rest it for at least 10 minutes, and even 15 if you can.  Use this time to make a salad, or prepare your other dinner elements.

Step 7, the slicing.  This is the critical stage that will turn your shoe leather into butter tender slices of steak.

  • Look at the steak, and note the direction of the grain.
Well rested, you can see the juices that have reabsorbed into the meat.  It makes me hungry EVERY time I look at it.

Well rested, you can see the juices that have reabsorbed into the meat. It makes me hungry EVERY time I look at it.

  • Using a large sharp knife, slice thinly (5mm slices) ACROSS the grain.  Lay the beef on a cutting board in front of you, with the grain running left to right, and slice vertically (at 90 degrees) to the fibres.

There is nothing left to do but enjoy the steak.  I promise you that this is a dish to try at home.  Whether you cook it for yourself, your family, or a crowd of friends, you will be seen as a food hero when you lay this platter out.  And just what is the best way to enjoy the results?

Watching your weight?  As healthy as it is delicious.  Unless you include the baked potato...in which case it's a little more delicious than healthy!

Watching your weight? As healthy as it is delicious. Unless you include the baked potato…in which case it’s a little more delicious than healthy!

A classic use for skirt steak, and delicious in  anyone's language.  Just add guacamole, sour cream, and saute'd onions and capsicums.

A classic use for skirt steak, and delicious in anyone’s language. Just add guacamole, sour cream, and saute’d onions and capsicums for world class Fajitas.

There is a bun under there somewhere.  A steak sandwich is about as Aussie as it gets.

There is a bun under there somewhere. A steak sandwich is about as Aussie as it gets.

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Curried Balsamic Onion Jam

Ingredients:

Ingredients

  • 5 Large Onions (about 1.3kg or 3 pounds)
  • 1/3 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
  • 4 Tbsp Curry Powder
  • 1/2 Tbsp Salt
  • Chilli to taste (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp Butter

Method:

Beautiful Onion

Peel and slice the onions about medium thickness.  I use a mandolin for speed and consistency, but be wary.  Mandolins can bite.  Always use the guard.

A medium thickness slice

In a large saucepan (with a lid), over medium heat, melt the butter until it starts to become fragrant.  Add the onions, and sprinkle the salt on top.  Then add the Curry powder, and place the lid on the saucepan.

Add the curry powder and salt

Cook, stirring every few minutes, until the onions have broken down, and have become translucent.  You want them cooked, but not caramelized.

Cooked but not caramelized

Add the brown sugar and vinegar, and stir to combine.  Put the saucepan back on the stove, and cook while stirring, until all of the liquid is about gone, and the mix is resembling a sticky jam.  Taste, and season accordingly.

Cooked and ready to bottle

Put the mix into sterilized jar, and keep in the fridge for use.

Finished, and ready for the Steak Sandwich

Best uses?

  • Hamburgers/Steak Sandwiches
  • A great topper for Roast Pork or Lamb
  • Serve with your favorite Chop
  • A spoonful on top of Mashed Potatoes
  • Serve alongside a piece of fried cheese, like Haloumi or Saganaki

This is probably close to a chutney really, but it doesn’t have any of the fruitiness that most chutneys have, by virtue of the fact that it is only made from onions!  Still, it packs a huge hit of sweetness, which is nicely balanced by the spice of the curry and the acidity of the balsamic vinegar.  Without any chilli added, it is as mild as the curry powder you choose, but I would recommend you choose the best curry powder you can find.  It will make a difference.  I added about a teaspoon of cayenne pepper powder at the end, and it has a small kick that would be mild enough for all but those really sensitive to the heat.

The inspiration for the jam came from tonight’s dinner menu.  Having got my hands on some Eye Fillet steak, we had steak sandwiches with salad and chips, and the onion jam was outstanding on the sandwich.  It’s not always that the reality lives up to the inspiration, but tonight it did.

Enjoy!

Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf – Version 1

As a kid my favourite meal was Meatloaf and BBQ sauce.  The thick sweet glaze surrounding a rough log of savory beef, and served with a steaming pile of mashed potatoes…It was what MY birthday meal was, year in, year out.

Behold the lovely Loaf

As I’ve grown, my sweet tooth has somewhat disappeared, but my love for the loaf remains unabated.  Over the years I’ve also learned that a great meatloaf comes in many guises. The meatloaf of my childhood was a beef meatloaf, as is the recipe on this post, but I’ve learned that the humble loaf is more versatile than just a log of ground steak baked in the oven.

I’ve developed recipes for beef versions , chicken meatloaf, pork,  game, exotic meats (kangaroo, as an example), and sometimes combinations of these beasts (often you HAVE to combine them, to get a great result).  In fact, the only thing I’ve not made is a vegetarian or seafood meatloaf, and mostly because I’ve never thought of it…until now!

So, this may be my first recipe and post for meatloaf, but it almost certainly won’t be my last.  Please feel free to change the ingredient list as you way see fit, you may have a great recipe for your meatloaf already at hand.  But take note of a few tricks and techniques that I use, and think about adapting them to your own recipe.

Ingredients:

The Meat

  • 500g Chuck Steak
  • 500g lean Minced Beef
  • 14 Strips Bacon (Streaky)

A carnivores dream

The Mix

  • 1 egg
  • 3 Carrots
  • 1 Medium Onion
  • 2 Sliced Bread (any)
  • 1/4 Cup Red Wine
  • 1/4 Cup Tomato Paste
  • 1 Tbsp mustard
  • 1 Tbsp Garlic

Most of the mix...minus onions, carrots, and an egg

The Herbs & Spices

  • 2 Tbsp Dried Sage
  • 1 Tbsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Ground Pepper
  • 1/4 tsp Oregano
  • 1/4 tsp Thyme
  • 1/2 tsp Cumin
  • Red Pepper Flakes to Taste

Spices for the Meatloaf

I make no apologies for the 18 ingredient list, for what is a simple comfort meal.  Nothing is complicated here, but every flavour is a note to this symphony.

Step 1, the meat.

Like my burgers, previous post here, I like my meatloaf to carry some texture.  I am not after a consistent grind in the beef, because I like the additional interest that a surprise chunk of beef makes in the meatloaf as a meal, but I also want to reduce the fat in the end product and this still needs to be a loaf…so I blend my self chopped chuck steak with some low fat mince.

Cube up the chuck steak into medium cubes, and chop them in a food processor in 2 equal batches.  Pulse for 10 x 1 second pulses (full second pulses…one thousand one, one thousand two…etc) and then for 1 x 4 second burst.

Dump the chopped chuck into a bowl, along with the mince.

Step 2, the mix.

Using the food processor (again), chop the bread slices until they become bread crumbs.  Tip the contents onto the meat.

Put the onion in the food processor and puree it.  Tip it onto the meat and breadcrumbs.

Everyone into the Pool!

Grate the carrots, and add to the meat mix, along with the rest of the mix ingredients.  Add all of the herbs and spices, and mix using your hands until well combined.

OK, so maybe I'm getting carried away with the photo's...
All mixed together...check out the texture...hmmmm

Step 3, Construction:

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F)

Lay out a large square of plastic wrap or baking paper.  Construct your bacon weave on the plastic film, one strip high by one strip wide.

Here begins the weave...just like a reed basket, only porkier

Baby blankets should be this awesome

And the plastic magically appears. Don't forget it on the first loaf, like I did.

Shaping the mix into a log, place it on the bacon weave, ensuring that it comes to the end of the weave, but not beyond.  Then lift the plastic wrap and use it to roll the bacon up and over the log.  Keep rolling until the entire loaf is covered, then remove the wrap.

Dressed for the ball. Prom King, no doubt

Step 4, Cooking

Place the meatloaf on a wire rack that fits in a backing tray.  Slide it into the hot oven.  Place a loose piece of foil over the meat loaf, so as not to overcook the bacon.

After 40 minutes, remove the foil and drop the temperature to 160C (320F)

Continue to bake until the internal temperature hits 66C (150F).  Remove from the oven, and cover again with foil, letting it rest for 20 minutes.

If only you could smell this...OH MY GOD! Look at the pink ring just under the bacon.

Slice and serve with some of your favourite BBQ Sauce, and a couple of sides.  Mashed potatoes is a match made in heaven.  As for another side, well, I’ve gone for some fried cabbage this time, but a nice salad would work just as well.

The moment of truth...enjoyed with a lovely Cab Sav.

The magic of Meatloaf is the leftovers.  It’s almost as easy to make 2, as to make 1, so double the mix and make 2 loaves (as I have).  Think of all the meatloaf sandwiches…nom nom nom

Enjoy the meal!

Take back the Burger

Sometimes it’s not what you are cooking that’s important, it’s how you cook it.  Or, perhaps more to the point, how you prepare it.  With some imagination, and quality ingredients, even the humblest of meals can be elevated to a sublime level.  Today’s case in point is the Hamburger.

Not your average fast food burger

Billions of dollars are spent world wide advertising mediocre hamburgers, and multi-national corporations have amassed empires worth trillions peddling these mass produced mouthfuls of meat, and in the process we have become desensitized to what potential a hamburger has.

Considering it’s culinary elements, the hamburger ticks all of the boxes.  It offers a range of textures, colours, and a full flavour profile which, when done well, is at least the equal of a high quality steak and salad.  We have all had the pleasure of eating a quality hamburger, and those restaurants that do them well get away with charging exorbitant dollars for the experience, well here are some tips on how to get the best quality burger at home, and for only a couple of dollars per person.

Where’s the beef?

There’s no surprise in the statement that “a quality hamburger begins with the meat”.  The “patty” is the most important part of any hamburger, and the best patties follow 4 fairly simple rules.

Closest to the hoof/horn = flavour
Furthest from the hoof/horn = tender

Rule #1:  Flavour.  Not all meat cuts are created equal.  It’s a fairly known fact that the further from the horn and hoof, the more tender the meat.  These cuts do less work, and therefore do not develop the toughness that some of the other cuts do.  Unfortunately, the more tender the meat, the less flavour it usually has.  Meat that has to work for a living, develops more flavour, at the cost of tenderness.  Fortunately for us, the hamburger is mechanically tenderized, so these more flavourful cuts of meat, and less tender, are great for our needs.  The other big plus, is that they are typically cheaper.  So, when searching for our piece of meat, we are going to look for something cheaper and more flavourful.

Rule #2:  Fat content.  Fat acts as a conduit for flavours.  It is very effective at coating the tongue, and delivering the flavours of the food directly to the taste buds, where it counts.  It’s also quite viscous, so it hangs around the mouth and nasal passages doing it’s thing for quite some time after the food has gone.  Smell a particularly robust cheese, and you’ll be smelling that thing for 30 minutes or so after you put it away.  That’s the fat working within your olfactory system.  I will not make a hamburger patty with anything less than 20% fat, and closer to 30% is better.  The result is going to be juicier, because of what is effectively internal basting, more flavourful, and the fat content will mean less connective tissue toughness.

Rule #3:  Texture.  A typical hamburger is boring.  All of the meat is ground through a die, and the resultant mince is uniform in size, uniform in texture, and (quite frankly) boring.  To make a quality hamburger, create some interest by changing up the texture.  I’ll explain more later.

Rule #4:  Seasoning.  A lot of home made burgers (and plenty of restaurant burgers) fall down in this area.  Salt in a hamburger performs 2 key functions.  One of which is flavour.  The main function of the salt however is to denature the proteins in the meat.  This draws moisture out, and helps to bind the patty together.  In order to make the patty firm, and help it hold together, you will need roughly 2% of salt by weight.  So, if you are making a kilogram of hamburgers (roughly 5 good burgers) you are going to need 20g of salt, or roughly 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon.  This is also roughly equivalent to 2 teaspoons per pound of meat.  You can almost double the amount before the hamburger becomes noticeably “salty”, and the result will be firmer, but for the sake of risking too much salt to be healthy, stick to 2%-2.5%.  Other than salt, ADD NOTHING.  Ok, maybe add some pepper, but that’s it.  Seriously.  No onion, no egg, no garlic, NOTHING ELSE.

Given our rules above, here are my tips for making the perfect patty.

  • Use beef or lamb.  No other meat seems to offer the right percentage of fat content necessary to make a great burger, and pork is just a bit too delicate in flavour.  Sure, you could mix deer or kangaroo with some pork or beef fat, but why?  For the sake of simplicity, I would use beef or lamb.  If you want to play with more exotic meats, go for it.  Make yourself a duck burger.  It will be brilliant, and it will be brilliant because you made it from scratch.
  • Use chuck steak, or lamb shoulder.  It’s the most flavourful cut of meat that has the fat profile we are looking for.  I picked up some chuck steak today for $8/kq, and while I might have been able to pick up some 30% fat content pre-minced meat for less, I have no idea what has gone into that meat.  Besides, tip 3 is what makes these burgers special.

How much Chuck could a Chuck Norris chuck, if a Chuck Norris could chuck Chuck?

  • Use a food processor to chop up the meat.  Cut it into 2cm cubes, and drop about 450g (1 lb) into the food processor with the chopping blade on (meat should be just out of the fridge, so cold).  Pulse for 10 single second pulses.  That’s full one second pulses…you know…one thousand one, STOP.  Then give a final 4 second pulse and drop into a mixing bowl.  Do the next 450g batch…and so until until all the beef (or lamb) is chopped

And here we see the answer to the riddle above, after Chuck Norris chucked the Chuck.

  • Each batch will need 2 teaspoons of salt, and I use cooking salt or kosher salt.  It’s coarser, and will not dissolve as easily, which means more denaturing.  Add the salt to the meat, then mix it thoroughly.  You will know you are doing it right when a coating of fat lines your hands and the mixing bowl.  Then, let it sit for about 20 minutes.
  • Form the patty.  You want good 200g (about 7oz) patties.  When you flatten these out, remember that you want them to be a bit bigger than the bun.  There are no rules to this however, so if you want them thicker, add more beef.  Like a steak, thicker is usually better as you have a bit more control over the cooking.
  • The final tip is this, and it’s a doozy.  Using your finger, push a hole in the middle of the patty.  This will mean that the patty will be cooking from the inside as well as the outside edge, reducing it’s propensity to shrink and fatten.  They will hold their shape better if you do this.

Notice the holes in the centre...my wife taught me that. Actually, Jeri usually forms the burgers in our house, for some reason she's just so damned good it.

One of the great benefits of taking the effort to do this is that you now have a hamburger patty that you can cook like a steak.  If you want to cook it medium-rare, you can.  In fact, I would recommend that you do cook this like you cook your steak.  If you like a steak that is a bit pink, and you’ve never had a hamburger done the same way, well…you are in for a treat.  It’s making me smile just thinking of the pleasure you are going to have.

Wow, this post is becoming longer than I thought.

Nice buns hun!

Nice buns for nice burgers

The next thing that makes a hamburger special, and it’s really not that far behind the patty, is the bun.  The type of bun you choose is tantamount to a great burger, and it is also what I will give you the least advice about.  I love a hard crusty bun, but my wife and kids don’t, so it’s going to be about your own preference.  Tonight’s meal had two kinds of buns.  A soft round bun, and a crunchy diamond shaped rustic roll.  Regardless, please do not buy a cheap mass produced seeded hamburger bun.

  • Go visit a bakery, and buy something artisan.  If having guests, offer a few choices by having several types of buns laid out for them.
  • Toast the buns, especially soft buns.  Toasting them adds a textural element.  If they don’t fit in your toaster, put them under the grill or broiler on high.  Just watch they don’t burn.
  • If you like garlic, rub the toasted buns with a fresh garlic clove that has been cut in half (rub using the cut end).  This step is optional, but will add a garlic note to the hamburger, which I love.

Create magic

When making burgers for the family, I usually go down the buffet path.  I slice all of the condiments, and prepare all of the sauces, grate the cheese(s), and fry the eggs and bacon slices, ready for the eater to make their own.  When making your burgers, here are some ideas:

  • Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on each side of the cut (and toasted) bun.  The mayo adds flavour, but also acts as a waterproof barrier for the bread.  The oil in the mayo will help prevent the juice from the patty turning the bun into a soggy mess.  Butter or margarine will also work, but add no flavour.  A nice touch is to add some horseradish to the mayo.  This is the only “required” addition to your burger, in my opinion.  Try the burger with nothing else, just mayo and the patty on a quality toasted bun.

Common additions:

  • Ketchup (or tomato sauce), well ketchup wont waterproof your buns, and I would avoid it on my burger anyway.  If you want some tomato goodness on your gourmet burger, roast some tomatoes (small cherry or grape varieties work best) with some olive oil and salt in a hot oven.  Smear the soft roasted magic on your bun, on top of the mayo or butter.
  • Lettuce is another optional extra.  Please don’t use iceberg lettuce.  We’ve worked so hard thus far, don’t spoil it.  The peppery flavour of rocket or arugula would be great, as would a nice oiled and grilled/BBQ’d radicchio.  Whatever you use, make sure it’s well washed and thoroughly dried.  Obviously grilling the radicchio dries it out well enough.
  • Cheese is another highly recommended extra.  Choose whatever cheese you like, but again avoid cheap cheese slices.  Find a nice quality cheese to add to your burger.  A smoked cheddar or Gouda, Swiss cheese, Blue cheese, the skies the limit.  I personally enjoy a good Blue choose on my burger.  In fact, if I am making my burgers out of pre-miced beef, I will often sandwich Blue cheese between two thin patties, and seal the edges making a fat cheese stuffed beef patty.  It is frigging awesome, but doesn’t work quite so well with home chopped beef, as the patty is a bit too chunky to get thin enough.
  • Bacon…my personal rule in life is that nothing in life cannot be improved without the judicious application of cheese and/or bacon.  I am not about to dissuade you from adding bacon to your burger.  If you want to turn it into a treat, go find a butcher who makes their own bacon, and try a few slices.  It’s a gourmet burger, so no point doing things by half.

Other good optional additions to your burger are:

  • Fried egg (it’s an Aussie thing, and it really works.  Try it, and keep the yolk a little on the runny side)
  • Onions…either fried, raw, or pickled.  I love all three, but have a particular weakness for the sweetness of fried onions.
  • Mushrooms, sliced and fried.  A mushroom and Swiss cheese burger has to be one of my favourite all-time burgers.  There is something magical about the combination.
  • Pickles are another great addition.  Like all of the ingredients we have listed here, quality and freshness is key.  You still want the crunch, and the briny sharpness is a good counterpoint to the mayo and beef “juiciness”.
  • In Australia, we love beetroot on our burgers, and for good reason.  It’s another bright flavour that balances the burger, and also adds a sweetness to the meal.  Delicious addition, highly recommended.
  • Roasted peppers are one of my favourites to add to a burger, and in particular a large chili like an anaheim, poblano, or ancho.  If you like the heat, which I do, a roasted jalapeno is also great on a burger, and a chipotle (smoked jalapeno) is manna from heaven.

Sauces:

  • Well, I’ve already knocked ketchup (for good reason), but I wont call the food police if you want to add it to yours.  Especially if you make your own ketchup, or choose a nice craft made ketchup.
  • Mustard…I think it’s too overpowering myself.  Maybe a light dijon or a spread of whole grain, bit I would avoid mustard on a burger.
  • Sweet chili sauce is a bit too, well, sweet.  Maybe a good home made chili jam would be an alternate to the chili sauce, just be a bit sparing.
  • Really, again, there are no rules.  Just try to balance the flavours a bit.  Sweet chili sauce with a blue cheese burger just sounds a bit odd to me.

I hope that I have inspired you to make your own hamburger at home tonight, or sometime soon, and particularly from scratch, using a piece of chuck steak as your starting point….although, I can vouch for that cheese stuffed burger.  Remember, as with most foods, it’s quality in and quality out.  You are better using a smaller amount of a better product, any day, and that counts double for food.

If you follow these rules and tips, and take some of the ideas I’ve given you to heart, you will be able to present a table full of the most amazing hamburgers to your family and friends.  They are inspired renditions of a humble, and often disdained, meal option, and will serve you will in any company…whether it be chic acquaintances from the local gallery, or mates from the local footy club.  Served alongside an aged Cabernet in a long stemmed glass, or a fresh coldie in a pull-top can, your dinner guests will be after seconds and singing your praises for months to come.

A better presentation than buffet style, for table service

As always, enjoy the meal.

Northlakes