It is way, way too hot to cook inside. Shit, it’s too hot to eat inside. Mercifully, some unanticipated clouds have moved in to shield us from the still-hot evening sun. Not that they’re going to drop anything on us, gratitude is where you find it.
One of our sales reps recently dropped off some different cuts of steaks for us to try out; we divvied them up, brought them home, and here we are on a hot, hot evening. This particular one is what is lovingly referred to on a few high-end local steak house menus as (I am not, as the saying goes, making this up) a baseball steak. In reality, it’s nothing more than a fancy-schmancy term for a humble chunk of sirloin – hence its leanness – cut a good inch-and-a-half thick. If one sears the shit out of it on too-high a fire, it shrinks up and domes into something approximating (if you take off your glasses and stand a couple of feet away) a baseball. Because, by virtue of shrinking, it has taken on a deeper structure than it began with, even the least-skilled line cook can’t fuck it up too much; it will still be rare to medium-rare in the center with a decent char on the outside. That will be $45 thank you, and your server will be your cashier.
I am not a huge meat eater – literally and figuratively. I am a little person, and I don’t eat a lot of meat, in part because I like being a little, lithe person. Regardless, I am simply incapable of assaulting any piece of meat in the manner that a baseball steak demands.
I treat it as I do any cut of meat: unwrap it, salt both sides, drape with plastic, allow to sit at room temperature while a fire burns down or heats up (whatever your chosen method of grilling may be; yes, I prefer hardwoods, but I am not here to bring souls to charcoal).
At the same time, I have a head of cauliflower that is going to head south on me if I don’t do something with it soon. So I carved off some “steaks” from it, and salted them the same way I did the original steak. I’m going to grill them as well, along with some red onions.
The brown of the beef and the white of the cauliflower beg for some red and green, so I grilled some onions and made a gremolata to bring all the colors and flavors together.
1 sirloin steak cut at least 1 1/2″ thick
Sea or kosher salt and pepper
THE CAULIFLOWER STEAKS
2 or 3 long slices of cauliflower, stems intact, 1/2″ thick
Sea or kosher salt and pepper
THE GRILLED ONIONS
1 red onion, stem and root ends and peel removed
Sea or kosher salt and pepper
Gremolata is a lovely, roll-off-your-tongue term for minced parsley and garlic with some lemon zest along for the ride. Originally designed as a garnish for osso buco, you’ll now find it garnishing everything from fish on up. In Southern France, it is not unusual to find anchovy pulverized into the mix, and in Italy, capers. Rules, evidently, were made to be broken.
A generous handful of Italian (flat leaf) parsley – literally what you can ball up in a fist, maybe 1/3 to 1/2 cup
Zest of 1 lemon grated on a microplane or on the smallest facet of a box grater
3 or 4 cloves of garlic , depending on size, smashed and peeled, then minced
- Build your fire or light your grill.
- Unwrap your steak and set it on a plate. Salt both sides. Drape a piece of plastic over it and let it sit at room temperature while the fire burns down/heats up.
- Make the gremolata and set it aside for the flavors to blend.
- Cut your cauliflower steaks and slice the onion. Make both a good 1/2″ thick. Salt them on both sides as well and let sit at room temperature. The salt is going to tenderize them, taking the place of blanching the cauliflower for a few minutes, and will sweeten the onion by breaking down its sulfurous compounds.
- I’m going to talk about how to treat a charcoal fire because that is where my
experience is. Once the coals or chunks bear a lovely white coating, you can trust that they are red-hot to the center. Tongs are my barbecue tool of choice and I use one set for everything. Scatter the coals out into a single layer and set the grate in place. Close the lid. Allow 5 minutes or so for
the grate to heat up, just as you would a skillet on the stove. Foods set on a hot grate will be much less likely to stick and tear than those set on a cold one. At the same time, preheat your oven to 250 degrees.
- Open the lid of the grill and set the beef steak on it. Sear it for about 6 minutes on each side. By doing so, you are not “sealing in juices.” That is a complete myth. What you are doing is caramelizing some of the surface carbohydrates for great flavor, and also beginning to warm the steak to the center. The way you prevent precious juices from being lost is first, by pre-salting the steak, and then by finishing it in the oven under much more gentle, less direct heat. The final seal on the deal is when you remove the steak from the oven, drape it with a kitchen towel, and let it rest for 5 minutes or so to allow any water that was squeezed out of cells by the stress of cooking to reinflate those cells, creating the perfectly tender, juicy steak.
- Meanwhile, back at the grill. So you’ve removed the steak to a plate and set it in the oven. Now’s the time to grill the cauliflower steaks and onions. You can trot out your OCD and carefully brush brush both sides of each with some olive oil, or you can go for a quick drizzle. I vote for the drizzle. Set them on the grill. For a change, close the lid. Both are laden with water, and closing the lid will allow them to go all steamy and smoky at the same time. Use a wide metal spatula to turn them over after about 5 minutes, then grill for another 5 minutes.
- Check on the steak in the oven. Remove it when an instant-read thermometer reads 120 degrees for medium-rare. Drape it with a kitchen towel to rest for 5 minutes while the cauliflower and onions finish on the grill.
- To serve, arrange the cauliflower steaks on a plate. Cut the steak into 1/2″ thick slices and fan them over the top of the cauliflower. Break up the onion slices into rings and scatter them over the steak. Pinch up the gremolata between your fingers and dust it over all.
By now, hopefully your evening has cooled to the point where you can enjoy each bite of a beautiful dinner and its wonderful flavors.
I can’t eat all of a steak this dense at one sitting, so leftovers are a given. You may have some cauliflower left over, and likely some onions as well. Wrap them all up to save them for a lunch salad one of these days soon.