One afternoon while I was at work, I received a FedEx box from the kind folks at Marx Foods. It wasn’t exactly a surprise, though it was a thrill. They’d posted a call for cooks interesting in trying out their grass-fed steaks. In exchange for the steaks, selected bloggers would write a post about their results. In short, they accepted my proposal and sent me the steaks for free. And you all get to read about the results.
I’ve been a convert to grass-fed beef for a few years now. I have friends who raise just such a product. As well, I belong to a group which promotes sustainable land-use practices throughout the state, whatever the crop, from lentils to cows. Which is how I met my grass-fed friends.
Over the past five years or so, I’d become sort of an 80% vegetarian. That may or may not be part of your lexicon. Briefly, it means that I’d become wary of where meat comes from and how it gets to my house. In other words, if I didn’t know where and how it was raised, and perhaps more important, where it was processed, it didn’t appear on my plate.
Producers of grass-fed beef raise their cattle on land. Because that is where grasses grow. Not in feedlots. On land, lots of land. Under starry skies. Above. The animals can roam. They can develop muscle that feedlot animals can only dream of. That’s a good thing.
Because of a diet which consists solely of native grasses, beef raised on it is higher in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and beta-carotene. My friends explain, as well, that their animals are rotated through a series of pastures, which prevents them from being over-grazed and simultaneously boosts soil nutrition. Their attention to their land is as assiduous as that to their stock; for that reason, they point out that grass-fed producers will never have the massive herds that can be seen standing around in crowded feedlots.
It is a fact that feedlot-riased beef is highly “marbled.” Lots of fat is distributed among the meat, or muscle. Because they don’t move much. Because they can’t. That contributes to its tenderness factor. Which means that anyone can pretty much cook the living daylights out of it, and it’s going to be pretty tender regardless.
Grass-fed beef isn’t quite as forgiving. Like it or not, you have to pay attention to your dinner.
And that’s a good thing.
The bok choy over which the steaks are served was inspired by Matthew at Marx Foods. I added some ginger slices to the orange peel, along with some dried matsutake mushrooms and their soaking liquid because I had a feeling that the fruit-tinged flavors would marry well with mineral notes in the beef.
2 gras-fed rb-eye or New York steaks
Toasted sesame oil
1 ounce dried matsutake mushrooms
6 ounces hot water
2 heads baby bok choy
2 pieces of orange zest
2 slices ginger, 1/4 ” thick
Freshly ground pepper
1. I received some matsutake mushrooms from Marx Foods a while back for a soup challenge. I didn’t use them at the time, but held onto them thinking something interesting would come along where they would pair nicely. And sure enough, it did. To rehydrate them, place them in a bowl and pour the hot (not boiling) water over them. Set a plate over the bowl to retain the heat. Set them aside while you prepare the steaks.
2. Remove steaks from their packaging and set on a plate or cutting board. Rub each side with about a teaspoon of sea or kosher salt. Drape a piece of plastic over them and allow them to sit at room temperature for an hour. This permits the salt to dissolve and be absorbed into the cells of the meat where it will retain water as the steaks cook, thereby helping to ensure a very tender, juicy steak.
3. Preheat an oven to 225º. Warm a skillet over medium heat. Add enough sesame oil to film the bottom. When the oil is hot (watch it, it will shimmer, or form ribbons), add the steaks. The steaks should sizzle, not hiss wildly when they hit the pan. If the latter, the pan is too hot. Sear them to a good brown on each side, about 2 to 3 minutes per side.
Transfer the skillet to the oven to let the steaks finish cooking. For a good, tender medium-rare, remove them from the oven when an instant-read thermometer registers 108º, after about 5 minutes for New York steaks. Please be aware that thinner steaks will reach that temperature sooner than thicker ones (they’ll need less searing time as well), so let the thermometer be your guide rather than time. When they emerge from the oven, transfer them to a plate. Drape them with plastic and also with a couple of kitchen towels. Let them rest (shhhhhhh) for about 8 minutes.
4. While the steaks are resting, quietly prepare the bok choy. Use the same skillet in which you seared the steaks. Return it to medium heat. Trim the ends from the heads of baby bok choy and rinse the leaves well. Leave them whole.
When the skillet is hot, add the mushrooms and their soaking water (pour in all but the last little bit, which may contain some sandy sediment). Use a flat-edged spatula to scrape loose any delicious browned bits as the pan deglazes. Add the orange peel and slices of ginger.
Let the mushroom liquid cook until about half of it has evaporated, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the bok choy and set a lid on the skillet. Steam the bok choy for about 3 minutes, until the leaves are wilted and the stems somewhat tender, yet still with some crunch. Season it to taste with sea or kosher salt and some grinds of pepper.
5. To serve, use tongs to lift the bok choy from the skillet and divide it among plates. Remove the orange peel and ginger and discard them. Carve the steaks into 1/4″ thick slices and fan them over the bok choy. Use a spoon to dip out the pan sauce and mushrooms and drizzle them over the steaks.
Taste it. Tender? Oh, my, yes! And the color – incomparable is the only word that comes to mind. But best of all is the flavor. You just know that this came from an animal that saw the sun, breathed fresh air, and consumed the native grasses for which it was evolved. Once you’ve tasted grass-fed beef, you’ll never, ever go back to the grocery store variety.
This could bring a vegetarian to the table.
P.S. Read about the exquisite leftovers here!