I love Monday holidays. It’s like we’ve been given a second Sunday. I’ll spend the rest of the week wondering what day it actually is, but that’s a small price to pay.
We seem to feel honor bound to grill something on Memorial Day. Neighbors on the next block celebrated last evening with a huge backyard gathering. I passed by a couple of times on my way to and from the market. If one more person had crowded into the yard, I suspect the fences would have exploded. There were games set up for kids. The littlest ones rode around on fathers’ shoulders. Music played, but not obtrusively. A passel of good dogs gleaned morsels dropped from tables groaning with food. When the cooking started, heavenly smells drifted all the way into my own kitchen.
Meanwhile back at the market, I had grilling on my mind. I don’t eat a lot of meat, especially beef, so when I get a craving, I’m willing to splurge on the really good stuff. To me, that means grass-fed. I know a couple of ranchers not far from here who raise grass-fed stock. I love, love, love that in purchasing their products, I’m supporting families who raise it. Not only is it leaner than grain-fed beef, it also has a a significantly better balance of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 3s are the good ones.
And then there’s the fact that it tastes out of this world. I didn’t set out to prepare an entire dinner on the grill, but once I’d picked out my steak, one thing let to another. I found some pretty little organic potatoes, and the asparagus display looked like a gorgeous floral arrangement. Irresistible.
First, build a fire or light your grill. I grill over charcoal, so while the coals are burning down, take the steak from the refrigerator, unwrap it, and salt it on both sides. I leave it at room temp with the wrapping paper draped back over it. By bringing it to room temp before grilling it, the steak is not going to be as shocked by heat as if it were cold. Therefore, the cells aren’t going to tighten up and squeeze juices out of the meat and into the fire where they don’t do anyone any good. Too, by salting in advance, the salt has time to dissolve and be absorbed into the cells of the meat. Salt has a great affinity for water. by allowing the meat to absorb salt, water is retained within the cells. A juicier, more tender steak (or burger) results.
Preheat your oven to 225 degrees. Pepper the steak on both sides just before grilling it. You’re going to use the grill to sear both sides of the steak, not to cook it to the actual doneness you want. Allowing the steak to finish cooking gently in the oven is another step on the path to a tender, perfectly done piece of meat.
I had bundles of fresh herbs leftover from a hat-decorating project a few days ago – don’t ask – and just yesterday I came across a photo from Bon Appétit that veritably spoke right up and told me this lily deserves some gilding.
I’ll toss a couple of spears of rosemary and some of the fresh bay leaves right onto the fire because, well, why not? They’re going to kiss the steak and asparagus with a heavenly smokiness. More will go into a skillet, along with a few peppercorns, slices of shallot, and some olive oil, creating a fragrant bed on which the steak will rest in the oven after it comes off the fire.
While the steak was salting itself and the fire burning down, I got the potatoes ready for the grill. I diced the little beauties, then put them into a bowl along with a handful of Kalamata olives, slices of shallot, and some crumbles of good, Greek Feta cheese. I tossed it all together with some olive oil, then added salt and pepper, some of those fragrant rosemary leaves, a fresh bay leaf, a strip of lemon zest, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. I spooned it out onto a double thickness of foil, folded a good seal over the top and ends, and set the packet aside so the flavors could marry for a while.
The asparagus received a simple treatment: olive oil, salt, and pepper. I grilled it all, every single spear. Because grilled asparagus is one great reasons for the existence of summer.
GRILLED STEAK ON A BED OF AROMATICS
1 New York steak is enough for me, with a portion left over to add to a salad for lunch the next day
Fresh herbs – I used rosemary and bay leaves because they were what I had on hand. Thyme would be lovely, as would marjoram, even some sage.
1 large or 2 small shallots
A dozen peppercorns
1 ounce olive oil
Sea or kosher salt and pepper
Bring the steak to room temperature and salt it as discussed above. Preheat your oven to 225 degrees.
Pour the olive oil into a skillet with an oven-proof handle. Add your blend of aromatics and toss them all about with your hands.
When the fire is ready, spread the coals out into an even layer. Set the steak on the grate. Leave the grill open after about 2 minutes, lift it and turn it 45 degrees. This is called “marking,” and will give you that lovely cross-hatched pattern. After 2 more minutes, turn the steak over and grill it for 3 minutes longer. Remove the steak and place it on the bed of aromatics and put it in the oven. Allow it to finish to your desired degree of doneness, about 10 minutes for medium rare.
GREEK-STYLE POTATO PACKETS
Makes 2 packets
4 red or yellow potatoes
1 large or 2 small shallots
1 dozen Kalamata olives, pitted
2 ounces Feta cheese, crumbled
2 strips of lemon zest
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
2 small fresh bay leaves
4 ounces olive oil
Sea or kosher salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Toss all the ingredients together in a bowl. Lay out 2 sheets of aluminum foil, about 12″ x 18″. Fold them in half so you have a double thickness which will be sturdy on the grill. Divide the ingredients between them. Curl the edges of the foil if you need to, so the olive oil doesn’t run off. Bring the short edges together and fold them down to the level of the potatoes. Roll the ends up.
Place the packets on the grill when you set the steak on it. Once the steak is transferred to the oven, close the grill and damp down the top and bottom vents about halfway. Continue grilling the potatoes for 10 to 15 more minutes, until the potatoes feel tender when poked through the foil with a knife.
If the potatoes are done before the steak is, set the packets in the oven to keep them warm.
Go ahead and grill it all. Grilled asparagus in the refrigerator is almost as good as money in the bank. Maybe better.
I trim asparagus with a knife by cutting the spears about 2″ from the ends. Put the ends in your stock bag.
Lay the spears in a shallow baking dish. Drizzle them with enough olive oil to coat each spear and toss them about with your hands. Finish them off with some salt and pepper.
Once the steak and the potato packets have been removed from the grill, arrange the spears on the grill perpendicular to the bars on the grate. Use tongs to roll them around as they cook. They should cook in about 5 to 7 minutes, but if your fire has burned down, simply close the lid again. Remove the spears before they are done all the way to the middle.
To serve, open one of the potato packets and scoop its contents onto a plate. Slice your steak into 1/4″ thick pieces and arrange them over the potatoes. Lift some asparagus into place.
A feast fit for someone you love. Even if the someone is you. Perhaps especially so.