Salt-tenderized steak with chimichurri sauce and a side of spicy roasted potatoes. Recipe below.
My Brazilian buddy Patricia over at Technicolor Kitchen recently surprised me with a present from the trip she and her husband Joao took to Europe this past fall: a lovely package of coarsely ground flor de sal ["flower of salt" or sea salt] from Portugal.
As much as I love food and ingredients, I hate to admit that my go to for salt is just the plain old salt shaker. It’s there. And it’s iodized—and who wants a goiter, right? We have kosher salt [somewhere] and some finely ground fleur de sel, but I seldom think of them when I’m ready to season a recipe. Patricia’s gracious gift gave me the kick in the pants I needed to think outside the shaker.
Next I needed a recipe to do it justice. Well, one found me. Poking around on various food blogs and search links [okay, I was scoping out links that had brought people to Blue Kitchen---happy?], I happened on a wonderful post from last August by Jaden over at Steamy Kitchen that involved coating steaks in a heavy layer of coarse salt for 15 minutes to an hour before cooking them, then rinsing and drying them before throwing them onto the grill or into a hot pan or broiler. I gasped just like you did just then—isn’t salting ahead of time supposed to dry out steaks?
Turns out it does at first, a little. But then reverse osmosis takes over, drawing salt deep into the meat, seasoning it throughout and making it amazingly tender. Or as Jaden puts it, turning cheap “choice” steaks into Gucci “prime” steaks. In her post, she thoroughly and wittily explains the science behind it and gives lots of helpful tips. So check it out later. Below, I’ll give you a highly simplified version of what may well become my go to method for preparing steaks. In fact, check out the Kitchen Notes below to see how else I’ve made use of this cool tenderizing technique.
Parsley? On steaks? Well, parsley is a key ingredient of chimichurri sauce. But here, it gets together with dried crushed red pepper, garlic and lemon juice to become something altogether different, lively and big. I first discovered chimichurri sauce at Tango Sur, a lovely little meat-centric Argentinean restaurant here in Chicago. Argentineans know thing or two about beef. I mean, we’re talking the land of gauchos and the pampas. So when the steaks arrived at the table, I ignored the side dish of sauce for a few bites and just savored the meaty goodness of a rare steak treated right. Almost out of idle curiosity, I dipped the next bite into the sauce. Oh. My. God. This was steak to the power of ten. I didn’t even remember the name of the sauce from the menu, but suddenly I was obsessed with it. The garlic hits first, but it is closely followed by the fresh, subtly peppery taste of parsley and the heat of the crushed red pepper; the lemon juice is a bright foil to the olive oil that holds it all together.
Noise, a crush of incoming diners and the late hour drove us from the tiny restaurant before I could get another look at the menu. A little creative digging on the Internet told me chimichurri sauce originated in Argentina, but spread throughout much of Latin America [indeed, my Ecuadorian friend and former colleague Cristobal fondly remembered his mother adding it to soups when I described it]. Further digging not only turned up a recipe, but showed me it was wonderfully easy to make—suspiciously so, in fact. Five simple ingredients and time to let flavors swap around. The first time I made it, I was skeptical that something so easy could deliver the transcendent flavor I’d found that night at Tango Sur. But deliver it did.
I’ve since discovered other versions of this amazing, big-flavored sauce, many using vinegar in place of the lemon juice and even crumbled bay leaves, but I keep coming back to the original. Once you try it, I think you will too.
I served these steaks with these spicy roasted potatoes and a mixed greens salad.
Pan Seared Steaks with Chimichurri Sauce
For chimichurri sauce:
generous 3/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
2 1/2 teaspoons dried crushed red pepper
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 6-ounce fillet mignons [or other individual boneless steaks]
coarse sea salt [fleur de sel, flor de sal]
freshly ground black pepper
Prepare chimichurri sauce. Finely, finely, finely chop the parsley, the finer the better. And mince the bejesus out of the garlic. You want tiny, tiny particles that will blend together into a cohesive sauce. Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Can be made a day ahead. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Optional: Sometimes I use this sauce as is. This time, I used an immersion hand blender to further emulsify and blend the ingredients. Some recipes call for using a food processor, but I think you’ll leave a lot of the ingredients in the equipment.
Prepare the steaks. Heavily coat steaks on both sides with with sea salt. I used almost a teaspoon per side, per steak. Let stand for 15 to 20 minutes [or longer for larger, thicker cuts of meat---see Jaden's post].
Rinse steaks under cold running water and pat thoroughly dry with paper towels. Season on both sides with freshly ground black pepper. DO NOT ADD ANY MORE SALT. Heat a pan [or pans] large enough to hold steaks without crowding over medium-high flame [err on the high side].
When pan is hot, add enough canola oil [or other high smoke point oil] to coat bottom of pan. Add steaks to pan and sear on first side for about 4 minutes. Turn and cook to desired doneness, about 2 minutes for medium-rare for steaks 1-inch thick or so.
Transfer to plates and serve immediately with small dipping bowls of chimichurri sauce on the side. Alternatively, you can spoon sauce over the steaks before serving.
Cooking methods. As I’ve said in the past, I’m a big fan of a really hot pan on a stove for steak. But you can grill or broil steaks too with this salt technique.
A little tenderness for tough lamb. I love lamb in just about any form, so I can rarely resist even the cheap cut chops I often find at one of our produce markets, even though they almost always cook up tough and chewy. Not anymore! I gave them Jaden’s salt treatment, waited about 20 minutes or so, and they cooked up tender and juicy. Thanks, Jaden!
Also this week in Blue Kitchen, 1/9/2008
The godfather of rap shows what’s missing from much of it. The social and political power of Gil Scott-Heron, at What’s on the kitchen boombox?
You are here. And here. And here. A Chicagowide Festival of Maps blends science, history and some genuine masterpieces, at WTF? Food for thought.