This is a Part 1 of a Part 2 Story Searing Meat story. The technique mentioned in this part relies on searning the meat first and foremost.
Cousin Arthur on my husband’s side of the family (not a first cousin but that’s all I am able to explain since I can never figure out how many steps are removed, meaning that the ‘removing’ mechanism of kinship completely baffles me) runs an Italian restaurant in the Highlands in North Carolina called Paoletti’s (http://paolettis.com/). It serves a regional Italian-food menu and boasts one of the ‘deepest wine cellars in the Southeast’. It has been in business for 32 years so that must surely say something about its quality.
We first met Arthur and his wife Meg about eight years ago and were very much looking forward to seeing them again last month. They were on a road trip that began in northern Italy, visiting various wine estates in Piedmont and Tuscany on their way to Rome. And with them were three members of the kitchen staff. I met with the boys in Rome and gave them a whirlwind unlikely tour of the city which went something like this. We ‘did’ the church of Santa Sabina, the Orange Garden (Parco Savelli), the peeking through the key-hole, driving around the Aventine a little (well, we were able to see the Circus Maximus, the back end of the Roman Forum, the fleetest of glimpses of the Arch of Constantine, blink-and-you-miss-it Colosseum, the Baths of Caracalla, the Church of S. Saba and Rome’s only pyramid). It was now time to visit the market at Testaccio and take a look at some food. And eat some food too, naturally.
And as we planned our menu for the next evening, Arthur developed a yen for Chianina. We went to the Sartor butcher’s who told us that unfortunately they were out of Chianina that day but that there was a lovely cut of fassona meat from Piedmont that would make a marvellous substitute.
I think it’s that big cut of meat on the left of this photo, in the background.
Anyway, we bought a good sized steak and all kinds of vegetables and even some fresh anchovies to round off tomorrow’s meal. And got on with the rest of the tour.
Here are the boys, in order from the left: Julio, Vijay, Arthur and Danny. We went to see the Via Appia Antica, we walked through the Ghetto, and onto Campo de’ Fiori, and stopped for coffee and ice cream and shopping and, at my insistence, a sampling of the supplì in Via del Pellegrino. Aperitivo hour was upon us and we chose to enjoy one sitting outside in Piazza Farnese. Ciao ciao! see you tomorrow.
I managed to find some Chianina here in Frascati the next morning and all was well in our world. Now began the fun. Ha! Danny got the job of shelling the broadbeans/fava beans. I had pre-prepared (does that word exist? – the concept makes sense to me) a duck ragu that required further chopping. Only there wasn’t any room in the kitchen and so the boys had to make do with the balcony. Vijay was somewhat bemused that I should hand him some scissors in order to chop it up the duck ragu, instead of a knife, but it was just like water off a duck’s back to him.
Arthur, meanwhile, supervised the pouring of wine (they brought along some marvellous Felsina bottles, oh lucky us!, including their bubbly metodo classico) and here he is making the dressing for the puntarelle salad as he contemplates the meat. I made sure that the meat was at room temperature.
The evening was getting very jolly by now, our other guests had arrived, and here we are at the point where the batter is ready and Vijay is stuffing the courgette/zucchine blossoms.
Enrico, my brother-in-law, butterflied the anchovies and fried them ‘alla romana’, with just beaten egg and flour.
And here, dear Reader, you may get an idea of just how ‘big’ my kitchen is! As you can see, it will accommodate no more than two people comfortably. But sometimes comfort has to be forfeited when it comes to cooking. That’s why any poor home cook requires copious refills of their wine glass and seeks comfort in philosophy. How else can one micro-manage or cope? This is Enrico at the stove.
Enrico is an expert griller and we discussed how we were going to deal with grilling the meat without a grill ! I don’t have one. And here is how we did it. We seared the two steaks as much as we could on a cast-iron thingummy jig (what IS the name of that cooking utensil in the photo?) and realised that we would have to finish them off for a few minutes in the oven. At 150°C I seem to remember.
The only distracting irritation was the smoke … the steaks released a lot of fat and so we used some of that as condiment over slices of bread. It used to be called ‘panuntella’ here in Frascati, except the meat in question was pork and not beef.All things considered, the meat turned out remarkably well … and all I can say is that there wasn’t any left over.
And here are the empty bottles of wine the following day. I want to take this opportunity to once more thank Arthur, his trio of chefs and Enrico for making it such fun for all of us that evening. We were quite the motley crew and there was much jest and rejoicing. I think I should get kudos too for not being too flustered about cooking with five chefs (Enrico just recently re-opened the Cantina Colonna restaurant in Marino).
And so all is well that ends well … we managed to sear and then cook the steaks on the stove top and then in the oven (i.e. without a grill), end of story.
Until, a few days later, I come across an article about a technique called “reverse sear”.
I will tell you all about it in the Part 2 of this searing saga.