Thursday, May 1, 2008

Grilled Balsamic-Honey Mustard Strip Steak or Young Men and Fire*

Days slowly fill with sunlight. The air warms. Large hairy beasts, distended, slothlike, begin to move. In the distance, a tolling, St. Weber of The Kettle calling the faithful. It's spring and a young man's heart turns to fire.

As a young man I was a snob, an elitist when it came to cooking outdoors. Charcoal and only charcoal would do. If you were going to use gas, well then why not just cook inside? Age has mellowed me, or maybe it was a combination of laziness and the realization that I wasn't really barbecuing but grilling. Regardless, complaints about convenience and cancer finally won me over to gas.

No more briquettes, no more clean up, no more concerns about all those ashes getting on the food.
I now have a grill that's tied into the natural gas line of the house, I don't even need to worry about empty propane tanks. On a 35 degree day in January I'm only a switch away from cooking over open flame.

But here's the thing. Grilling is some of the toughest cooking I know of. There are just too many opportunities to screw up. Medium-High on my grill might be hotter than yours, grilling in 35 degree temps is very different than grilling when it's 85 degs., a dirty grill will have flair ups and hot spots that can incinerate a piece of food in seconds. No, the variables for grilling are so much tougher to control than cooking indoors. Which is why it seems so asinine that we assign the task to our least experienced cooks, men. Who doesn't have a story about a father or an uncle flirting with self-immolation while grilling for 20 on hot summer's afternoon?

I've never found anything inherently better about cooking over open flame; the flavors you're trying to create come from the preparation work you do ahead of time. Great grilling starts the night before, good grilling starts the morning of, hamburgers and hot dogs can be done anytime.

The longer you allow a marinade or rub to work its magic the better the final product will taste. With beef, chicken and pork overnight marinating is acceptable. Fish, being more delicate, usually maxes out at a couple of hours.
So here's a recipe that's pretty straightforward, overnight marinating is best, but in a pinch, even a half hour helps.

Grilled Balsamic & Honey Mustard Marinated New York Strip Steak
by CrabbyCook

1 TBSP Honey Mustard
1 TBSP Balsamic Vinegar
1 TBSP Chopped Garlic
1/2 TBSP Olive Oil
1/2 TBSP Lemon Pepper

2 New York Strip Steaks, approx 1 lb. and 1 1/2" each

Combine the first five ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Mix together until it forms a thin paste. Pour the marinade into a large Ziploc bag and then add the steaks. Seal the bag, while squeezing out as much air as possible. Massage the marinade into the meat. Refrigerate overnight, or 8 hours, or 4 hours, or leave the steaks on the counter for an hour while you do other stuff, just give the marinade a chance to come into contact with the steaks for as long as possible.

One hour before cooking, take the steaks out of the fridge. Ten minutes before grilling remove the steaks from the bag and place on a dish, do not clean off any marinade.

Preheat your grill over high heat. If you're using a gas grill, ignite both sets of burners, if you're using charcoal, fire it up. After 15 minutes, the gas grill should be ready (30 minutes for charcoal). Lightly oil the grates using a balled up towel or brush (this is a somewhat controversial move, but I believe it helps the food not to stick).

Put the steaks on the grill, cover and turn down the heat to medium high and shut off the burner you're not cooking on. Walk away. Don't peek.

Assuming an outside air temperature of 70 degrees, after 4 minutes, turn the steaks over. Close the cover, walk away, don't peek. After an additional 4 minutes, remove the steaks from the grill, bring them inside and cover with aluminum foil. Walk away for 10 minutes. Set the table, open a bottle of good Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, wait.

After 10 minutes, uncover and slice. The steaks should be in the medium to medium rare range of doneness. If the outside temperature is colder than 60 degrees, it's going to take a few more minutes of grilling time. If you don't like your steaks medium-rare to medium its going to take a few more minutes of grilling time (probably 2 more minutes a side). If you like your steaks well done instead of done well, then don't invite me over, because there's few things sadder than "The Tears of a Clown" or an overdone steak.

Note that I didn't salt the during the marinating process. Salt would actually dry out the steak if we marinated with it. Add salt to taste when you start eating.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Marinating Time: 30 minutes to 24 Hours
Active Cooking Time: 30 seconds to flip 2 steaks
Passive Cooking Time: 7 minutes

Serve this meal with a nice California Merlot.

That's it, until next time, just remember, you can do it, you can cook.


* Young Men and Fire,
by Norman Maclean

On August 5, 1949, 16 U.S. Forest Service "Smokejumpers" parachuted into a forest fire in the Mann Gulch area of Montana, within an hour 13 were dead or horribly burned. Twenty-five years later Maclean, (author of "A River Runs Through It"), would investigate the circumstances surrounding their deaths. The first half of the book is some of the most compelling storytelling I've ever read. His descriptions of the inferno as a living being are chilling. While the second half of the book suffers from excessive analysis of the events, the story of the final moments of these young men is truly haunting.

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