A RETURN TO THINGS OUTSIDE
Living in Texas, you essentially have three seasons: hot, warm, and beef, beef season lasting year round. So you can basically get outside and cook at any point of the year, depending on your tolerance of the occasional cold spell or the not so occasional stifling heat and humidity. That said, there is something about springtime that makes grilling season somehow more official and more gratifying. Maybe it’s the return of the bluebonnets and wisteria blooms, the grackles trying to mate with the fire hydrants and park benches or the sudden remembrance that in about 3 months it’s going to be thigh-sweating, misery-inducing, padlock on the gates of hell hot outside. Or maybe it’s just that eating outside with a tub of cold beer and few things cooking over a hardwood fire is one of the best sensations there is to be had. Whatever it is, springtime is grill time.
Such a fine season should be kicked off with something celebratory. For me that’s a really thick, bone-in New York Strip, grilled over an oak fire. I know some devout grill men (or women) would consider anything short of a rib eye flat out wrong, but for me the New York is the best blend of fat and flavor when I want a wicked big piece of beef. I like to buy the entire strip loin, or the entire cow for that matter, so I can dictate the thickness of the steak, which for me should be about 2-3 inches. If you’re used to cooking multiple thin-cut steaks, just try buying one big boy, slicing it and serving it family style. Not only does it look nicer and add a nice communal dimension to your dinner, tastes better and is a much more satisfying bite to sink your eyeteeth into—effectively bringing you back to your slightly feral side like a good piece of meat should.
There’s a certain beautiful gluttony in a Flintstone’s-sized piece of dead cow and, accordingly, I don’t skimp on the fat. Count calories on a day that hasn’t already been devoted to a few beers in the shade. When the grill is on you may as well mainline gravy and count on a lunch of spinach salad later in the week because, for me, not skimping on the fat means rubbing the meat with a mixture of rendered Mangalitsa lard and duck fat before grilling. It does things to a steak that could, and probably should, be featured on “To Catch a Predator,” namely a crunchy, deep brownish-black outside with a rosy pink-ish red interior (if you don’t happen to have duck and Mangalitsa lard rattling around in your fridge, first, you should, second, rendered bacon fat works fine).
The Idaho old timers who’s tables I used to wait in my youth used to say “Wipe it’s ass and run it through a brushfire.” I like my steak in the more rare to medium rare end of that spectrum, although I’ll just have to trust on the ass-wiping bit—but that’s why we spend the extra at the fancy food co-op, right? In any case, duck and pork fat before cooking, high quality olive oil and sea salt after cooking. Again, this is a STEAK, if you’re feeling squeamish about fat, perhaps you’d be more comfortable sitting in the titty-tit-pants boneless, skinless section with the unsalted chicken breasts and “just like meat… sort of” portobellos. Before grilling, oil, salt and foil some russets and throw them in the coals to bake. After grilling, rest the hell out of the beef. Grill some asparagus, the king of spring vegetables, and open a nice bottle of Italian red.
The arrival of Spring (read grill season) is something worth celebrating.
1 large New York Strip Steak, preferably bone-in, 2-3 inches thick
(You’ll notice from the pictures that mine wasn’t bone-in, but it was thick, local and grass-fed so I figured I’d make the exception)
Duck fat/ lard mixture or rendered bacon fat
Coarse sea salt
High quality extra virgin olive oil
Wood or charcoal grill, hot as a bastard
A few hours before you’re ready to eat, pull the steak from the fridge, salt it generously and leave it on the counter. Tie it to maintain shape if need be. Heat your grill. Crush the peppercorns with a heavy pan or mortar and pestle and spread on a plate. Push the steak into the cracked peppercorns. Chop half your rosemary and rub it into the meat. Once your grill is hot as a bastard, rub the meat with the duck fat mixture, coating it completely. Grill your steak: if it’s grain fed, sear the hell out of it and be done, if it’s grass fed, give it more gradual heat but enough to get a good char on the outside. I turn my steak a lot and always leave the lid open, mostly because I’d rather have a crispy outside and rare inside than perfect grill marks. When the steak feels just below your desired temperature pull it from the grill and rest it for at least 20 minutes, tented with foil if you like. Just before you’re ready to eat, slice the steak into about ½ inch thick slices, sprinkle with more rosemary and sea salt. Drizzle with olive oil.
Trim the asparagus, toss with olive oil. Grill, then season with salt and pepper. Add lemon zest and red pepper if you like.
Coals roasted potatoes
Get a good baking potato, like a russet. Wash it. Poke it with a fork. Rub it with butter or olive oil and salt generously. Double wrap in foil and place in hot coals for about an hour.