Steak – 12/7/09

Lately I’ve been trying to find the butcher shop with the best steaks in LA. Steaks are something I cook on a somewhat regular basis, and I feel I can now cook a good one consistently. A while ago, I told myself what I would only cook USDA Choice steaks until I knew I could cook consistently – it would be tragic to overcook a Prime piece of beef. So, now has come the time.

I had read LA Mag’s food lover’s issue where they had a segment on butcher shops in LA. Last weekend, I checked out one of them, Alexander’s Prime Meats, in San Gabriel, which had USDA Prime beef from Harris Ranch. Taking a look at the meats, I was a little disappointed as the marbling on them looked akin to what I would expect for a Choice grade piece of meat. I decided to try out a rib-eye anyway and found it good, but not too tender and not outstanding – basically, I couldn’t distinguish it from a good Choice steak.

This past weekend I checked out Marconda’s Meats in the Farmer’s Market on 3rd and Fairfax. They primarily serve certified Piedmontese beef from a ranch in Montana. Piedmontese cattle, originating in Italy, are known for its tenderness and lower fat content. Taking a look at the steaks, the New York really caught my eye.

A picture of the steak I purchased is below.

Immediately, I noticed the steaks’ marbling. It looked like what I thought looked like USDA Prime, much more marbled than the ones at Alexander’s.  So, I had to try one out.

My preferred cook-at-home steak method is to get a cast iron skillet as hot as possible, sear both sides, and then to put it on a rack and finish in the oven. This creates a nice crust on the steak, while maximizing the pink meat in the middle of the steak. One of the ways I judge how well a steak is cooked, aside from doneness, is how much brown area there is on each side of the steak. Ideally, this will be minimized, and leaving juicy medium rare meet in the center.

I seasoned the steak with garlic salt, pepper, and a little olive oil.

Then, it was placed in the superhot cast iron skillet to sear.

After being finished in the oven, I took the steak out with an internal temperature of 125 degrees.  I let it rest to let the juices redistribute, and it settled at about 133 degrees after resting.

I decided to cut up the steak on a cutting board first to really get a look at the meat. This was the moment of truth!

I got a pretty good sear on the crust; however I think I seared it a little too long on each side. The brown around the outside of the meat was thin but noticeable.  The meat was definitely more tender and had a nice flavor. It wasn’t as juicy as other steaks I’ve had though. Unlike the steak from Alexander’s, I could tell a bit of a difference from a Choice grade steak. Was it the best steak I’ve cooked? Hard to say. Maybe…but I’ll have to keep searching.

Seafood Risotto and Chocolate Cake – 12/6/09

There aren’t too many things as soul-satisfying as a nice risotto on a cold day. Even better – one full of seafood. Thus, on this winter night, a seafood risotto was in order. Also, I had recently read Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s molten chocolate cake recipe and it sounded so incredibly simple and easy, I figured I had to give it a try. The menu was complete.

Now, I found myself at four grocery stores on Sunday, trying to get the right ingredients. I don’t think it was so much the lack of selection of the stores, but maybe the fact that I’m picky…really picky when I cook – I want everything to go right. The chief ingredient decisions were:

What type of seafood to use?
I ended up using fillets of swai, shrimp, mussels and bay scallops. These were all pretty easy to work with, and I thought they’d all go well.

What type of cheese to use?
Most recipes call for Parmesan here. So I found a block of Parmigiano Reggiano to use – I like the mildly salty and nutty flavors in this cheese. I’m not as picky about the whole cheese-seafood thing.

What type of chocolate to use?
Ideally, I wanted Valhrona. Jean-Georges recommended it, and Thomas Keller always uses it – so naturally, this was the choice. However, I couldn’t find any. However, I had seen on America’s Test Kitchen that Ghirardelli chocolate came in first in testing for baking chocolates, so I got a package of their bittersweet chocolate.

Making a risotto is actually rather simple. My recipe was to saute some onions and garlic, add Arborio rice, add white wine, and then continually add heated stock until the risotto is al dente. At that point, I would stir in some fresh parsley, the cheese, and the seafood (which i would pan sear separately).

The risotto, almost fully cooked.

The addition of the seafood to the risotto.

The seafood plated.

The chocolate cakes were next. My recipe involved melting the chocolate and butter in a double boiler, whisking eggs and sugar separately, and then whisking the egg mixture into the melted chocolate. Finally, flour was whisked in to create a batter, and this was poured into buttered ramekins and baked at 450 degrees.

The chocolate cake coming out of the oven.

Chocolate cake plated.

I guess I’d have to say I was satisfied with how the meal turned out. The risotto was delicious and was the most important part of the meal, and I thought it was cooked pretty well. The chocolate cakes, while not molten, were still tasty – next time I should be able to perfect it.