When Fed Ex placed on my front porch an insulated box full of grass-fed New Zealand rib-eye steaks, I realized just how good it is to be a guest blogger for Marx Foods. The only better thing to be is a non-vegetarian friend of Heather’s invited for dinner.
For the record, the Marx Food business began five generations ago as butchers in Brooklyn. Today, they are amazing purveyors of seriously high quality delicious foods, from edible flowers to ostrich, all over the country. Restaurants have loved Marx as suppliers of meats for years, but now their products are available as a retail source, too. Adorable Justin Marx is infusing all kinds of modern energy into the family business; look for them featured in July’s Food and Wine Magazine.
My opened box revealed ravishing marbled bricks of angus beef, “Silver Fern” steaks from steer who supposedly have known only open New Zealand fields and blue New Zealand skies. (Silver Fern is a farm cooperative, managing the procuring, processing and marketing for more than 20,000 New Zealand sheep, cattle and deer farmers.) My steaks came from cattle who began and ended their lives grazing. (On their blog, Marx Foods makes sure we know that, while the steer lived in the open air, they didn’t get cold; the Silver Fern people provide their angus with windbreaks and other structures “for shelter in inclement weather.”
Yes, these steaks are all that an animal raised lovingly should be when butchered and sent to market, so it really is acceptable, like many great artisanal foods, to do as little as possible to them. Manipulate not, most people would scream. But, as a guest blogger I wanted to do something; Anthony Bourdain’s ever honest-to-blunt-to-crude discourse on brasserie cooking in his Les Halles Cookbook felt like the right French swagger for a steak with such a bucolic provenance. Even though it’s grill season, I turned to France for carnal inspiration.
This is what Bourdain says about rib eye steaks:
The entrecote, or rib eye, and its big bone-in brother, the cote de boeuf, have perhaps the perfect balance of fat, lean, and marbling – the best mix of flavor and texture. Dismayingly, all too many restaurant customers complain that it’s “too fatty,” as they are just too dumb to appreciate the best steak on the steer. They should probably stick to the leaner but very flavorful sirloin, which is what their dumb asses were probably thinking of when they put in their order.
The current nutritional buzz on fat and grass-fed animals is all good news. A Time Magazine Article on the grass-fed revolution in cattle farming makes these claims:
Grass is a low-starch, high-protein fibrous food, in contrast to carbohydrate-rich, low-fiber corn and soybeans. When animals are 100% grass-fed, their meat is not only lower in saturated fats but also slightly higher in omega-3 fatty acids, the healthy fats found in salmon and flaxseed, which studies indicate may help prevent heart disease and bolster the immune system. Ground beef and milk from grass-finished cattle also have more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which recent data suggest may help prevent breast cancer, diabetes and other ailments. Moreover, grass-finished meat is higher than grain-finished meat in vitamin A and vitamin E, two antioxidants thought to boost resistance to disease. “Grass-fed meat is beef with benefits,” says nutritionist Kate Clancy, author of a recent Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report. UCS, a Washington-based nonprofit, reviewed scores of studies and concluded that a change from grain-based feedlots back to a purely pasture-based system “would be better for the environment, animals and humans.”
The fat on these steaks is a health food; so, off I went, Bourdain opened to page 130, “steak au poivre.” The three big ingredients here are steak, cognac, pepper, and a good radio show to keep you alive while grinding pepper corns for 15 minutes. You need a lot of pepper. Ok, there’s butter is in there, too. New Zealand, welcome to Paris in the 1930’s!
I lay out my New Zealand beauties, patted them dry, and then clicked on an episode of “This American Life.”
This was not grocery store steak; this was earth and sky interpreted through flesh. These steaks bled fescue. They were tender like buttercups. The lacey layer of pepper was a forthright compliment to all that richness. The cognac was suave. (I’m not a vegetarian, but I am an extremely picky meat-eater, therefore a rib-eye steak is almost as exotic and rare as truffles and caviar.) Grass and sky a great ribeye make.
The classic way to serve Steak au Poivre is with a mound of pommes frittes, that sauce ribboning all. It’s so French bistro you can almost hear the plates clinking and the surly waiters’ splintering French slang. Call me lazy, or uncommitted, but I served these steaks with frozen french fries, not twice-fried, hand-cut potatoes. Let’s just say I didn’t want the fries to out-shine the steak, nor did I want to resent the steak for the labor the fries demanded.
I recommend buying these steaks for a fabulously special dinner, but be easy on yourself; find fancy, organic frozen french fries. Just make sure you drizzle the sauce over all, or you’ll hear it from le serveur.
Thank you, Marx Foods; thank you, New Zealand.
Anthony Bourdain’s Steak au Poivre, from Les Halles
4 8-ounce steaks
2 ounces olive oil
2 ounces freshly cracked peppercorns (not powder)
4 ounces butter
1 ounce good Cognac
4 ounces strong, dark veal stock (Bourdain says here, “right now, you really could us a tiny bit of that demi-glace I told you to keep in your freezer.” True confessions, I used beef demi-glace.)
salt and pepper
Cook the steaks
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Moisten the meat very slightly with the oil, then dredge each of the steaks in the crushed peppercorns to thoroughly coat. Don’t be shy with the pepper. Heat the remaining oil in the skillet over hight heat. Once the oil is hot, add 2 ounces of the butter. Place the steaks in the pan and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer the pan to the oven and cook to desired doneness. Remove the pan from the oven and remove the steaks from the pan to rest.
(Bourdain says, “have I told you yet to ALWAYS rest your meat after cooking? I’ve told you now.”)
For the sauce
Return the skillet to the stovetop and carefully stir in the Cognac. As much fun as it is to create a column of flame as you add flammable material to an incredibly hot pan, it’s not really desirable or necessary — especially in a home kitchen. Unless you’re a pyromaniac, I recommend carefully adding the Cognac to the still-hot pan off the flame, stirring and scraping with the wooden spoon to get every scrap, every peppercorn, every rumor of flavor clinging to the bottom of the pan
Now place the pan on the flame again and cook it down a bit, by about half. Stir in the veal stock and reduce over medium heat until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Whisk in the remaining butter and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with French fries or sautéed potatoes.
* Note on searing: With any recipe that calls for searing meat and then using the pan to make a sauce, be careful to avoid blackening the pan; your sauce will taste burnt. Avoid by adjusting the heat to, say, medium high, so it will still sear the meat but not scorch the pan juices. But stoves and pans vary, so pay attention.