Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Skirting Around a Steak Phobia

Cooking does not scare me. There is nothing about a sharp butcher’s knife, a temperamental oven, or a poor measuring calculation that sets me back in the kitchen. Generally speaking, I love the challenges of cooking. I say “generally speaking” because there is one thing about cooking that makes me a bit sheepish, and that is cooking red meat – and by red meat I mean steak.

I guess cooking chicken or pork should illicit similar anxieties, but I seem to have mastered how to properly check the internal temperature of a chicken breast or a pork loin. With meat, on the other hand, I have never gained the culinary confidence I need to slap a sirloin on the grill and cook it to perfection – probably because I lack the requisite cooking experience.

In addition to my lack of red meat cooking experience, I also suffer from a classic psychological respondent condition to cooking red meat. Up until I was 23, I was a red meat cooking virgin. One weekend, and it was a weekend that will go down in culinary history for me, my roommate from college came to visit me in Albany. Having a proper kitchen and dining space at the time, I was looking forward to a gastro-filled weekend with my friend as we were both big foodies. In what I considered to be a moment of genius, I bought a steak at the grocery store thinking it would be nice to have a steak dinner. After all, we certainly didn’t have any steak dinners in college!

As I didn’t have a grill at the time, I decided to broil the steak. Thinking I knew what a broiler was, and how to use it, but in all actuality not having a clue, I put the steak in the broiler and let it cook for 45 minutes. When I took the steak out of the broiler it looked like a man’s leather shoe that fell victim to a major house fire. But, and with a lot of pride, I brushed the sight of the steak off to just a little charring on the outside. I quickly realized when I cut into the steak that my carving knife really needed to be replaced with a chain saw.

Despite this complete culinary break-down, I served the steak still feeling somewhat proud of my efforts, although completely embarrassed for my guest. But, being the true friend that she was, my college roommate said without any hesitation, “this is the best beef jerky I have ever had,” and with that, my disastrous steak dinner turned into a success complete with many culinary lessons learned.

Since then, I have gradually started overcoming my fear of cooking red meat, and this weekend, I think I completely overcame my fear. I grilled some skirt steaks over the weekend that were so flavorful, so juicy and so tender. So what is the key to my success? Take the meat off the grill despite your gut feeling to cook it longer! Because the skirt steaks were so thin, I seared them for just a few minutes a side, removed them when they were still quite rare, and wrapped the steaks in foil for 5 minutes to let the temperature of the meat rise naturally – a lesson I only learned the hard way!

Until next time…

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