Friday, April 6, 2012

Whole Foods Friday: Get Your Grill On

The weather lately has led me to cooking outdoors. Today's menu includes steaks for a main dish. a pasta salad with shrimp as a side dish - or a meal for people who might not want steak. And as a side, a mango salsa that's great with chips, or next to the steak, or as a garnish for the pasta salad.

It all ties together perfectly into one summer-preview meal.

Strip Steaks on the Grill

What's easier than steak? Well, it's not THAT easy. I've had quite a number of steaks that were treated so poorly that they curled up and gave up every bit of juice they ever had.

A good piece of meat doesn't really need a recipe - salt and pepper are all you really need for seasoning. But cooking technique is important. When you cook steak, you're looking for two things - a nice brown crust (with grill marks if you're cooking on the grill) and an interior that's cooked to your preferred temperature.

I'm not going to debate what the correct temperature is - that's a personal preference. But whatever that temperature is, you probably don't want to to far underdone or overdone. And above all, you want it juicy and not dry.

The method varies a little bit depending on the steak you're cooking. A thin steak can be cooked quickly, but a thicker steak can veer into the territory where they're nearly a roast.

The strip steak I got from Whole Foods was massively thick. So I treated it like a small roast.

Now for serving - when I was a kid, steak were always served with steak sauce. Always. Slathered, drowned, and dunked, steak was more sauce than steak - at least in the flavor.

As an adult, I went cold turkey on the sauce. I gave it up entirely for a long time, and only reintroduced sauces recently. But just a little bit. A tiny dab to enhance rather than obliterate.

I found an interesting pepper spread at Whole Foods that I thought would be nice with the steak. It worked well, and I can see how it will have a lot of other great uses - with a cheese and cracker plate, on a sandwich, and mixed into pasta, or salad dressings.

The pepper spread was mild, with sweet pepper taste. Nice stuff.

Now, on to the steak itself

Strip Steak on the Grill

1 strip steak
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

The first tip for cooking steak is that you should bring the steak out of the refrigerator to come to room temperature before you cook it. The thicker the steak, the longer it will take to warm up.

The second tip is to salt the steak ahead of time. I know the rule used to be that you only salted it just before cooking. That's what I used to do. But it does work better if you salt ahead of time - ten or even twenty minutes. Give it a try.

Third, make sure your grill grates are HOT. The meat should sizzle when it hits the grill. Once you set it down, leave it there until it releases easily, and the turn by 45 degrees to get the nice  diamond-shaped grill marks. When the first side is nicely browned, flop it over and cook on the second side the same way.

To finish cooking the steak, move the steak to a cooler part of the grill, away from the direct heat. If you've got a gas grill, turn down the heat. Cover the grill and cook the steak to your liking. Keep in mind that the steak will continue cooking for a while after it comes off the grill, so pull it off when it's about 10 degrees less than your target temperature.

The last very important thing is to let the meat rest at least 10 minutes before you slice it.

Mango Salsa

Mangoes were looking appealing when I went shopping, and mango salsa sounded like a perfect accompaniment to the steak.

I usually make tomato or tomatillo salsas. Mangos made this a whole different dish. First, the mangoes were sweeter than tomatoes, and the color is much more stunning. And mangoes are firmer than tomatoes so the texture is different, as well.

It's still salsa, but it's not quite the same thing.

Since the salsa didn't have the acidity that tomatoes usually provide, I added some of the mango vinegar that I also used in the pasta salad.

This salsa is the one item that ties all the other dishes together. Sure, you can eat it with chips, but it's also prefect on top of the steak or as a garnish on the pasta salad in the next post.

Mango Salsa

1 ripe mango, peeled peeled and diced
2 slices (about 1/4 inch thick) from a large sweet onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced
1 jalapeno pepper, cored, seeded, and diced
2 tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon mango vinegar
Pinch of salt
Several grinds of white pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a nonreactive bowl, and stir to combine.

Serve immediately, or refrigerate until serving time.

For more information about Whole Foods Friday, see the tab at the top.
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