May 22, 2019

Dear friends,

I don’t think I’m the only one who has faced the conundrum of how to sauce a grilled steak. An unadorned, charcoal-grilled strip or ribeye is fancy enough for Tony and me most of the time. But when company calls or when we are celebrating a birthday or anniversary, grilled steak could use a frill or two.

In the past I have minimally solved the problem with a sprinkling of crumbled blue cheese or, for grill-smoked prime rib or cowboy steak, a simple horseradish sauce made by stirring prepared horseradish into thinned mayonnaise. But now I can do better. Now I can lavish the steaks with a voluptuous blue cheese and port wine sauce.

I devised this pan-sauce-without-fond a few months ago but thought it was too simple to share. Now that grilling season is here, I have pulled out the recipe and used it myself, a clue that others probably need just such a sauce, also. So here goes.

A “fond,” by the way, is the meat drippings that stick to the bottom of a pan after cooking. It is the basis of a good sauce. When you grill, you have no pan and therefore no fond. No fond, no sauce.

In its absence, I built layers of flavor by sautéing garlic and onion — just a bit of each — in plenty of butter, then adding beef broth and reducing it to a couple of spoonfuls. I then added port wine and reduced that. Then I added a cup of crumbled blue cheese and stirred until it melted into the wine reduction, producing a deeply flavored, satin-textured sauce. I used port because it goes well with beef and is a fortified wine that can be kept for months, opened, in your cupboard.

The techniques I used to make this delicious blue cheese-port wine sauce are known to any good cook, so anyone could have figured this out. But I didn’t until recently, so I figured maybe you didn’t, either.

A big selling point of the sauce, for me, is that it can be made in the time you rest the steaks before serving. That should be about ten minutes. If you have all your sauce ingredients measured and ready to go, you can beat that time by half, giving you breathing room to finish your pre-dinner cocktail.

BLUE CHEESE-PORT WINE SAUCE FOR GRILLED STEAKS

2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup beef broth
3/4 cup port wine
1 cup crumbled blue cheese plus more for garnish if desired

Heat a medium skillet (7- to 8-inch diameter) over medium heat. Melt butter in skillet. Sauté onion and garlic until softened. The garlic should not taste raw, but do not brown.

Pour beef broth into pan, increase heat to high and boil until reduced by half. Pour in wine, stir well and boil over high heat until reduced to about 1/2 cup. Reduce heat to medium, add cheese and stir until melted.

Immediately spoon sauce over steaks and top with a sprinkling of crumbled blue cheese if desired. Makes enough sauce for 4 steaks, about 2 tablespoons per steak. The recipe may be doubled if you like a lot of sauce, but the sauce is rich and you really don’t need much.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Pineapple mousse pie for my brother; Japanese pork curry over rice; pan-grilled boneless pork chop with a sweet soy sauce glaze, steamed asparagus with balsamic vinegar and coarse sea salt; grilled steaks (filet and strip) with blue cheese-port wine sauce, fava beans with chopped fresh tarragon and olive oil, pan-grilled bell pepper strips.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Marinated, grilled chicken, beef and kefta, baba ghanouj, pita bread, tabbouli, hummus and kibbee from Mediterranean Bakery & Grill on Graham Road in Cuyahoga Falls; tossed salad topped with grilled chicken and raspberry dressing, iced tea at Hot Shots Bar & Grill in East Liverpool; chicken kabobs, green papaya salad and a hot chili wonton at the Cleveland Asian Festival; a quarter of a ham and provolone sub from Subway; a chicken burrito bowl sans rice from Chipotle.

TIDBITS
I was blown away last week during an odyssey in search of my favorite Ahmad Ceylon tea. I found it at two Middle Eastern stores off Graham Road in Cuyahoga Falls — one that I’ve been to before but that has expanded, and another that is new to me but that I’ll return to often.

The big news: I finally found fresh fava beans. They are sold in Middle Eastern stores. Who knew?

I also found what may be the best $40 meal around. It is gigantic, delicious and it feeds four. It’s the combination dinner (actually, $39.99) at Falls Mediterranean Bakery & Grill at 526 Graham Road in the plaza where Kifli’s used to be.

Call ahead (330-923-7777) or be prepared to wait for 30 minutes. Either way, it’s worth it. You can shop the wide selection of Middle Eastern foods or watch the friendly guys behind the counter prepare food in a brick oven and wait on a steady stream of hijab-clad customers.

Food is carryout only, so we didn’t know what we had until we unpacked the two bags at home. It was a feast. In one bag was a foil pan heaped with jasmine rice and topped with grilled, marinated boneless chicken, beef and the gorgeously seasoned ground lamb and beef fingers called “kefta.” The chicken was tender. The beef, not so much.

In the other bag were plastic one-pound tubs of hummus, tabbouleh and some of the best baba ghanouj I’ve had, with big, soft pitas to scoop it up. Two small, tapered, meat-filled kibbee were inhaled on the way to the table.

I didn’t try the store’s meat pies because I already had a bag of the terrific fatayer I bought at Fuad Khayyat’s Vine Valley in Akron’s Merriman Valley (https://vinevalleyfoods.com/). I skipped the Ahmad tea and fresh and frozen (!) fava beans, too, because I had just loaded up on them at East Market, 3464 Hudson Drive in Cuyahoga Falls. That store, by the way, has moved to a plaza across Hudson Drive from its previous location behind Starbuck’s.

Are there other local Middle Eastern stores or restaurants that I haven’t heard of? Let me know. Meanwhile, try some Ahmad Ceylon tea. It’s great, and just finding it can be an adventure.

THE MAILBAG

From Rob S.:
Regarding various types/brands of salt, Cooks Illustrated published the following set of equivalencies some time back: 1 teaspoon table salt = 1 1/2 teaspoons Morton’s kosher salt = 2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt.

Diamond Crystal, with its light, flaky crystals, is less salty by volume than Morton’s, and both are less salty by volume than table salt. The finer the crystals, the tighter the salt packs into a given volume (e.g., a teaspoon) and the saltier it will make your dish. Of course, all are equally salty when measuring by weight instead of volume.

Best is when a recipe clearly states what type of salt they are referring to and, if kosher salt, which brand (Cooks Illustrated, for example, always uses Diamond Crystal in its recipes). You can easily convert with the formula above if you don’t have the type specified. If the recipe gives the amount of salt by weight (and you have a kitchen scale) that works equally well.

Dear Rob:
Thank you for the last word on the salt question. I might add that even salts with the same flakiness and weight can vary in flavor because of the mineral content. I once tasted every brand of sea salt sold at West Point Market, from Maldon to some chunky stuff from Maine — almost a dozen in all — and the saltiness and
flavor varied widely.

From Pat S.:
Hi, Jane. This may seem a minor concern in the world of foodies but I have wondered nonetheless. When watching expert TV cooks in food prep I notice most do not fully scrape out the container of liquid ingredients with a silicone spatula when incorporating beaten eggs and oil into cakes mixes, etc. Doesn’t scraping out the residue of liquid ingredients matter in the outcome of a recipe, especially in baking? I always do it.

Dear Pat:
Yes, it matters! TV cooks are more interested in the camera and their script than in the details of cooking because the ingredients they stir up in front of the camera almost never actually get cooked/baked/grilled. There isn’t time. The mixtures made on camera are usually thrown away and a finished version made earlier (often by someone else) is pulled from the oven/stove/grill. Been there, done that.

Also, not much camera time is allotted to the assembly part we see, so TV cooks often just quickly dump premeasured ingredients into the pan or bowl. But you should keep scraping.

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