Tuesday, June 21, 2011

On Steack

Over here at the slum apartment known as Château Ward, where we're broke but not poor, we've been going through some lean times of late. This is on its way to ending, it would appear, and you'll know it has when the PayPal button over there on the right disappears. Meanwhile, though, it's been tough.

On the food side, it's come at a bad time: very little has been in the market, although, again, this seems to be ending, too. But summer's bounty of inexpensive eggplants, zucchini, tomatoes, and all manner of fruit has yet to hit. This has meant some very careful menu planning around here, as well as some strategic market-going. But when I feel myself getting weak, I realize I've been vegetarian long enough, and fix myself up some steack haché. Yes, I know it's spelled wrong. And I'll even admit that around here, that pesky "c" isn't seen very often. I've always figured it was part of the French attempt to deny that they use foreign words (most recently seen in the pathetic attempt to ban the words Facebook and Twitter from the television newscasts), just as they call a particular cut of beef rumsteak. Because we wouldn't want to say "rump," would we? Why, I've even seen that spelled rumsteack. Pitiful.

Still, steack haché could be considered hamburger if mine weren't better than that, so about a month ago, I decided to photograph the creation of my version of it, which does, in fact, rise above the average burger. And here's the reason why:

Four important ingredients here. As usual, the sickly yellow cast and out-of-focusness tell you this is a genuine product of my kitchen. Now, ideally, that bowl should be sort of greasy with the olive oil, salt, and pepper you've tossed the potatoes you're roasting in while you get your steack together, but not this time. Still: better that way. The three bottles are also important: left to right, Worcestershire Sauce, Tabasco Sauce and Liquid Smoke. What? you say. Where do you get that last one over here? Answer: you don't. You either bring it over yourself or you get a friend to smuggle it in. I'm not even sure it's legal over here, but I can tell you that a little lasts a long, long time. Okay, two other things, more easily obtained: a green onion and a clove of garlic. You don't want a lot of garlic; this is about synergy.

Anyway, dice up your green onion -- just the white part, reserving the green part --  and garlic as finely as you can and put them in the bowl. Anoint them with the three liquids, being careful not to use too much smoke. Then, let this all sit for about a half hour:

Nice closeup! Too bad it's yellowy and sort of blurry. But anyway, after that stuff's had a chance to mellow, it's time to add your ground beef. I use 15% supermarket beef, because it has more flavor, and it's cheaper. It's sold in 350g packages here, so I generally slice off 1/3 of the block and freeze it. Then I can pull one or two out later. One is big enough for a recipe of ma po do fu from the fantastic Fuchsia Dunlop Szechuan book you can buy from that Amazon gizmo over on the right. Two will make two steacks!

Now we chop the onion greens very finely and add them to the mix along with the meat. A masterpiece of awful photography illustrates this step:

I'm not even enlarging that puppy; it's too embarrassing. But do add the greens separately and mix thoroughly, but very gently, since if you mix this mixture too hard it'll get nasty and your steacks will be hard and dry. Now, I'm not sure why, except maybe the onions were kind of old and slippery, but I diced all this stuff way too big for this demonstration. The two steacks in the next picture prove that: you shouldn't have that much identifiable stuff sticking out! One thing they do have, though, which doesn't show up too well, is an indentation, made with my thumb, in the center of each one. That's the side that goes down on the hot, ungreased, griddle first. I'm not sure why, but this makes a big difference and it's a truc I got from that Best Recipe book. (A truc is a trick, in French, not a French misspelling of "truck.")

And yes, I have cleaned the cooktop since this picture was taken. Thanks for asking.

Okay, now you've had your skillet on high heat for about ten minutes, no grease, and so you're ready to start cooking your steacks. First, salt and pepper the sides with the indentation. Then slap them into the skillet and salt and pepper the side sticking up.

It's a good idea to have a window open at this point, because there'll be smoke. I think I shot this just seconds after I threw the meat down, because there's none here at the moment.

Just how long to cook them, though, is an art, not a science. You're on your own here, although I'd say don't undercook them because they'll be hard to digest, and don't overcook them because they'll be dry and nasty. Push down on them a little when you flip them, too. That encourages molten fat to come out and fry them more efficiently.

I can't remember what I had with these, but I usually do a batch of roasted potatoes and a green salad. I also like this wine with it, but unless you live around here, you probably can't get it, and I know I didn't have it the night I made these, owing to economic contraints.

And now a dirty little secret:  you can do this and throw them on the grill if grilling's legal where you live (it's not here, for obvious reasons) and even top them with a slice of sharp cheddar or aged Cantal, and call them "hamburgers" if you want. But for the relief from the mundane around here, I call 'em steacks.


  1. This is great - thank you. I am broke too, and plan on (hopefully) making this tonight.

    p.s. Love the blog. Sorry I cannot donate right now.

  2. To make the money stretch (and contribute to my TX in August fund) I've cut down on the meat cooking as well. But I happen to have 350g of 15% in my freezer at this very moment (no 5% for this girl!). Maybe, just maybe, my husband might get lucky and get 'steacks' for supper.

  3. That's nice, but I fear you may need psychiatric help. Texas in *August*? Have you been reading the weather reports? My Texas friends are trying to figure out how to get over here for a few weeks.


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