Archive for beef

Blue Cheese Bacon Burger

Posted in Home cooking and more with tags , , , , , , on November 10, 2008 by restaurantouring

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I love burgers.  I mean who doesn’t?  And a burger with bacon on it?  My god.  Shoot me (please don’t).  Everybody loves bacon.  Even vegetarians.

It’s a shame that the way most Americans get their burgers in this country is either through the drive-thru window of a fast food chain or from a big frozen box of a dozen or more identical, boring, tasteless, and probably E. Coli-infested “burger patties.”  It’s even worse because it doesn’t take much time or effort to make a great burger yourself, at home.  To boot, it’s satisfying work, and the results are tastier and healthier than the crap you can buy on every other city block.

This burger is really simple.  Take a pound of ground beef (80% lean, preferably.  A mix of chuck and sirloin, preferably.  It’s best if you grind it yourself, but store-bought will do in a pinch, even though it is far inferior), and mix it with some kosher salt (1.5 tsp), freshly ground black pepper (1 tsp), garlic powder (1.5 tsp), and onion powder or granulated onion (1.5 tsp).

Divide this mix in half, and divide each half in half again.  Now, you have four 1/4 pound hunks of meat.  Ball each one up, flatten it with the palm of your hand, and work it into a roundish patty, slightly larger than your bun or about a 1/2 inch thick, if you can manage.  The burger in the picture is a bigger one — probably about 1/3 of a pound and about 3/4 of an inch thick.  Set these burgers aside.  If the meat was cold (if you took the beef straight out of the fridge), time will allow the patties to come up to room temperature, which will make it easier to cook to your desired level of doneness (please say rare or medium-rare!).

Wash your hands.  Soap and warm water, please.  Lather up real good, and scrub for about half a minute.  I work in a hospital, so these things are important.

Turn on your broiler.  You know that section of the knob for the oven that says “broil”?  Yeah.  That.  Use it.

In a cast iron skillet, crisp up some bacon and set it aside.  Pour off any excess fat, and return the pan to the flame.  If desired, lightly salt the outside of the burgers with a little more kosher salt.  When the pan is screaming hot, slap down a burger or two.  Don’t overcrowd the pan or else you won’t get the delicious brown crust on the outside of the burger*.  This should only take a minute or two on each side, provided that your pan was hot enough to begin with.

You could make these burgers on a grill or on a grill pan as well, but I like cooking them a la plancha or on a big metal surface (in this case, in my 12″ cast iron pan) like this because more of the burger touches the pan, so more of it browns via the Maillard reaction (a complex reaction which I don’t fully understand.  Proteins and carbohydrates undergo complex chemical changes which produce a lot of deep flavors in food.  Sugars caramelize.  Too much Maillard reaction = burnt).

Flip the burgers and top each patty with blue cheese.  Stick it under the broiler for a minute or two.

As soon as the burgers go under the broiler, slice open some onion rolls and stick it in the oven for a minute.  Retrieve the pan of burgers after the cheese has melted, and grab the rolls from the oven.  Spread some mayonnaise on the bottom of the buns and grind some more black pepper on top of either the mayo or the burger or both.  Put the burger on top of the mayo’d bun, but the bacon on top of the burger, and you’re done.  Want some mushrooms with that?  You can saute some shrooms with the bacon fat before you start the burgers, or you can do it after the burgers have been evacuated from the pan.  Need some green?  Romaine to the rescue.  Don’t forget to turn your oven off.

And if you put ketchup on this burger, I will punch you in the face.

* The key to proper browning is to make sure that you have a hot pan with some oil in it, to make sure that the food you’re trying to brown is fairly dry, and to make sure you don’t overload your pan (called “overcrowding”).  Water soaks up a lot of heat and needs to evaporate before browning can occur.  This is because browning, or the Maillard reaction, happens at about 230 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas water can only reach 212 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level.  Typically, the more food you have in a pan, the more water there is to go around, so if you’re trying to brown with a crowded pan, you’re more likely to steam your food, rather than to brown it.  Eliminate the factors that result in steamed food (water, lower temperatures, a crowded pan) and you will have GBD — golden brown deliciousness.

P.S. The oil serves to transfer heat from the hot pan to the target food item, as well as to provide lubrication so that food does not stick [as badly].  Oil can get much hotter than water, and it can coat the food you’re trying to cook, which is very good for cooking and browning.

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Andrea’s Carpaccio and Bistecca alla Pizzaiola

Posted in New Orleans Restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 1, 2008 by restaurantouring

So a while back, I stumbled across an article written by John Mariani, from Esquire magazine, while browsing the interwebs. The article lists (according to Mariani) the top 20 steaks in America. Basically, he went around eating different kinds of steaks until he found what he considered the best steak of a particular style. When he found what he considered the best, he moved on to focus on a different style of preparing steak. So, if you click above and read the article, you’ll see that the kinds of steak vary from porterhouses to New York or Kansas City strip steaks to cheese steaks to Japanese, teppanyaki steak (hibachi).

I read the article, somewhat enthused, because I love me a good steak. Sometimes, it’s hard to find a good one, especially if you don’t live close to a really good steakhouse. I was excited when I saw that there was a restaurant in Metairie, Louisiana, on the list, because I frequently travel to New Orleans, Metairie, and Hattiesburg, Mississippi for work. I’ve been there so many times, and I’ve eaten in so many restaurants there that dealing with the omnivore’s dilemma (not the book, but the problem of trying to answer the question “what am I going to have for dinner tonight?”) has become very difficult. “Things will be different, next time,” I thought to myself. Andrea’s was now on my list.

About a month ago, I finally found myself back in New Orleans International, ready (more or less) for a monster of a business trip, where I would have to work anywhere from 12 to 17 hours a day, every day, for 3 weeks straight (Not that I mind all that much. As long as the time passes quickly, I consider it training for the long hours I will inevitably work when I eventually decide to switch careers from psychology and research to working on the line). I make my way over to Metairie with my co-worker, Florence, to try to find this restaurant — getting lost along the way (Andrea’s is on 19th Street, but the highway intersects 19th street. I was on the wrong side of 19th Street).

Andrea’s is a fancy Italian joint, right off of North Causeway Blvd. An old brick-and-mortar building, with gas lights, the building’s exterior is as elegant and charming as the interior’s bar, chandeliers, and refrigerated dessert display case. We were terribly under-dressed for the place (every other guy in the place had a jacket and tie, while the ladies wore nice dresses).

We started dinner by ordering wine; Florence had a decent glass of Merlot, while I had a somewhat flat-tasting pinot noir (a pitfall of ordering wines by-the-glass, I suppose. Too much oxidation). Additionally, we started by sharing a plate of carpaccio.

Beef carpaccio is a dish that was created to reflect the brilliant uses of the color red in Venetian painter, Vittore Carpaccio’s paintings. Typically, beef carpaccio is made from thin slices of beef tenderloin, pounded wafer-thin, seasoned simply with some salt and freshly ground black pepper, and drizzled with some good extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. Capers and minced parsley garnish the dish and add additional flavor. Personally, I prefer nonpareil capers (they’re smaller — the smallest capers, in fact — and more elegant). Also, I don’t think tenderloin has to be the default cut of beef, since the pounding already severely tenderizes meat, so as long as you’re using a lean piece of meat, you’re fine. Of course, if you’re breaking down your own pismo [piz-mo, phonetic for PSMO, butcher-speak for “peeled, side meat on”] of beef tenderloin, feel free to pound up the ends and trimmings for carpaccio. Of course, I’m not here to write a recipe for beef carpaccio (that’s another blog). I’m here to talk about Andrea’s.

Andrea’s version of carpaccio was a little bland, to be honest. The tenderloin was drizzled with white truffle oil (at least that’s what it said on the menu. I personally didn’t get any truffle flavor with the dish), served with a simple arugula salad, and garnished with some shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Perhaps they forgot the salt? Alternatively, I could have used some acid — either fresh lemon or capers. Or both. That would have been nice.

No matter. I wasn’t there for the carpaccio, anyway.

After a bit of a wait, the crabmeat ravioli that Florence ordered came with my medium-rare bistecca alla pizzaiola. Unfortunately, both of us were disappointed. My steak was cooked to perfect doneness, but the flavors just weren’t there, contrary to John Mariani’s description of a steak seasoned with an “artist’s sense.” My rib-eye wasn’t seared properly. The bottom was a dull, unappetizing, brownish-gray color — a clear sign of a failed saute. The pizzaiola sauce was made with canned plum tomatoes that had been left mostly whole, and although I could distinctly see the minced garlic, I couldn’t really taste it. I couldn’t detect a hint of spice, unlike the description I enthusiastically read just a few weeks prior to this meal, and the weak parts definitely did not add up to an “unexpectedly powerful whole.” This was one of America’s best 20 steaks? I felt cheated.

Florence later told me that her crabmeat ravioli was “not that good,” and in fact that it was “kind of disgusting.” Harsh words, to be sure. All around, it was not a good experience, despite the higher-end feel of the place and people. With so many older people around, I was surprised that the food wasn’t more heavily seasoned, considering our sense of taste diminishes with age (no offense all you older folks out there).

I suppose the problem was really two-fold: 1) We were not John Mariani, and 2) the chef probably wasn’t the one doing the cooking that night. We were just two bums from off the street — under-dressed and clearly out of place in the restaurant that night. We had no reservations. Rubes, from the looks of it. And because we were under-dressed, no-reservation nobodies, it probably wasn’t terribly important to the kitchen staff that we were served the best food possible. This is wrong. Everyone should be treated equally, when it comes to a good meal, and I hate to settle for mediocrity, especially when I have to pay upwards of $50 for mediocrity. I’d rather cook for myself. At least I know how to properly sear a steak!

Since I highly doubt that I got the same steak as Mr. Mariani (and since I sincerely doubt that Mr. Mariani got the same steak that I got and simply thought it was the best), I’m going to come up with my own recipe for bistecca alla pizzaiola. It’s going to be awesome. I’ll be back when I’ve got it more-or-less down.