My wife’s birthday was back at the end of May, and mine in early June, but due to various circumstances we found ourselves unable to head out to the restaurant as we often like to do for our birthdays. With a young child it’s often also hard to find time/babysitters to head out for a special meal and as such, as reasonable cooks my wife an I often cook a special meal for each other. When my wife asked me back before my birthday what I’d like to do/eat, in my mind there was only one thing. I love a well cooked steak when cooked to perfection and accompanied with the right wine – it’s one of my favourite dining experiences. Second to that is another favourite of mine; beautifully sweet and perfectly cooked scallops. If someone were to ask me to choose my favourite foods it would be steak and scallops. I’ll start by confessing this is not a normal cut of steak. This is actually a single rib of beef. More commonly a roasting joint but cooked in the right way it can be as beautiful and flavourful as a rib eye and and as tender as a fillet steak.
We’ll come on to the steak in a bit more detail further on, but first we started with some olives and melon with Parma ham. The olives (provided by PrazeFineFoods) were as always wonderfully fresh and flavourful. The dark green ones (see picture) particularly so, being some of the best I’ve ever tasted in this country.
To accompany the olives we had a beautifully sweet Charentais melon with an aged Parma ham which complemented the sweetness perfectly with its savoury saltiness.
As I mentioned, another favourite food of mine is scallops. They mustn’t be overcooked but when perfectly tender they are sweet and savoury at the same time and for me the ultimate seafood. To contrast the sweetness of the scallops we had them with a celery, apple and crisp ham salad. The sharpness of the granny smith apple, dressed in a lemon juice dressing with the savoury flavour of the celery and the saltiness of the baked Parma ham is fantastic. To add a little sauce to the dish, a curried mayonnaise gently spiced with ras el hanout and apple juice, along with a sprinkling of black salt, really finishes the dish both visually and in terms of flavour/taste combination. We enjoyed this dish with a wonderful 2007 Beaune du Chateau, Premier Cru, Blanc. For me there is no better wine to accompany Scallops than White Burgundy and this fine example is a perfect match.
Onto the main course which consisted of a slow and low temperature cooked rib of beef (from our local, award-winning butcher’s, Mettricks) with sticky garlic potatoes and an heirloom tomato salad (similar in style to a panzanella).
I’ve long been a fan and proponent of Heston Blumenthal’s method of cooking steak; in a very hot pan, turning regularly (every 15-20 seconds) until the desired firmness is achieved and then well rested. For a piece of beef such as below though, this was clearly not going to suffice. It’s difficult to roast a piece of beef to perfection, keeping the exterior charred, the fat nicely rendered and the interior evenly cooked and moist. Too often the exterior and edges of the meat are over cooked and middle is under done. For such a challenge I turned again to Heston Blumenthal (this guy understands not just what tastes and looks good, but the science behind what is needed for such a task). Following his suggested methods, I seared the meat well in a very hot pan and then left it in an oven at 60 degrees C for over 8 hours. The actual length of cooking time is not too important (although at least 4 hrs is advised) as the principle is that the meat will eventually come to the temperature of the oven and no hotter. I’ve found from experience that unless you intend to cook for 24hrs (which is a possible suggested option for this method) a temperature of 5 degrees hotter than the desired internal temperature of the meat is a good place to start. In this case the idea being a perfectly cooked medium-rare steak should be about 55 degrees C internally. As you can see from the photos below I would say it was fairly successful. The outside perfectly charred, the fat beautifully rendered and the meat an even pink all the way to the edge with no grey/dried/over-cooked edges. To accompany this treat a serious red wine in the shape of a 2009 Amarone della Valpolicella. A big bold and robust red with beautifully smooth tannins and a complex finish. One of my favourite red wines!
To finish was a dessert of baked figs with ricotta (again supplied by PrazeFineFoods), acacia honey, almonds and pistachios. Not too heavy but well balanced with sweet, salty and the savouriness of the Ricotta, such a desert could not simply be washed down with the remaining wine from the previous courses. To accompany this dessert a Pacherenc du Vic Bilh. A light yet sweet desert wine from the south west of France, it’s not to heavy and cloying but sweet yet light enough to finish such a fantastic meal.
Perhaps I should have taken more notes and made more comments about the wine and individual elements of this meal but to take the the mantel of epicure to its true meaning sometimes food and drink need to be simply enjoyed rather than analysed and examined and this was certainly one of those occasions.