Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tuesday Night Bistro

February calls for desperate measures. Thomas Stearns Eliot opined, poetically, that April is the cruelest month.

On what planet? February, while technically the shortest month, often feels the longest, but not in a long-lingering-lazy-days-of-late-summer sort of way. More of a clench-your-fists, grit-your-teeth, can-we-please-get-on-with-this-already-I'm-at-the-end-of-my-rope-I'm-going-to-climb-in-the-bathtub-with-a-bottle-of-vodka-a-really-big-bottle-of-vodka-and-not-come-out-'til-May sort of way.

A little mid-week luxury, a nice glass of wine, that can make for a pleasant escape from the wearying late-winter drearies. Put on some interesting music. We shuffled these albums:

Joni Mitchell, Blue ("Wish I had a river I could skate away on....")

Les Nubians, One Step Forward ("Why no music? Music, please!")

Pink Martini, Hang On Little Tomato ("Hang on, hang on to the vine, stay on, soon you'll be divine....")

Leonard Cohen, New Skin for the Old Ceremony ("Is this what you wanted? To live in a house that is haunted....")

Paris Combo, Paris Combo ("On n'a pas besoin, de chercher si loin....")

And we prepared really quite a simple meal of bistro classics: poached leeks in mustard-garlic vinaigrette topped with a poached egg; "bistro steak" pan-fried, with a simple red wine and shallot sauce and oven frites. Affordable, local, delicious.

The steak was cut from a piece of chuck--$4.99 a pound Hill and Vale Farm naturally raised beef from the wonderful new Seward Co-op store. I show below how to trim out these flavorful, bargain steaks.

“You must go on. I can't go on. I'll go on.”

Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable.

We'll get there, just, you know, hang on to the vine, little tomato....


By "bistro steak" I mean a cheap, flavorful, often a bit chewy, cut of beef, such as is often served in the bistro classic steak-frites. With good quality T-bones, ribeyes, and New York strips running $12 a pound and up, it's worthwhile to use a little ingenuity in your meat shopping. Some butchers, especially those promoting local product, are now offering less expensive steaks like flat-iron, "charcoal," and hanger steaks.

I noticed a few years ago that beef chuck roasts, which cut across several muscle groups, often contain a nice solid chunk of well-marbled beef. I wondered what that meat would be like simply fried in the bistro steak manner. I tried it. It's now one of our favorite meals. Not every chuck roast contains such a piece, so you have to shuffle through the offerings in the meat case.
Above is the whole roast--about two pounds--and the part we're interested in, steak-wise, is the upper left section. (The rest of it I'll grind for burgers or chili, sliver for stir-fry, or chunk up for stew.) Trimming the outside fat and sinew, and separating along the natural line of the different muscle groups, we get this:

That piece was about 14 ounces--perfect. It was about an inch-and-a-half thick, and I butterflied it, cutting all the way through. The result:
Two lovely "faux onglets"--an onglet is a hanger steak, or "hanging tender".

These are not "silver butter knife" steaks; they are chewy, and must not be over-cooked--rare to medium-rare is best. But the meat is wonderfully flavorful, especially when napped with a little red wine sauce. I'll discuss the details of cooking this meal in my next post.

Get your fry pan and corkscrew ready.

The "locavore" tally:

"Our garden" leeks
Schultz Organic Eggs (Owatonna, MN)
Hope Creamery butter (Hope, MN)
Garlic (
Midtown Farmers' Market )
Steak, Hill & Vale Farm (Wykoff, MN)
Shallots ( Sylvan Hills Organic Farm , Menomonie, WI)
Chicken stock, homemade from Wild Acres chicken frames
Duck fat (from Au Bon Canard ducks, Caledonia, MN)
Bread, homemade, natural leaven, all organic Minnesota flours--whole wheat bread & rye from Whole Grain Milling; Gold n White, Natural Way Mills

Non-local ingredients: olive oil, mustard, champagne vinegar, salt, pepper, wine, canola oil

I'll give it a B+. I could have used one of Nan's wines from
ABV , but I didn't have any in the house. Also, I considered the mustardy, garlicky leek dressing too strong for the subtle Leatherwood Vinegary apple wine vinegar I had in the cupboard.

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw

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