Monday, June 28, 2010
Grilling the Market
The carefree joys of summer food, the ease and pleasure of northern cooking in these longest days of the year, cooking straight from the market or the garden, so different from those increasingly anxious trips to the root cellar as the winter drags on--that was to be my theme for today's report.
Until I noticed that I was cooking...carrots...potatoes...onions, and steak. Root cellar fare, during summer solstice week? What gives?
But it's not root cellar fare, far from it. Roots, yes, but the carrots are sweet babies barely thicker than your pinkie, the potatoes are creamy dense nuggets fresh from the ground, the onions are purple-skinned, translucent, crisp and fragrant. And when you can enjoy it out of doors on a gorgeous June afternoon, after the cool front has come through sweeping away a stormy, hot, sticky and anxious (for sensitive dogs) night, so much the better.
And there was basil. We don't have that in February. We shopped the market Saturday, picking up those beautiful carrots from Peter and Carmen , onions from Yia Vang and potatoes from Va Vang, basil from Jennifer, and finally a gorgeous bone-in, grass-fed sirloin steak from Sara.
The preparation was simple--with ingredients this good, you don't have to do much. I did take a couple of extra steps. The potato dish was a grilled version of champ, the Irish potato-and-scallion mash. After boiling the new potatoes until tender, I drained them, tossed them with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and put them on the grill to color. Same with the spring onions, trimmed and split. When those things were done, Mary took them away, chopped up the onions, smashed the potatoes into them with a good chunk of Hope butter and some of that Gardens of Eagan basil.
The carrots I blanched until tender-crisp, and then I glazed them in a mixture of:
1 1/2 tsp blackberry jam
1 1/2 tsp grain mustard (some stuff Mala made using Furthermore beer, fantastic)
1 1/2 tsp butter
salt & pepper
a couple of pinches of piment d'espelette (or use cayenne, or omit)
I was going to use maple syrup for the sweet element, but we'd forgotten to pack it, and in the end I was glad for that. The blackberry jam, from our own berries, was less sweet, which was good, and also brought a complex, brambly savor to the sweet carrots. I just let those brown up over the waning coals while I sliced the steak and set the slices atop a slice of our brioche, browned on the grill and buttered.
The steak I salted and peppered, then grilled to medium rare (about 4 minutes per side) over the coals of apple and oak. I must admit that I'm leery of buying prime cuts for grilling--T-bones, rib-eyes, sirloin, etc.--that are frozen, as all the meat at our farmers market is. I've had frozen steaks from other producers where all the juices run away down the drain when I cut open the plastic. Once cooked, those steaks wind up dry and gray and wan. Such was not the case with this Hilltop Pastures sirloin. It was a superb piece of meat. The pork from Tom and Sara of Hilltop Pastures is always excellent, too; and I've mentioned before, but will mention again, the wonderful lamb that Anne and Charlie Leck of Sheepy Hollow Lamb bring to the market each week.
I love to cook and have spent a long time learning how to do it, and one thing I've learned in that time is that the simplest things can sometimes be the hardest to pull off. There's no rich sauce to hide mistakes, so if the steak is overcooked, or it's just not good steak, what are you going to do? I've also come to realize that the clean dry heat and smoke of a real charcoal fire are seasonings as important as salt and pepper.
So I'm not going to blithely say that anybody could make this meal; but anybody who reads this can. The meal starts at the market and runs through your devoted appreciation of these splendid products of the season and our place, and that colors your thinking as you decide what to do with them, inspires the exceedingly pleasant work of turning them into fare for the table.
If that table is set someplace like the Bide-A-Wee gravel garden, with dogs lolling in the grass and the faithful Grundig tuned to WOJB radio, well, that's just gravy--figuratively speaking, I mean.
Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw