Welcome back to the kitchen. Friends, I love cooking and eating great food. This is pretty obvious, and pretty well known. And if, like me, you get the reputation of being a foodie, people start to treat you a little differently.
Maybe you notice friends making excuses or downplaying dishes before they serve them to you, saying things like, “well I’m sure you would have made this differently, but…” Or maybe, like me, you even been asked to occasionally eat something without giving it a review or thinking of how it could be improved.
Another upshot of being a feinshmecker, or food snob, is that you will soon start to amass all sorts of gifts aimed at cooks. Some of these are very useful. My father bought me a gorgeous enameled French oven pot for Christmas, that I had been lusting after for years but was too cheap to buy for myself. Other gifts for cooks are of questionable utility, like single use-gadgets or weird, hard to use ingredients.
Garlic peelers, herb cutters, egg boilers… the list of cool sounding but ultimately unnecessary kitchen gizmos is endless. This means that if you are known as the cook in the family, well-meaning but clueless loved ones will probably stuff your stocking with all sorts of these tools, or toys. And of course, one is not supposed to look a gift horse in the mouth. But really, how many times did you actually use that fresh pasta maker your aunt got you years ago?
However, sometimes these foodie gifts are a lot of fun, and can take you in unanticipated culinary adventures. Today’s show is about one of those such times.
My little brother, Jonah (who has been featured on Thai Soup and Coq au Vin recipes in the past, has become a great cook and food lover in his own right. So his kitchen-based gifts have become something to look forward to. This year, knowing my penchant for creative cocktails, he got me an exotic assortment of various boutique bitters. I love bitters, and have loved making up drinks for all these new varieties.
He also got me a container of truffle salt. Now here is an ingredient I would not likely pony up the bucks to buy for myself. But opening it up and taking a sniff of the pungent powder opened up all sorts of imaginary culinary potential.
Truffles (the fungal, not chocolate variety) are a highly prized and highly pricey culinary treat. Thankfully, they are also mighty powerfully flavorful, and a tiny bit can go a long way. And talk about expensive! Wikipedia says “The record price paid for a single white truffle was set in December 2007, when Macau casino owner Stanley Ho paid 330,000 USD (£165,000) for a specimen weighing 1.5 kilograms (3.3 lb), discovered by Luciano Savini and his dog Rocco. One of the largest truffles found in decades, it was unearthed near Pisa and sold at an auction held simultaneously in Macau, Hong Kong and Florence. This record was then matched on November 27, 2010 when Ho again paid 330,000 USD for a pair of white truffles, including one weighing nearly a kilogram.”
There are a couple varieties of truffle, with different flavors and rarity. But their deliciously deep, nutty, umami-like flavor is tough to describe. It is unlike any other mushroom, unlike anything else in the world really, and quite delicious. Sometimes, because of their ability to enhance the deliciousness of savory dishes, I refer to truffles as nature’s MSG.
In fancy restaurants you might find truffles shaved over pastas or a fancy soup, in a risotto, or decorating refined egg dishes or cheeses. Because of their strong flavor (and high price), truffles are only used sparingly. In fact, this truffle salt given to me by my brother contains only about 1% truffle. Yet it still has an amazingly pungent, complex aroma that goes a long way in enhancing dishes.
Truffle salt is not a common ingredient, and it is definitely on the frou frou end of the spectrum in terms of culinary gifts, but it is also delicious and for me, very much appreciated. And unlike the increasingly popular truffle oil, truffle salt actually has some real truffles in it. That’s right, the truffle oil your supposedly fancy chef drizzled on your French fries or salad at that nice seeming restaurant was actually giving you an oil most likely artificially flavored to mimic truffles, without any of the rare fungus itself. I was surprised and disappointed to learn this. But anyway, back to the legitimately truffled salt my brother gave me.
There are a couple of ways I’ve come to like using this musty, pungent, complexly flavored salt. It is great as a finishing salt for simple soups, like the leek and potato soup also known as vichyssoise that we talked about last week. It also is great with super simple pasta dishes drizzled with olive oil, a little sautéed garlic, black pepper, fresh chopped parsley, and some pecorino cheese. In both these cases the truffle salt gives the otherwise potentially somewhat bland dish a kick in the pants and adds several delicious layers of flavor intricacy.
But for today’s recipe, I’m going to use the truffle salt to make a simple pan seared steak into a thing of mouth watering beauty. And this quick and easy dish is super simple; it just relies on using very high quality ingredients to make it good. So, for Pan Seared Truffle Salt Steaks with Red Wine Reduction, we’ll need:
-2 large New York, bone-in ribeye, or other nice steaks (go for thicker cuts)
-1 large clove garlic, peeled and cut in half
-about 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
-2 generous pinches of truffle salt (maybe about 1/2 teaspoon in total, depending on your taste for salt and truffle)
-lots of fresh ground black pepper
-about 2 tablespoons of butter
-1 cup red wine (do not use so called cooking wine, in fact, don’t cook with any wine that you would not drink a glass of)
-fresh chopped parsley, for garnish
Of course it is tempting to use the grill to barbecue steaks. But in the dead of winter I don’t want to keep going outside to shiver on the porch and hope the grill can stay up to temperature. So instead we are going to pan sear these steaks, which is easy and delicious when done right.
One of the important secrets of pan searing a steak sort of flies in the face of conventional wisdom. You want to flip the steaks very frequently, like every minute or so. This is because we want to continually dry the moisture that is coming from the center of the meat and drawing out to the surface, letting it cook off and work on that delicious browned and seared crust we are going for. So don’t be afraid to keep flipping your steaks almost as often as your heart desires.
We also want to pat these steaks dry with a paper towel to begin with, to get any extra moisture out of the way from the get go. We will vigorously rub both sides of each steak with the garlic, really trying to impart a fair amount of that delicious garlic flavor. Set the cloves aside. Next, liberally salt both sides of each steak with a good pinch of truffle salt, rubbing that in to the surface to make sure you get good coverage. Also, grind lots and lots of black pepper over both sides of each steak. Don’t be shy. Now we want to let the steaks sit out on the counter for about 40 minutes or so (some chefs will let steaks sit out for hours before cooking), so they can warm up closer to room temperature. This will greatly help them cook more evenly and tenderly.
Get out your trusty, large cast iron skillet and begin heating up the oil on medium high until it is almost smoking. Cook the steaks in the pan, flipping frequently with tongs or a spatula. The best way to know when your steak is done is to use a quality instant read meat thermometer. It really isn’t worth guessing, because it is too easy to ruin that beautiful cut of meat by losing track or misjudging the temperature.
You will probably want to use your stove’s fan, by the way, because your steaks may smoke a bit in the pan. Don’t let them blacken or burn, though. Keep an eye on them and keep flipping. Roughly halfway through the steaks cooking, I like to add the halves of garlic clove into the pan as well, to add a bit more garlic flavor to the oil. Depending on how thick your steaks are, they should take somewhere between 8-12 minutes to cook. I like to aim for a perfect medium or medium-rare 140 degree steak, and I always pull it out of the pan a few degrees shy of that (about 130), because it will continue to warm into the center even of the heat.
Once the steaks are seared and out of the pan resting (always let your meats rest for at least 10 minutes before serving to preserve all those wonderfully flavorful juices inside), add the butter to the pan and return it to a medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the red wine and scrape the bottom of the pan to get up all the seared and meaty bits.
When the wine is simmering vigorously, turn down the heat to low and let it cook off for a bit, stirring occasionally. When the wine has reduced by half and the sauce thickened a bit, remove it from the heat. Serve the truffle salt seared steaks topped with plenty of the red wine reduction pan sauce and a pinch of chopped fresh parsley, and maybe a baked potato and a side of steamed broccoli. Yum!
Here, the truffle salt plays a bit of a mysterious back up role, making these already scrumptious steaks so much better. There is something earthy, a little bit mushroom like, and drop dead delicious about truffles with seared meat. And with a butter mounted wine reduction for a sauce? Well, I am drooling.
By the way, you can kick up your pan sauce even a bit more by adding some chopped thyme or other fresh aromatic herbs into the melted butter, and sautéing a sliced shallot or two before adding in the wine. But for this recipe, because I wanted to go with mostly the flavor I get from the truffle salt, I decided to forgo these additions.
So there you have one very delicious and easy, yet super elegant use of truffle salt. A big thank you to my brother Jonah for giving me some of this delicacy for Christmas. I wonder what culinary treats were gifted to you this holiday season. Are you scratching your head over any ingredients or gadgets well meaning loved ones may have sent your way? Send me any questions, comments, or suggestions to Isaac@kohoradio.com. Cooking local in the KOHO Kitchen, I’m Isaac Kaplan-Woolner