Monday, June 15, 2009

Shoulder Steak with Herbs

4 beef shoulder blade steaks (chicken steaks), 5-6 oz each
1 1/2 tsp virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp chopped shallots
1/3 cup water
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 c. fresh herbs (tarragon, chives, parsley, etc.), finely chopped

1. Heat a large, sturdy skillet (cast iron or heavy-duty aluminum, not nonstick). Brush the steaks on both sides with the oil, sprinkle them with salt & pepper and place in the hot skillet. Cook for 2-3 min over medium to high heat on each side for 1-inch steaks (medium-rare).

2. Remove the steaks from the skillet and place them on the platter. Add the shallots to the drippings in the pan and saute for 20 seconds. Add the water to the skillet, mix it in well, and cook, stirring until all the encrusted juices in the skillet have melted.

3. Add the butter and the herbs to the mixture in the skillet and cook for a few seconds, just until the butter melts.

4. Spoon the butter/herb mixture over the steaks. Serve immediately.

I have to confess, I'm not as well-versed on my cuts of meat as I should be. We studied them briefly when I was in cooking school, and I'm sure I took some sort of general test on the big cuts, but to my disappointment, we never got all that much into butchering and individual cuts. When this recipe called for shoulder-blade steaks, I have to say I was at a bit of a loss since it sounded totally unfamiliar.

So off I trekked to Central Market to ask at their meat counter. According to the guy I spoke with there, it's not a common cut anymore because most places don't hang their meat and butcher it on the spot. But he said that the closest thing to it would be a chuck roast/steak, which is from the same part of the cow, just minus the bone. I debated whether or not to just get a ribeye or t-bone or something like that, but I decided to try and stick as closely to the recipe as possible. I had the butcher cut a big chuck roast in half lengthwise and ended up with 2 very large 1 1/2-inch steaks that I cut in half. In retrospect, I probably should have gone with thinner steaks since it turned out to be difficult to get the steaks to cook through in a short time without incinerating the outside.

Cheat & Changes:
Just the cut of meat, as mentioned above. I also found that my pan got so incredibly smoking hot by the end that when I added the water to deglaze the pan, it evaporated almost immediately. I ended up adding closer to 2 tablespoons of butter at the end to make up for it. I figure a little extra butter never hurt anyone.

The Verdict:
Me: It was so-so. It would definitely have been better with a different cut of meat. Jacques picked this cut because it's inexpensive, and according to him, the connective tissue in this cut melts away during cooking making for a lean and flavorful steak. I have to heartily disagree. Barring the fact that I may have been led astray by the butcher, a chuck roast is something that I usually buy for stew or braising. I'll admit, I undercooked my steak quite a bit, which made it even chewier, and eventually I had to give in and throw it in the microwave for about 30 seconds to get it closer to medium rare. But even if I had not, I think it still would have been hard to eat and it also had a lot of unpleasant fatty bits.

I really liked the herb butter/sauce. I used pretty much the exact herbs he mentions in the recipe - tarragon, parsley & chives. Tarragon is definitely not something I use regularly, but I really enjoyed the flavor in this dish. And this sauce is such an easy extra touch, I can see myself doing this for fish or chicken or any other simple, pan-fried protein.

T felt pretty much the same as me about the cut of meat. In fact, when I asked him specifically about it, he confessed that he didn't care for it much at all, but again, he ate it. He thought the herb butter was nice, but unnecessary. I believe his exact words were, "it's fancier than it needs to be." T prefers his food to be simply prepared, so he can really taste the ingredients. Most of the time, I do too.

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