My wife, Kathy.
Not gone permanently, mind you; gone temporarily, and happily so.
She has gone to Denver, to attend a jazz piano workshop.
Everything is perfect here at home.
Don’t get me wrong, I want Kathy to return.
I cherish moments like this: alone, able to wander the food map at will and light any damned place I wish.
The freedom is exhilarating. A certain someone is not around to tell me about how such and such a food is toxic, how insidious Mexican growers spray peppers with poisonous beetle intestines, how cheese causes liver failure; no hovering, reminding me about fatty clogs hustling through a carotid, on the way to set up a nasty new home in Brainville.
To kill myself?
To enjoy myself?
My inclination is to go to the grill — it’s summer, so it’s mighty warm for indoor cooking— and to go there with heavy-duty protein in tow. If you don’t need two hands to carry the grillables to the deck, it ain’t worth goin’ out there. And nothing says mass like red meat.
We’re talkin’ beef, pardner, a very rare commodity in my neck of the culinary woods these days.
Beef is not particularly good for gout, so it tends to be omitted from my regular diet. And it’s on Kathy’s food hit list for a variety of reasons.
But, she’s not here.
I want one of two things for dinner: a monster burger or a monster steak. Beef. Boeuf. Whatever you wanna call it.
If Kathy were to hear me suggest this, she’d be on me like a wolverine on a wounded chipmunk. She’d be quoting Harvard Medical School studies and highlighting data from the National Institute for Health.
I can hear her now: “You have to be kidding. What kind of moron are you? You’ve got gout! Your joints are going to swell up and you’ll be a cripple. You know, though, if you’re dumb enough to do it, just go ahead. But, I’m telling you now, Beef Boy: if I hear you moaning or I see you dragging your leg around like a vestigial appendage, I am buying a firearm and putting you out of your misery. There’s not a court in the world that would convict me, buster. And, if you take so much colchicine you need diapers, I’m divorcing you. You know, your grandmother always said you’d never grow up. She was a wise woman. I can’t believe you’d do something like this.”
She continues, but I have left the room.
Anyway, I’m free of this scenario now, for a couple days.
And it’s time for Beefapalooza at Karl’s place!
I ponder my preferred options.
If it’s the burger, I’m going to take it from the ground up, if you’ll pardon the cheap pun. Or, at least from the sub primal up. In other words, I’ll grind the beef myself. No need risking some stray e-coli slipping into a commercial mix of fifty or sixty minced cows shipped to the packing plant from several countries, or ending up twitching on the studio floor in a year or two, the victim of a tad of misplaced spinal cord tissue in the chub.
What kind of beef will you grind, Karl?
Easy: chuck. Enough fat for the flavor (and you want at least 15-20 percent fat in the mix). Some folks prefer round or sirloin, but these cuts lack the requisite fat content and must be handled carefully when cooked, lest they dry out.
I’ll hack up a mass of chuck — a pound should do, don’t you think? — and put the cubes of beef into the freezer for a while, until they start to stiffen up.
I’ll take out the Porkert Fleischacker 10, with the superb Czech steel blades, and put the barrel and blades into the freezer as well. I want things cold, to keep the fat in the meat from melting. I don’t want to lose one teensy, tasty morsel of that artery-clogging delight. The cows had to do some impressive eating to gain that fat and I refuse to diminish their effort, or their sacrifice, with careless grinding technique.
I’ll grind the beef through a medium plate. I don’t want to overwork the flesh.
Neither do I want to overwork the mangled cow parts when I make a patty — a large patty, I should note. I want to form the patty gently, not compress the meat too tightly. I will not season the meat before making the patty; I intend to remain a purist all the way through the process. When the patty is complete, I make a slight indentation in the center, to keep the patty from crowning when it hits the heat. I lightly slick the surfaces with a bit of olive oil, to hasten browning.
Then, I season the beauty. I lightly sprinkle the surface of the patty (patties) with kosher salt. I take a bunch of freshly cracked black pepper (best done in a sealed plastic freezer bag, the peppercorns demolished with a rolling pin or meat mallet), put the pepper on a plate and set the patty, first one side then the other, into the pepper, coating the surfaces.
I preheat my grill (after I remove an inch and a half of pine pollen from the cover), setting two of the burners (left and middle) to high, the third to low. I sear the patties on one side (a couple minutes — until they crust and release) then do the same on the other side. I then move the patties to the low burner, turn the two other burners down to low as well, and give the patties a couple minutes more on the rack. I take them off the grill and let them rest for a few minutes on a plate. Don’t want those juices pooling and leaving the brutes when they’re cut.
If I opt for the steak, the choice is simple: rib eye or, if I’m feeling a bit on the hungry side, a porterhouse. Grilled, medium rare. Prime meat, if I can find it.
And I can find it. I have friends in the restaurant trade.
I’ll dry the steak and prepare it the same way I do the burger: oil, salt and pepper. And I’ll cook it the same way as well, crusting over high heat, then moving it to low for the finish. — the equivalent of searing over the stovetop flame and moving the meat to the oven for the finish. I check for doneness with the touch test. This hunk of bovine goodness must also rest before it is attacked with knife and fork.
Then, the side.
I ponder this for a moment and the solution comes to me in a flash: a grilled potato salad. I’ll make this side dish prior to the meat fiesta.
I’ll procure three russet potatoes, three eggs, a shallot, two poblano chiles.
The grill is heated to medium. I wash, dry and oil the peppers and pop them on the grill, turning them periodically, getting the skin black and blistery. Into a paper bag the peppers go; the top of the bag is closed and the peppers steam, the steam loosening the blackened skins.
Meanwhile, I peel the potatoes and cut them, lengthwise, into quarter-inch thick slabs. I toss the slabs in a huge bowl with extra-virgin olive oil, some kosher salt, some freshly ground black pepper. On to the grill the slices go over medium heat, with the grill top closed.
I peel the peppers, seed and devein them, then cut them into a medium dice.
I finely dice the shallot. I hard boil three eggs and peel them.
During the cooking process, I monitor the potatoes closely. I want toasty, golden brown. I do not want them black; this is critical. When they are done (it’s easy to tell if they’re done … taste them) I remove them to a bowl to cool.
I make a mix of mayonnaise (make your own, if possible. If not, use Hellman’s — Best Foods here in the West) and Dijon country mustard, tossing in a bit of Kosher salt and ground black pepper. I chunk the strips of potato, throw them in a bowl. I add the onion, the peppers, the mayo mix. I cut the eggs and add them to the mix. I test for seasoning and adjust if necessary.
I pour a glass of a hefty red blend, another “friend” of gout. If you are going to drive off a cliff, make it the mother of all cliffs.
Ahhh … freedom.
Ahhh … cows, high-fat salad and fermented grapes.
If Kathy returns home and finds me crawling across the living room floor, my normally placid features contorted with pain, I’ll tell her I sustained my injuries as I fought off a gang of vicious intruders, the thugs bent on relieving us of our flat-screen TV.
She’ll buy that, don’t you think?