Joyeux Le Quatorze Juillet! ~ Celebrate with Super-Crusty Grilled Steaks from Cook's Illustrated Summer Grilling, 2011

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It is days like this that make me happy that I straddle two countries. Fifty years ago my parents immigrated to the United States from France. I was a four-week old baby so I can’t really really tell you if I got seasick or how the experience of becoming a naturalized American citizen affected me. I can tell you that over the years my parents did an amazing job of balancing my Armenian heritage, French nationality and American citizenship. I can cook Armenian food, speak French and am an American.

The reason that today makes me happy is that it’s Independence Day, again. This time I won’t be celebrating America’s independence, but France’s. It’s known as Bastille Day, when a small group of farmers and craftsmen stormed the Bastille, a prison that represented King Louis XVI’s rule. The taking down of the Bastille launched the French Revolution. There’s your history for the day.

Since by now you’ve checked to make sure that you’re on the right page and this is indeed a place to come and talk about food (especially that gorgeous steak up there), I assure you that’s what we’re going to do. This is, in fact, called a “segue.”

The steak you see above was supposed to be for Hubby’s Father’s Day celebration. Unfortunately he was sick as a dog, so the two beautiful cuts of meat were carefully wrapped and put in the freezer. So, what better day to bring them out than in celebration of another Independence Day. The steaks came out of the freezer and Cook’s Illustrated came off the shelf.

The celebration meal would be rounded off with corn, cucumbers and tomatoes that were were fresh-picked from the garden today.

The Process
Recently the words “dry-age” has become synonymous with a good steak, a process used by most steakhouses now. There has always been something in the back of my mind that cringes at the thought of ┬ámeat sitting out for weeks at a time before being cooked. Isn’t there a reason that a “sell-by” date is on packages of meat?

Cook’s Illustrated didn’t settle my fears on weeks of dry-aging, but they did create a different, faster way to do a quick dry of the meat so that amazing crust can develop during grilling. To do this, I first patted the steaks dry, then covered them with a mixture of salt and cornstarch. Yes cornstarch. It sounds utterly bizarre, but many things that Cook’s Illustrated do and they still work out, right? Once the steaks are covered, they’re put on a rack, which goes on a rimmed baking sheet, which then goes in the freezer. Yes, the freezer. Are you really going to keep making me repeat myself?

I froze the steaks until they were firm and dry to the touch. The directions say to do it for between 30-60 minutes. Mine took about 40. Somewhere in there I also lit the charcoal for the grill. When the coals were ready, I seasoned the steaks with pepper and handed them to Hubby. He cooked mine for about 4 minutes per side (rare) and his for 6 minutes per side (medium rare) on hot coals with the lid down.

That’s all it took to create a steak with a gorgeous crust.

One of the things I love about Cook’s Illustrated is that the put little factoids in the process section of the recipe. For instance, did you know that at Ruth’s Chris Steak House the broilers hit 1800 degrees to get the crust on their steaks? Can your grill do that? Mine either.

The Verdict
You can see the verdict. It’s a perfectly cooked, wonderfully crusted steak. Freezing the steak for the 40 minutes helped the center to cook less fast, which kept my steak nice and rare. As far as flavor, it was excellent. All three of us finished out pieces completely and wished we had more. No need for steak sauce or any other kind of cover-up. It was fantastic.

What I’d Do Different Next Time
I’d have probably used a less fine grind on the pepper in the final seasoning. There’s something about a good, crusty steak in which you bite into little bits of peppercorn that perfects it. Otherwise, I have no idea how this steak can get any better with out getting an 1800 degree broiler.

Super-Crusty Grilled Steaks
from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine – Summer Grilling, 2011

1 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon cornstarch
4 strip, filet mignon or rib-eye steaks, about 1 1/2 inches thick
Ground black pepper
Vegetable oil for the cooking grate

Combine the salt and cornstarch in a small bowl. Dry steaks with paper towels, then rub with the salt mixture. Lay the steaks on a wire rack which has been set on a rimmed baking tray and put the tray in the freezer. Freeze the steaks for 30 minutes to an hour, or until they are firm and dry to the touch.

Light the grill and let the coals get very hot. Clean the grates and oil them.

Remove the steaks from the freezer and season both sides with pepper. Grill, covered over the coals until well browned and cooked (4 minutes per side for rare; 6 minutes per side for medium rare). Transfer to a plate and tent with foil. Let rest 5-10 minutes before serving.


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