This dinner is a few weeks old, but I've been excited to post about it. It's still bouncing around in my head (and tastebuds) for a few reasons*:
First, it came out really well. It was in the first batch of grilled meals for the season, which is always exciting. It had just a few, great, simple tasty ingredients. Nothing complicated. If every meal tasted like this, I'd be really happy.
Second, it was the first meal in my new wine & food initiative**. Let me explain... I really like wine - drinking it, enjoying it with dinner, cooking with it. I mentioned somewhere in an earlier post about growing up in a wine-loving family. It was always part of our meals. I don't remember ever not liking it. The problem now is that I just never give it a lot of thought. I will grab a bottle from the store out of convenience and similarly grab it from our cellar out with the same sense of convenience, without enough regard for what we're drinking it with.
So the purpose of this initiative is two-fold: First to try some new varieties to get a broader sense and appreciation of what's out there, increasing my experience and enjoyment, and second, to try out some of the classic and some of the unconventional wine and food pairings out there and really think about how the two are impacting each other. A great blog I've been reading lately is Good Wine Under $20, which is informational, well-written, and well, in my price range. A fantastic book to go along with it (discovered on the blog of course) has a rather long title that starts with What to Drink with What You Eat. It's absolutely chock-full of information. There are 3 sections - The first talks about all the experience, practice and enjoyment of pairing food and beverage (make no mistake, wine is the focus, but it touches on liquids from water to beer as well). The second is a two-way dictionary where you can look up foods or beverages and find suggested pairings with different levels from "Ew, don't do that again" to "These two, consumed together, will ignite your socks." The third section has favorite tasting/drinking menus from notable food folks.
Whew - so that's the plan. You can expect some posts along this same vein - wine and a meal (with recipe, ideally) paired together, either shooting for the potential of a perfect combination, or in the effort to try a previously-unenjoyed variety. Learning is fun after all. Don't tell my 5th grade teacher.
So back to dinner, it was grilled hanger steak, grilled asparagus, and rice.
First, the hanger steak. This cut has been all the rage for the past several years. In fact, it's probably on the downside of the rage-curve now, but that doesn't detract from it's tastiness at all. It's a piece of meat that my parents introduced me to after finding it at one of the ridiculously good food sources around Northampton, MA. Initially, I couldn't find it around Buffalo. I went to a local chain butcher and was informed that they didn't think it existed. I walked home, printed out a picture and some information about it. "Oh, ok." was the response.
The asparagus was grilled along with the steak. I got lazy on the asparagus, and in an unfortunate bit of positive reinforcement, it turned out alright in the end. There were some bigger stalks in the bunch, and I didn't peel them. I also accidentally burned some of them. Instead of having to deal with a bunch of charred, stringy, indedible stalks, it had the same effect as roasting peppers. The burnt skins came right off and left the soft, creamy interiors ready...for something. The texture wasn't great for eating just as asparagus, but they disappeared wonderfully into the leftovers (photo below).
Then the rice...oh man, the rice. I had heard of the whole rice-cooked-like-pasta technique before, but didn't really get the bug to try it out until reading this post on Angry Chicken, one of the craft blogs Tina follows. We've done the rice a few times like this now, and it really is nothing short of life-changing, if you're a rice lover and don't have a rice cooker (that's us). It's worked on regular ol' white rice, basmati, jasmine and brown rice. You basically cook the rice just like pasta. Take it out when it's just about done. It seems to be completely foolproof unless you don't use enough water. Yes, I'm a dork - I do think a new rice cooking method is life changing. Get over it.
The wine. I decided to have this Malbec above with it. Why? It was already in the cellar (purchased last year sometime). It was also a variety I hadn't had yet. Finally, by all accounts it's a great wine for beef. Makes sense, if you follow the idea of pairing wines and foods that prosper in the same region. Argentina is the place to go for Malbec, and it's also the place for some of the world's best beef. So this felt right. The wine was used for a marinade, a sauce and to accompany the meal, and it was perfect. Very fruity, berry aromas. A little leathery too. And enough body to go with the steak after it was grilled. Don't recall the exact price but I can tell you it wasn't more than $20.
It was certainly a consistent experience - the wine seemed to bring out the flavor in the beef (especially, I'm assuming, given the marinade and the sauce) and vice-versa. The wine, tasted after a bite of the steak, was bolder and took on an additional edge. Definitely a winning combination.
So the complete plan for the meal:
1) Take your steak (any grillable cut), place in ziplock bag, fill with enough red wine to coat, add a bunch of black pepper, a pinch of salt and a swig of balsamic vinegar. Squish it around, and leave overnight.
2) Take it out of the fridge long enough before grilling to get it close to room temperature. Remove from marinade.
3) Preheat the grill and get a big pot of water boiling.
4) If the asparagus are big, peel the stalks :) Toss them with some oil and salt.
5) Cook steak on your grill to desired doneness. I don't know your steak, so I can't tell you how long. I've been trying to do it by touch and avoid the thermometer. Elise has a good illustrated post on that if you need some help or haven't tried it. This steak took probably 4-5 minutes per side (ended up a little more done than I'd like).
6) Get the asparagus on the grill too, and don't burn them like I did
7) Back in the kitchen get your rice into the boiling water. I added some salt as well, just like pasta. Once it's done, drain and put back in the pot with the lid on. Stir in butter or oil if desired (I did butter and chives). It will stay warm for a bit.
8) Since this wasn't cooked in a pan, there were no good bits to make a sauce out of. You can fake it. Saute some minced shallots/onions/garlic (I used shallots). Add a big splash of chicken stock and boil it down. Add a big splash of the wine and boil it down until the sauce thickens up. Take off the heat, add some butter.
9) Get everything off the grill, let steak rest for a few minutes. Pour any juices into the sauce. Eat and enjoy!
Leftovers - fried rice with garlic and onion, diced left over steak and asparagus, egg over easy, topped with the leftover sauce and more chives. Pretty tasty.
Next up in adventures with food and wine is my attempt at a Vietnamese rice noodle salad with bbq pork (Bun Thit Nuong, I believe is the name), paired with a German Riesling.
* Tina accuses me of making verbal lists for everything. Maybe I do. It seems like I'm always saying "First off...Secondly..." Oh well. Must be how my disorganized mind is trying to impose some order.
** Apologies for the use of "Initiative." This might be called an Initiative or maybe a Strategic Program at my day job. Maybe part of the critical path to a successful engagement. Sorry, I'll stop now. Sometimes I wish I was a park ranger and not a software developer.