I'm a bit of a girl when it comes to my eating habits. I cook and eat mostly vegetarian food, I love nothing more than a good salad, I get excited about few things more than seafood and fish, I have absolutely no willpower when it comes to baked goods, and I very rarely tuck into a good hearty slab of red meat. I think I've only ordered steak in a restaurant once, at a tiny little bistro in the tiny little town of Chablis, having walked around in the pouring rain after a rather arduous trek from London involving the Eurostar and several country trains. In that sort of situation, steak pretty much sounds like the best thing in the world. It was France. It would be bloody, and come with ample carbs. There would be tarte tatin and cheese afterwards. I couldn't say no.
There is a lot to be said for a good steak. On the rare occasions I tuck into one, I ask myself why I don't do it more often. Few things have more savoury satisfaction than a slab of beef, crispy and charred around the edges, still melting and mooing in the middle. I used to work at a restaurant in Cambridge that produced some of the best steaks I've ever encountered - gigantic slabs of cow smothered in truffle butter and served with perfect chips. The smell as waitresses wafted them around the restaurant was intoxicating, a heady mix of bloody animal, butter, and rich, earthy truffle.
I've had a huge picanha steak in my freezer ever since receiving a gigantic hamper of meat in February. Picanha is a cut of beef popular in Brazil, and also known as the rump cap. The muscle over the top sirloin and rump, it is covered in a layer of thick fat which is often left on for cooking. Given that it must be a year since I ate my last steak, I figured it was high time to indulge (and clear a bit of freezer space at the same time).
While I believe one of the best and simplest ways to eat steak is with perfect chips and a divinely rich peppercorn sauce, I have neither the resources nor the energy to whip up chips and sauce in my kitchen. I knew it would probably only be disappointing, so I went for the next best way to serve steak: in a salad.
This might sound like an odd hybrid of girly food and MAN FOOD, but a steak salad is a great thing. The crispy, crunchy and tangy salad ingredients cut through the richness of the meat, and provide a meal that is never monotonous. Much as I love steak and chips, each mouthful is pretty much the same. I sometimes make a Thai-style salad with steak, with a tangy lime and fish sauce dressing, plenty of chilli and some crunchy green vegetables like cucumber and green beans. However, I didn't want to overpower this beautiful piece of meat with such strong flavours, so instead I basically put a load of delicious things in a bowl and slapped the bloody meat on top.
You may have remembered that in a recent post, I mentioned that I would be receiving fortnightly baskets of avocados to experiment with in the kitchen. This is part of a campaign to support and promote Peruvian avocados: nutritious and, as I hope to show, extremely versatile fruits. I'll be posting my recipes and thoughts both on here and on the Avocado Brotherhood blog.
Steak and avocado is a winning combination - the buttery blandness of the avocado works perfectly against the meat. Avocado works well in salads with pineapple, as I discovered recently - the combination of its creamy texture and slight sweet bitterness with the assertive tang of pineapple is fantastic. Blue cheese works very well with steak, and also with avocado (add bacon and you start entering sublime territory). I decided to combine all these flavours in one colourful bowlful, combined with peppery watercress, rocket and spinach, and a delicious dressing made from flavoursome olive oil and a little tangy cider vinegar and lime juice.
This is one of those meals that is very simple to put together, but when you sit down to eat it you're a little bit amazed at your sheer genius. For one thing, it's a completely beautiful plate of food - the jade avocado, bright pineapple with its caramelised char marks, snowy blue cheese...and that perfectly cooked, juicy meat sitting on top. Secondly, it's a ridiculously good combination of flavours, fresh and sweet and tangy without being cloying. The steak was perfect - I didn't time it, somehow using my cook's intuition to get it perfectly medium-rare, with the layer of fat on top rendered into perfect crispiness. I mean, look at the pictures - gorgeous, right?
Genuinely, if you asked me to choose between steak and chips, or this salad...I think you now know which I'd choose. Another 'why don't I eat steak more often?' moment...except now I know how easy this is to put together, I can guarantee I won't leave it a year this time before I eat steak again.
Steak, avocado, griddled pineapple and blue cheese salad (serves 2):
- Half a medium pineapple
- 3 tsp caster sugar
- 2 steaks (I used piranha, but sirloin would be good here)
- 100g spinach, watercress and rocket salad
- 1 ripe avocado
- 60g crumbly blue cheese
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp garlic-infused olive oil (or a small crushed garlic clove and add 1 tbsp extra olive oil)
- 1 tbsp cider vinegar
- A squeeze of lime juice
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
First, prepare the pineapple. Remove the skin and woody core, then slice into 0.5cm-thin slices. Toss in a bowl with the caster sugar. Get a griddle pan very hot, and griddle the pineapple slices on each side until caramelised and charred. Remove and set aside.
Griddle the steaks to your liking - I would suggest medium rare - then leave to rest for ten minutes while you make the salad.
Divide the spinach mixture between two plates or bowls. Halve the avocado, remove the stone, then slice into chunks and spoon out. Divide between the plates. Crumble over the blue cheese and scatter over the pineapple. Whisk together the olive oils, cider vinegar, lime juice, salt and pepper to make a dressing - taste for the right amount of tanginess, adding more lime or vinegar if necessary. Drizzle half the dressing over the salad and gently toss together.
When the steak is cooked and rested, slice thickly and arrange over the salad. Drizzle over the rest of the dressing, mixed with any of the steak juices, and serve immediately.