Darina Allen’s reveals her recipe for the perfect steak

I LOVE a good steak from time to time, not a huge one, but a juicy piece of thick sirloin with crisp yellow fat, cooked medium rare for perfection. 

Irish farmers and family butchers have been reeling for the past few weeks from a ‘triple whammy’ of challenges. The continuing uncertainty around Brexit, the increasingly vocal and visible vegan movement and last but certainly not least, the dramatic findings and recommendations of the EAT Lancet Report.

We’re in the midst of a climate change crisis. Business as usual is no longer an option. The landmark Lancet Report concludes that “a great food transformation” is urgently needed by 2050 when the world’s population is expected to have grown to 10 billion. 

Professor Tim Lang of the City University in London, one of the 36 researchers involved, stressed that without radical change in our eating habits, current trends will lead to further loss of biodiversity, increased pollution, deforestation and irreversible climate change. 

Professor Johan Rockstrom from Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany who co-led the commission said: “Nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution is needed to deliver healthy diets for a growing and wealthier world population.”

Our current diet is causing an epidemic of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. So to save the planet for future generations, production and consumption of red meat, dairy, eggs and sugar must half over the next three decades. Instead, we are encouraged to eat twice as many vegetables, grains, pulses, fruit and nuts. Sometimes nothing quite hits the spot like a really good piece of beef and really good it needs to be, and certainly can be, but sadly not always is. 

Ireland, favoured by nature, can grow grass like virtually nowhere else in the world so the quality of our beef, lamb and dairy products is exceptional. We boast about our ‘grass fed’, pasture raised beef but what exactly is the definition of grass fed?

A growing number of sceptics are quick to point out that much of our beef is finished indoors on genetically modified grain imported from South America. Even more surprising are the increasing number of intensive units where animals are confined indoors for virtually all their lives in situations similar to the American feed lots. There would appear to be an urgent need for clarity around the term ‘grass fed’.

Farmers who produce exceptional beef cattle on small family farms ought to be identified and paid more for their produce.

When people do decide to treat themselves, they are searching for the ‘wow’ factor. Meat from heritage breeds, humanely reared, well hung and nutrient dense. It’s a fast growing movement that’s not going away any time soon. Neither is the rise and intensity of veganism and concerned though I am on health grounds, at a time when so much of our mass produced food is nutritionally deficient, its difficult to argue with some of the reasoning in terms of animal welfare and climate change.

Now that there has been time to mull over the EAT Lancet Report, a number of imminent scientists are urging caution before making widespread dietary recommendations.

So this week, some of my favourite beef recipes – to enjoy occasionally.

Roast Fillet of Beef with Horseradish Sauce

A fillet of beef is always a special treat. It can be served hot or cold, but either way it’s easy to carve and serve. Don’t refrigerate or you will spoil the texture and flavour of the meat.

Serves 8 – 10

1 whole fillet of well hung dried aged beef 2.6kg (6lb) approximately

A few cloves garlic

Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper

Extra virgin olive oil

Thyme leaves

Horseradish Sauce

3 - 6 tbsp freshly grated horseradish

2 tsp white wine vinegar

1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

¼ tsp mustard

¼ tsp salt

Lots of freshly ground pepper

1 tsp sugar

225ml (8 fl ozs) softly whipped cream

Trim away the chain if it is still attached, use the meat for Beef Stroganoff. Double over the meat at the tapered end and tie the fillet securely with fine butcher’s cotton twine. Alternatively ask your butcher to do the ‘butchering’ for you.

Rub the fillet all over with a cut clove of garlic, season well with lots of freshly-cracked pepper. Season well with sea salt.

Drizzle with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and sprinkle with freshly-ground pepper. This will baste the meat while cooking.

Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/gas mark 8.

Heat a cast iron pan grill to very hot. Sear the beef until nicely-browned on all sides. Transfer it to a roasting tin and tuck a couple of sprigs of thyme underneath.

Roast for 20-25 minutes. If you have a meat thermometer, the internal temperature should read 118C/235F. The meat should feel springy to the touch and the juice should be a pale pink when the meat is pierced with a skewer. Remove from the oven to a carving dish. Cover and allow to rest in a plate warming oven for 15-20 minutes by which time the juices will have redistributed themselves and the beef will be uniformly medium rare.

Serve cut into 5mm (¼ inch) slices and serve with the horseradish sauce.

Horseradish Sauce

This is a fairly mild sauce. If you want to really clear the sinuses, increase the amount of horseradish. Serve with roast beef, smoked venison or smoked mackerel.

Put the grated horseradish into a bowl with the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard powder, salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. Fold in the softly whipped cream but do not over mix or it will curdle. The sauce keeps in the fridge for 2-3 days, covered, so that it doesn’t pick up other flavours.

Pan-Grilled Steak with Chipotle Butter

Sirloin is more textural than fillet, with lots of flavour, but you can use either here.

We find a heavy-ridged, cast-iron grill pan best for cooking steaks when you don’t need to make a sauce in the pan. If the weight of these steaks sounds small by your standards, the portion size can be increased and the cooking times adjusted accordingly.

Serves 8

8 sirloin or fillet steaks

1 clove of garlic

Freshly ground black pepper

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt

Chipotle Butter

75g butter

2 tbsp chipotle chilli in adobo

225g sirloin or fillet steaks

1 clove of garlic

A little olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Fresh watercress or rocket leaves

Garnish

Chopped parsley

To serve

French-fried onions (recipe opposite)

First make the chipotle butter. Cream the butter in a bowl, beat in the chipotle and chopped parsley, roll into a ball in greaseproof paper, twist the ends like a Christmas cracker and refrigerate.

Prepare the steaks about one hour before cooking. Cut a clove of garlic in half, rub both sides of each steak with the cut clove, grind some black pepper over the steaks and sprinkle on a few drops of olive oil. Turn the steaks in the oil and leave aside. If using sirloin steaks, score the fat at 2.5cm intervals.

Heat the grill pan, season the steaks with a little salt and put them down onto the pan.

The approximate cooking times for each side of the steaks are:

Sirloin Fillet

  • Rare: 2 minutes / 5 minutes
  • Medium rare: 3 minutes / 6 minutes
  • Medium: 4 minutes / 7 minutes
  • Well done: 5 minutes / 8 to 9 minutes

If using sirloin steak turn it over onto the fat and cook for 3-4 minutes or until the fat becomes crisp. Put the steaks onto a plate and leave them rest for a few minutes in a warm place. Serve the steaks on individual serving plates with a slice of chipotle butter melting on top and some rocket leaves on the side. Sprinkle over some chopped parsley.

Serve with French-fried onions (below).

French Fried Onions

A delicious accompaniment to your pan-grilled steak.

1 egg white

300ml (10fl oz) milk

2 large onions, peeled

225g (8oz) seasoned flour

Good-quality oil or beef dripping for deep frying

Whisk the egg white lightly and add it to the milk. Slice the onion into 5mm rings around the middle.

Separate the rings and cover with the milk mixture until needed. (The leftover milk may be boiled up, thickened with roux and used for a white or parsley sauce.)

Just before serving, heat the oil or beef dripping to 180C.

Toss the rings a few at a time in well-seasoned flour. Deep-fry for 2–3 minutes or until golden in the hot oil.

Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot with your pan-grilled steak.

David Tanis’s Vietnamese Pot Roast Beef Stew (Bo kho)

Bo kho is a delicious Vietnamese pot-roasted beef stew. It is not so different from a traditional French pot-au-feu, but it is spiced in a traditional Vietnamese manner, fragrant with lemongrass, star anise and cinnamon. 

When the meat is fork tender, carrots are added to complete the dish. If you wish, include turnips or daikon radish or potatoes. Serve it with rice, rice noodles or a freshly-baked baguette.

Marinade

2 tbsp Vietnamese fish sauce, such as Red Boat

1 tbsp brown sugar

2 tbsp grated fresh ginger

2 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder

½ tsp black pepper

For the braise

1.4kg (3lbs) beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 tbsp vegetable oil

6 large shallots or 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

130g (4.5oz) chopped tomato, fresh or canned

2 tbsp grated fresh ginger (from a 2-inch piece)

3 garlic cloves, minced

3 tbsp finely-chopped lemongrass, tender centre only

1 tsp kosher salt

½ tsp annatto powder (optional)

4 star anise pods

1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick, or substitute cassia bark

1 or 2 Serrano or Thai chillies, stem on, split lengthwise

680g (1.5lbs) pounds medium carrots, peeled, cut into 2-inch chunks

4-6 thinly-sliced scallions

coriander sprigs, for garnish

mint leaves, for garnish

basil leaves, preferably Thai, for garnish

First make the marinade. Stir together fish sauce, sugar, ginger, 5-spice powder and pepper.

Place the beef in a large bowl, add the marinade and massage into the meat. Let the meat sit in the marinade for at least 15 minutes, or longer if time permits (may be wrapped and refrigerated overnight if desired).

Put the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot enough, fry the beef cubes in small batches, taking care not to crowd them, until nicely browned. When all the beef is browned, return it all to the pot.

Add the shallots, stir to combine and continue cooking for 4 to 5 minutes, or until softened.

Add the tomato, ginger, garlic, lemongrass, salt and annatto, if using, and stir well to coat, then add the star anise, cinnamon and chilli. Cover with 4 cups water and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to a simmer, cover with lid ajar and cook for about 1 hour 15 minutes, or until fork-tender.

Add carrots to the pot and cook 15 minutes more. Skim any fat from surface of broth as necessary (or refrigerate overnight and remove congealed fat before reheating).

To serve, ladle into individual bowls. Garnish with scallions, coriander, mint and basil.

Hot tips

Recommended books

Two of my best Christmas presents this year were books, so brilliant that I want to share the titles with you: Invasive Plant Medicine by Timothy Lee Scott — you’ll never look at weeds in the same way again. The second is life changing: Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm by Isabella Tree — it should be essential reading for every farmer and all the rest of us too.

Reduce plastic and packaging

Look out for reusable produce bags to use when buying loose fruit and vegetables. They can be washed occasionally and used over and over again.

www.cookingisfun.ie 

www.instagram.com/darina_allen 

www.instagram.com/ballymaloecookeryschool

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