Steak & Chips
The very poetry of food...

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[Steak & chips]

In July 2014, my "nearest and dearest" supermarket [thanks for that description, Elizabeth!] invited its customers to submit poems - the best of which would be displayed in the aisles. My entry, imaginatively titled Steak and Chips, must have been considered pretty dire, as it didn't even trigger an acknowledgement! Anyhow, I've recycled it here, dissected into eight lines which are interspersed among some more prosaic thoughts about this classic meal.

Chips bask on the baking tray, peas pop into foil.

Being lazy, I'm happy to use frozen oven chips and peas (both organic if you can get them). The chips take about 30 minutes to cook at 200°C/Gas Mark 6, and washing-up can be saved by wrapping the peas in a foil parcel and placing it on the shelf below the chips, for the same cooking time. No need to add any water, in fact there's usually a small amount to drain off - carefully - as you open the parcel.

Upstairs in the frying pan, on flimsy sheets of oil,

I cook all the other items in a heavy-duty, 10-inch stainless steel frying pan. For many years I bought non-stick coated pans (they don't last long when used for serious frying), before realising that "sticking" isn't an issue if you use a conventional pan with care - in particular following the "seasoning" procedure to the letter before first use. To fry steak, I use a knob of unsalted butter melted into a tablespoon or two of walnut oil, then swirled around to coat the base of the pan evenly. Heat until moisture can be seen bubbling up, then further until there are no more bubbles.

Ordinary onions and poshest Portobello

Slice a medium-sized brown onion fairly thinly, removing the outer ring from each slice (so you don't need to peel the onion first). I like to pat the slices dry in a folded sheet of kitchen roll, which can be re-used later to wipe the steak before frying. Once you've tried flat Portobello mushrooms, you won't go back to button ones for this meal! One tip: if they're not fully open, leave them to dry out at room temperature for a day or two. This intensifies the flavour and, by reducing the water content, makes them less likely to steam in the frying pan. I trim round the edges and remove any stalk, then slice the tops flat. Very large mushrooms are best halved or even quartered before cooking - but bear in mind that, like the onions, they'll shrink considerably. As with aubergines, mushrooms absorb lots of oil; you can use less of it if they're missing.

Tumble with tomatoes as the mood begins to mellow.

Tomatoes must be fully ripe and full of juice - locally-grown are always better than imports, which can sometimes be so dry that they're more like little red peppers! Cherry tomatoes are nice fried whole (roll them around frequently), but I prefer large vine ones, with the tops and bottoms sliced off, and sliced in half again if they're really big. Move and flip everything as necessary, to cook evenly (the onion slices will soon collapse into a pile of rings).

Turn up the heat, make a clearing in the gunk

It's important initially to seal the meat. This means throwing it onto a hot area of the pan, then running a spatula underneath to prevent sticking. After a minute or so, flip it onto another hot area and repeat the process. It it's very thick, it's a good idea to seal the edges too.

to receive our Guest of Honour, The Well-chosen Chunk

Rump steak is my preferred cut for flavour, but it does indeed need to be carefully chosen. I look for a slice that's evenly cut (beware those which taper off towards the lean edge) and comprises two or more distinct sections of meat. A fine "grain", brown colour (not bright red) and with creamy-yellow, rather than white fat, usually indicate a tender piece. If you're lucky, it can be as meltingly soft as fillet steak (but with a far better flavour). Sirloin can also be good, but in general I don't think it justifies the price premium.

of Angus or Hereford, sealing thus its fate.

As to breed, "Aberdeen Angus" is reliably tender, but I think "Hereford" has the edge for flavour. As sold in supermarkets, these should strictly be described as Aberdeen Angus or Hereford cross, i.e. the progeny of any old moo-cow that's been "sired" by a bull of the named breed. I often wonder how the pure-bred meats would taste!

(Remember to warm up a Really Big Plate!)

[Chips & Steak]

It's worth aiming to have everything fried to perfection with a few minutes to spare, so the meat has a chance to "rest" in the pan. As you can see from the main photo above, I tend to go easy with the chips. But, in response to an email from my mate Nick ("Eucccch! It's got tomatoes and what look like mushrooms on it. And that's hardly a portion of chips") I re-plated the meal, as illustrated right, to satisfy the, er, larger appetite.

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