The Great Steak Challenge is a contest from Beringer Vineyards that’s taking place this summer and fall. There will be several regional steak competitions, with the winners all going to Beringer Vineyards in Napa Valley for the finals. I thought, “Steak and competition, two things I love!” So I found myself thinking of ways to fix steaks this past weekend.
Some of you will know that I’m big on good steaks, and find that artisan steaks, as championed by the Artisan Beef Institute, to be some of the best steaks I’ve had. Here’s the rub, though… I mostly prefer my steaks with nothing but some salt and pepper, maybe a drizzle of olive oil. The competition, however, is for steak recipes, and I don’t think s&p steaks will be make it far in a steak recipe competition. Too bad, as anyone will be hard pressed to change my mind… Start with a great steak, and let it be a great steak!
I’ve noticed every time I’ve done a steak tasting that I go for Charolais steaks about every time as my favorite. The steaks have a bit more adventurous flavor, a good chew, and just scream “STEAK!” to me. If these are my favorites, then any recipe would have to have seasonings that stand up to the beefiness without overpowering it. A really spicy, thick sauce may result in only tasting the sauce, not the steak.
As I started thinking, I thought I’d start with a coffee base, mostly because I think it’s a great flavor with red meat in general, giving more of an earthiness than just being coffee. I had a couple of thoughts. One was to use coffee and bourbon together, along with some sugar; this is basically a Cafe Royale. Another, thanks to my mom, was to use coffee and wine together, which made sense in a competition that includes pairing a wine with the steak. I couldn’t decide which to try, so I tried both of them!
I did a marinade along with a rub, and the marinade was used to cook down as a sauce, too. Coffee doesn’t lend itself to dainty, refined use; it’s more rustic and bold, which suits me just fine. The ingredients I used were pretty straightforward: espresso/coffee, brown sugar/molasses, salt, pepper and ancho. I also used some butter in the final sauce. One sauce got 3 tablespoons of Maker’s Mark whisky, and the other used a cup of wine (I used an Imagery Merlot).
The rub had the same ingredients, minus the wine or bourbon, and used ground coffee beans instead of brewed espresso.
I put the brewed espresso with either the wine or bourbon, seasoned, and put the steaks in the marinades for about 40 minutes, 20 minutes on each side. I made the rub while this was happening, and started up a chimney of lump charcoal to get the grill going with a 3 zone fire. The rub was ground coffee, brown sugar, s&p and ancho. The one change I would make to the recipe would be to add a couple of sprigs of fresh time to the marinade and sauce.
When the steaks came out of the marinade, I patted them dry and applied a heavy dusting of rub to each side, letting the steaks set for a few minutes while I put the marinades in sauce pans to cook down. I brought the liquid to a boil, then turned it down to a simmer.
Along with the steaks, I washed asparagus tips I had gotten earlier in the day from a local farm, the first fresh produce of 2010 from local farmers! They looked great, and grilled really well, too.
The steaks went on the cool side of my Weber kettle grill, with the lid on, for about 5 minutes per side, then over the hot part of the fire for about 30 seconds or so per side, to crust up the rub a bit. The asparagus grilled along with the steaks once I first turned them over, and I finished the asparagus while the steaks rested under aluminum foil for a fre minutes after being done. I seared the steaks on the hot side of the fire when they go to about 110-115 degrees F, and they were about 125 F when I removed them from the grill.
I sliced up both steaks (which were NY Strips), and put the sauce directly over the steak, and added the asparagus tips on the side.
The verdict for both my wife and me was that we prefered the sauce with wine over the whisky, though both were good. I think the wine/espresso mix just worked better. The whisky version would make a great porkchop, though! I’ve entered my full recipe on the Beringer Vinyards site… hopefully, I’ll find out I make it to a regional competition!