The sun is out, summer is hot and I was a chef on a mission this past Sunday — call it the quest for a quintessential carnivore experience.
This is Kansas City and beef is the only option. It has to be from a local butcher, and I needed to critique the cut of beef like it belonged on display at the Nelson-Atkins. I was preparing for my Sunday dinner.
There are several steps you should take when choosing the beef and cooking process. Each step should be surreal, a spiritual experience. Let everything else be forgotten, including your job, outside distractions, TV, radio, social media ….
There is one perfect cut of meat for this quest, and that is the rib-eye. There is no substitute. It needs to be about an inch thick, with beautiful fat marbling gracefully throughout in abstract patterns that are as surreal and eye-catching as any painting by Salvador Dali. The fat marbling is all of the flavor, and this is more important than any other part of the cooking experience.
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The age of the meat is also very important. Ask the butcher how long the meat has aged. A good rule of thumb is 21 to 35 days.
Now let’s talk about cooking the meat itself. Anything other than charcoal for grilling is blasphemy. Never settle for propane, it separates you from the primal process. Yes, we are going back in time, the way it all began. Everyone may have their opinion, but the actual scientific temperature should be no more than medium rare for the finish of the beef.
For the true primal experience, several elements will be needed to obtain the finest steak you have ever eaten. As I said before, marbling must be exactly correct. This melts when heated, helping the steak to baste itself from within as it cooks. The marbling will release the fat, and when mixed with the seasoning this will create its own sauce; therefore you will never need a sauce. Ketchup, pepper sauce, Heinz 57? No way.
Less meat is more. Do not look for a 64 ounce piece of beef to grill. Season the top of the meat only. Sea salt and perhaps a rub of a garlic clove on the meat will do the job.
This past Sunday made for the perfect summer day in Kansas City to have a primal experience. When I arrived at the local butcher, the display case looked like a carnivore heaven.
I was tempted to pick out a Kansas City strip or even some of the finest looking tenderloin I have ever seen, but I remembered my own words and past experience, so I chose the beautiful rib-eye cut of beef. The butcher told me it had aged for 28 days, and its marbling was absolutely perfect.
I had some local heirloom garlic from my friend Gary Verhaeghe, and I gently rubbed the meat with the garlic. I had some sea salt that I had brought back from Trapani, Sicily. I used a generous amount on the meat to form a nice little crust but also to bring out the natural flavor of the beef.
Many experts will say do not salt the meat before cooking “because osmosis causes the juices to escape the meat when muscular fibers are cut and open.” I disagree and most chefs will also disagree. I also let the meat sit for about 15 minutes out of the refrigerator while I prepared my charcoal grill.
Like I said before, charcoal only. I didn’t want any other flavors to get into the meat. I remember going to a cooking class at Smoke ‘n’ Fire that was taught by barbecue author Steven Raichlen, and this is where I picked up that little bit of advice.
Actually, Raichlen likes to put the meat directly on the hot coals; he calls this “caveman style,” and the night I experienced this style of cooking is still a wonderful memory. I mean seriously, his charcoal was going strong, and he placed the red meat right on top of it, no grill at all. This may seem crazy, but it was absolutely delicious.
I was in my Zen at this moment, connecting myself to the origin of man. This brought me back to nature, a real discipline to actually watch the fire and await my carnal experience.
When the meat reached the perfect temperature of medium rare, I removed it from the grill, placed the meat on a platter and added a few sprigs of fresh rosemary. I went back into the house and placed it in the center of the table. My wife had already prepared some lobster mashed potatoes and local corn that was bathed in a bath of butter. La dolce vita, baby!
I let the meat sit for no more than 5 minutes so it could retain all of its juices, and I cut into it. I took one bite, and I reached nirvana. I told my wife that this cut of beef could hang proudly on the wall of the Nelson-Atkins for sure.
There was nothing to critique. A simple preparation made for the perfect summer evening. It was pure enjoyment. This is Kansas City, and this was a primal experience.
Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s commands the helm of his family’s 59-year-old restaurant, consistently rated one of Kansas City’s best Italian restaurants. In addition to running the restaurant with his brother, Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He is host to many famous chefs on his weekly radio show “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM. He also sells a line of dressings and sauces.