Monday, January 7, 2008

Enjoying a Good Iowa Steak

I grew up in Iowa and took for granted that steaks are pretty tasty. When I moved to Los Angeles, I realized that not all steaks are created equal - if you wanted a good steak in LA, you really needed to find the nearest Ruth's Chris or Morton's. Granted, there are other steakhouse chains that had decent steaks, but to truly understand what a great steak is, you just need to fly to Iowa and experience it for yourself.

For Christmas one year, my mom and dad actually purchased a freezer for us so we could have an Iowa side of beef shipped to us. About that time, I (finally) got pregnant and beef was absolutely on the bottom of my list of tastebud pleasers. In fact, I had a tough time with many meats and significantly reduced the amount I consumed of each. My poor brain continually tried to remind me that I'm not a vegetarian but pregnancy tastebuds will win every time. Needless to say, we didn't place that order for the Iowa beef. It didn't come up in discussion again until we started talking about moving back.

So what do you think we did our first summer back in Iowa? I talked to my Mom/Dad and brother/SIL and they agreed to let us become equal shareholders in their annual beef purchase. The freezer got stocked with lots and lots of delicious corn-fed Iowa beef. We opted to go for just the main cuts - roasts, round steaks, T-Bones, porterhouse, ribeyes… mmm…ribeyes with everything else arriving in lean ground beef or patties. The nice part of going direct to the locker (read: slaughterhouse) is the luxury of requesting all the steaks cut to your specifications (for us that meant thick) and having the round steaks seriously tenderized. Since order #1 went over so well, we placed another order this past summer and split a side with my folks (the owner found a buyer for the other side.)

DH is the grill chef of the family and we were both perfectly happy every time a plain ol' steak came off the grill. It was such an improvement over what we had been eating in California that nothing needed to be done to make them taste good. I'm not sure what compelled him to search for recipes/techniques or if he just stumbled upon it, but he found a post titled "How to Turn Cheap Choice Steaks into Gucci Prime Steaks" on the Steamy Kitchen blog. You absolutely have to read her post because I'll never be able to explain all the technical aspects of it and, as a bonus, she's a hoot. To paraphrase, you salt the steak A LOT for about an hour before cooking it. The result is a very tender, slightly salty steak that doesn't need to be slathered in A-1, 57 or any other letter/number combination steak stuff. Unfortunately, you may find that you want steak on the menu more often.

Since discovering the recipe, we've used this technique about 30 times and shared it with anyone who will listen. Basically, depending on the thickness of your steak, you adjust the technique slightly. Our steaks are typically 1¼" so we heavily salt each side and let it sit on the counter for one hour. This is a perfect amount of time because we've found that a steak should be allowed to rest (come to room temperature) for about an hour before grilling it anyhow. We had a few opportunities to try it on ¾" cuts and decided that it was best to only salt one side of the steak in those instances. After the rest period, thoroughly rinse the steak off and pat it dry before sending it off to the grill.

During these winter months when we're freezing our tails off, shoveling snow or simply not enjoying the subzero wind chill, I remind myself that Iowa does bring some advantages with it… then I head to the freezer to pull out a steak.


  • Sonny Amou

    I always thought it was an interesting phenomenon that Midwesterners do the deep freeze thing with food - virtually all of my friends there use the big freezer out in their garage, so that kinda took me back.

    Also, I think there's a big tradeoff in whatever region you happen to be in. I miss the Red Delicious Apples from up north, SoCal obviously doesn't have that. But they do have awesome oranges and of course, wine. And yeah, nobody does the gutbusting meat and potatoes ensemble like the midwest. I'm reaching for the Pepto just thinking about it ;-).