Monthly Archives: December 2014

Foodies and Steak Rolendeli

Foodie is a dangerous term.  Foodies argue endlessly about the provenance of the oregano in a chef’s Sunday gravy, or bicker about the appropriate  number of pounds to press the espresso puck to pull a correct Americano.  Flame wars erupt amongst them about the proper use of Himalayan salt, or Nepalese salt, or Hawaiian lava salt and which goes correctly with organic wild basa, instead of farmed basa.

If we want ‘genuine’ Kerala Chicken Curry, we’ll go to Kerala and get it in Kerala from a sketchy street vendor, instead of arguing over the spice mixtures and whether the cocoanut milk is fresh or canned.  We approach food differently, eschewing the esoteric hipster-approved pseudo-experience of “genuine”or “authentic” cuisine, for things that Taste Good

To which we present something that Tastes Good.  It is called Steak Rolendeli.

In an Esquire article, Man At His Best, November 1990 the late Jim Enger described a dish of such remarkable beauty that we have kept the magazine, now stained with butter and meat juices and have actually prepared Steak Rolendeli three times.  Each time those around the table have been enthralled at the simplicity and beauty of the recipe and marked it as one of those meals that one remembers for a long, long time.  It will also make you a Kitchen Deity for years to come.  

Herewith, Steak Rolendeli.

Go to the butcher.  A real butcher that understands beef, not some gormless mook that merely stocks the racks with hermetically sealed pre-digested, pre-portioned cow parts.  Point at the sirloin steaks and ask to buy the primal cut that those steaks came from as one big whole.  Many butchers get their meat in big chunks and cut it down from the primal cut, usually packed in a Cryovac bag, from their meat distributor.  If you have a butcher that gets actual carcasses of beef, tell them you want the whole sirloin, cap on.  It should weigh about 17 to 20 pounds.  This will cost you more than $100, but it will be worth it.  Trust us.

Stop at the supermarket on the way home from the butcher, get two pounds of unsalted butter, two pounds of salted butter and three boxes of regular table salt.  Swing by the bread department and get two loaves of the best, crusty Italian or French bread you can wangle.  If you have a baker nearby get the two best they have in a crusty, white baguette or freeform loaf.

Salad?  Sure.  You can make a salad if you wish.  Nobody will eat it, but you can make it. 

Call up four to eight excellent friends with good appetites and get enough wine to go with this meal. Or beer, or bourbon.  Drinks are mandatory, but as to what, we’ll leave that to you.  Whatever goes with beef and is of a modest price is your objective.

At home, open the package from the butcher to gaze upon this hunk of meat.  You’ll need a sharp knife to take off the fat cDSC_5865ap (or if you butcher knows what you’re creating, will do it for you.  This is the time to have a very sharp knife.  You want to trim the fat cap down to where there is a thin layer of fat on the top side.  You might have to whittle the fat cap off in smaller pieces and it might take off a pound or two of weight, but you have plenty to work with. 

Place the whole thing in a turkey-sized roaster and let the meat come up to room temperature, which should take about an hour.  Meanwhile take those two loaves of bread and cut them into slices, perhaps on the thinner side.  Steak Rolendeli is about the meat, the bread is important, but thinner is better here.

Put your oven rack as far down as it will go and put the broiler on about 20 minutes before cooking to get the broiler screeching hot.  We have a gas broiler and it takes about 8 minutes to get to the point where you can sweat-solder copper pipe with it.  Yours might take a little longer to come up to full temp.  Obviously Steak Rolendeli will not work if your heat source is a $29.99 toaster oven from that fancy French store, Target.DSC_5886

Open one of the boxes of salt.  This is ordinary table salt, not kosher, or sea, or lava, or smoked. Simple table salt.  Pour it all over the top of the steak. All of it.  Every grain.  Tell your guests to hush as they will protest drowning a magnificent hunk of beef in a kilo of salt.  You are doing something brave and fantastic that will have your friends talking for years, licking their lips in fond remembrance and hushed reverence for your status as a Kitchen Deity.

Put the steak, salt side up, under the broiler and set the timer for 25 minutes.  Do not peek, as there is magic afoot!

While the meat is broiling, melt down the four pounds of butter in a pot that you would make a big batch of chili, or boil pasta in.  The pot should be big enough that the butter only comes up about half-way.  Get the butter melted and simmering, not boiling:  You should see the occasional bubble on the surface, not a full rolling boil, so go slowly.

Once the timer goes off, take out the Steak Rolendeli and chip off the burned salt crust.  It will come off in chunks, looking a little burned and hard, which is exactly what you want.  Toss the salt out and brush off any excess.  DSC_5924

Flip the meat over and pour another box of table salt over the uncooked side and return the steak to the broiler.  Set the timer to another 25 minutes and tell the now-yapping guests to shut up. These things take time.  Open another bottle, or tell a long pointless story about finding the recipe on an obscure blog run by a crazed Canadian up in Ottawa named Smitty, based on an article in Esquire in 1990, by a guy who loved fly fishing in the UP of Michigan.

When the timer goes off, the fun starts.  Bring out the meat and chip off the salt again, brushing off the excess that didn’t harden up.  Put the meat on a cutting board and chop it into fist-sized chunks.  You’ll see the meat is on the rare side of rare, perhaps even blue in the middle.  Plop one or two chunks into the pot, carefully, so as not to splash molten butter everywhere.  DSC_5943

Nominate one of your most trustworthy unindicted co-conspirators as the Runner, as he or she will be running plates of Steak Rolendeli to the table and acting as your able assistant.  Send your guests to the table and tell them to prepare themselves. 

Fish out the first chunk of meat from the butter. It should soak for about two minutes.  While you are slicing off pieces as thin as you can, your Runner is very lightly dipping one side of the bread in the butter and placing them on a platter. You cover the bread with razor thin slices of meat, cut against the grain.  As your Runner delivers a platter to the dining area, fish out another big chunk and drop another one into the butter.  The Runner will load the next platter with butter dipped bread and you will continue to slice off the meaty goodness.  Some rare, some medium and even some medium well, mixed across the bread slices will allow your guests to choose to their tastes.  DSC_5965

Those particularly fine pieces, with a bit of char that weren’t perfectly covered with salt?  Those are hoarded to one side of the cutting board for you and your Runner.  Dip, slice, place, run, repeat. 

You will notice a peculiar sound about the time the second platter arrives.  You won’t hear your guests griping, harping, or complaining.  You won’t hear good-natured bantering, laughter, or stories.  Perhaps you might hear the occasional clink of a glass or the elegant chirp of silverware on a plate.  You will hear a lot of silence and the comfortingly guttural sounds of people eating with lustful abandon.  With luck you might hear the tiny jingle of a belt-buckle being undone discreetly under the table. 

This is what you want. 

After the third or fourth platter, herd that stack of very choice cuts you’ve been hoarding on the corner of the cutting board onto a slice of dipped bread for your Runner.  This is their Just Reward. 

One last platter, this time asking your guests if they want very rare, rare, medium or well done and provision their bread as appropriate.  You may now enter the dining area to your well-deserved applause and adulation, your Runner discreetly sliding into place at their seat, with their own special plate of Steak Rolendeli.

What you have created, if you are of a culinary perspective, is a broiled, salt-crusted sirloin, finished by butter poaching.  The beef is not salty, perhaps the top 1/32nd of an inch is, but not any more than that.  The salt crusts under the heat of the broiler, trapping the juices in the meat, until you release them with that final quick poaching in butter.  Tender, juicy, flavourful, remarkable sirloin of beef, served simply on well-buttered and meat-juiced bread.

The other thing you have created is a memory for your guests of a meal they will not soon forget. 

You may now wear your jaunty crown as a Kitchen Deity which also entitles you to tell any obnoxious foodie to go climb a tree and hang themselves by their woolen hipster toque. 

We make food that tastes good.

Christmas Traditions

Yuletide is a season of traditions, some old, some new.  We’re going to share one or two with you as our way of a holiday post. 

We’ve been listening to The Shepherd on the radio almost every Christmas Eve.  For those not familiar with the CBC, or As It Happens, here’s the backstory.  As It Happens is a CBC radio program that since 1979 has aired either on Christmas Eve, or as close to it as possible, a short story by Fredrick Forsyth called The Shepherd.  It is a reading by the late Alan Maitland of the story of a RAF flyer in 1957 taking a Christmas Even flight home from Germany in a DH 100 Vampire single seat jet fighter.  The story by Fredrick Forsythe is part redemption, a narrative of faith and a great historical ghost story, all set on Christmas Eve.    

We turn down the lights in the house, turn up the radio, or the computer and sit for a half-hour, listening to the magic of radio as Forsyth’s words and Maitland’s voice weave story in our minds more vivid that any presentation in 4K HD and THX audio.  In an interesting twist of history, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum has a DH 100 Vampire and a DH 98 Mosquito as part of the collection, not a dozen kilometers from here.

Even though we have heard The Shepherd dozens of times and can nearly quote it verbatim, it still brings a chill and then a warmth that is our Christmas Even tradition.  We can’t do it justice so go to the CBC site, here and listen for yourself.

The second tradition was started about fifteen years ago, as a way to spread the load of the holiday season.  Ourselves and another couple take it in turns to host the Christmas Day dinner, adjourning to each others houses for the feast.  Some years it is the traditional turkey and other years a more contemporary tasting table.  There is always too much to drink and too much to eat, but the fellowship and close personal ties between us and any strays we round up provide an evening of warmth, laughter and closeness that is about as good as it gets.  It is the highlight of the season.

If you have a mind as twisted as ours, we will suggest Cards Against Humanity, the Canadian Edition, as a way to tighten your abs to work off the Christmas dinner.  We still hurt this morning from laughing hard enough to cause damage.

To our friends, distant, near, online, and real world, we wish you happiness and joy this holiday season and hope that you find your moments of warmth, joy and closeness with those who mean much to you.

In the words of Joe the old batman from The Shepherd, Happy Christmas.

Spacing Again

NASA has been sitting on the sidelines since the Space Shuttles stopped flying, relying on the Russian Soyuz as a way to get folks to the International Space Station along with groceries and gizmos to keep the joint going.

This morning NASA launched, for the first time, an unmanned Orion, the next-gen spacecraft that will contain humans to go to places like Mars.  Using a Delta IV Heavy rocket NASA did what they used to do:  Punch big holes in the sky.  Everything worked, two orbits and a successful re-entry old-skool style under parachutes to a splashdown.

Which led to some comments from colleagues.  One remarked he had seen the beginning of the Shuttle and the end of the Shuttle and was astounded by the passing of that many years.  We commented that some of us recall Sheppard and Glen in the early days, the Gemini series, the Apollos and Skylab.  We felt old for a moment.  My colleague’s timeline was different and we have the benefit of perspective.

Most of us of a certain age remember the Space Race when the US was in a death-march to the Moon with the Soviets:  When winning mattered to demonstrate the prowess of the ‘free world’ to conquer these kinds of massive technological things that had never been done before by anyone, anywhere, ever.  That sense of seeing a greyish, grainy shot of someone in a bulky spacesuit stepping onto another planet nearly a quarter of a million miles away, that sense of “Holy Shit!  We Did It!”

We, as a people, had lost that sense of awe of doing the impossible, but for about five hours today, we got a tiny taste of that mojo back. 

It isn’t the beginning, but more like Orion is the very first struggling, hesitant steps of the beginning of the Beginning.  Hopefully, soon, we’ll have that incredible sense of awe back.  Our planet needs it, perhaps now more than ever.     



Museum Maintenance Woes

The Canada Science and Technology Museum is going into the porcelain facility quickly, a victim of years of neglect.  To those who don’t know the joint, the museum is one of the pre-eminent museums of, oddly enough, Science and Technology in the world, located not 10 kilometers from where we write this august blog.

Science and Tech, as is has been known for a zillion years, was originally a Morrison-Lamonthe bakery, a huge rambling joint in the suburbs of Ottawa since 1967 when it opened.  Morrison-Lamonthe, so the story goes, was expanding their production plant from their old Echo Drive location into a new state of the 1966-art high tech bakery when the market tanked.  They had a big, almost finished building and a big bill to finish the construction, when they decided not to go ahead with their mammoth undertaking and turned to the Feds to bail them out, which they did. 

Now, what to do with 11,000 square meters of floor space (118,403 square feet) and 12 hectares (almost 30 acres) of land?  It being Centennial Year, they decided to do a museum to Science and Technology and do it fast. 

Being an Ottawa kid, growing up a short bike ride from the site, I’ve probably been to the museum more times than I’ve had freshly laundered shirts.  It was an amazing place. 

We’re using past tense for a reason.  This story tells of the imminent demise of the joint.  Years of neglect, budget cutbacks, shifting priorities and the usual level of governmental dumb has left the now-shuttered Canada Science and Technology Museum in a bureaucratic limbo.  The roof leaks, there is asbestos falling out of the ceiling and enough mold growing to the point of the mold having their own exhibit space with their own docents for single cell attendees from the schools.  Alas.

The Crazy Kitchen, messing with your perception of what is level, or straight, the rotating Earth, the optical illusions, the artifacts of some of the first Cobalt 60 radiation machines, radios, televisions, telephones and telegraphs.  Where else could you see a working old-school rotary dial Central Office switch connecting two phones, not a foot away from your face, or an IBM card reader from an early IT beast along with a Minimoog Model D?  A Massey-Ferguson combine, a Model T, or components off one of the original Avro Arrows along with a working submarine periscope that stuck out the roof of the building?  Nowhere else but what we called Science and Tech.

In the Train Hall you could walk up into the cab of several massive 4-8-4 Northern-class steam locomotives:   Number 6400 looked like it needed nothing more than a few thousand gallons of water and a load of coal (plus the attention of a hotshot fireman) to get up a head of steam and pull the whole darn building out to the main CP line, then off to Montreal with green lights all the way

Outside was a collection of more rolling stock, some of the first passenger diesel locos, a working lighthouse, the working radar dish, and of course, the brushed aluminum menace of the Atlas missile pointing its finger at the Soviets, ready to release Armageddon at the press of a button.  We’re barely scratching the surface here, but suffice to say it was a magical place.

Now, with the mold, the collapsing roof and the asbestos, the years of fiscal neglect are going to kill the Canada Science and Technology Museum.  It will become pedagogically-approved, socially inclusive, hyperlinked, positive and affirming travelling exhibit on a series of tablet computers:  Here is a picture of a car, or a jet engine , or how sound travels in a tube that the target audiences and stakeholders can interact with in a contemporary learning modality. 

Interacting is nice, but being able to reach out and touch a drive rod of stainless steel as big around as your waist, smelling of oil and exertion, on a 1929 CPR Locomotive (#3100 to be exact) that would push a wheel twice as tall as you were, along with their five other brethren, is not interactive learning.

It’s magic.  Wild, uncontained, uncontaminated, magical, learning.  We’ll miss it.