[Note: This post presents a meal from about a year ago as part of the Cooking with Kid series. My goal was to cook a whole goat kid piece by piece and “to reasonably document and blog about the process in a somewhat timely fashion.” I’m still finishing up the last few posts, but my geological perspective allows me to consider this “somewhat timely”, and this dish is seasonally appropriate.]
Steak is a rarity in our house, because most of the time we prefer meat as a condiment to vegetables. Steak pushes the veggies into condiment status, so with meat taking on the lead role, it needs to be prepared just right. As an ex-vegetarian, I consider steak to be the most intimidating meal that I’ve tried to prepare as a part of this Cooking with Kid series, in which I cook all parts of a goat. The difference between perfection and chewy awfulness is a matter of perhaps a few moments coupled with inexperienced judgment. A rubbery result would be a very unfortunate outcome for the fanciest remaining cut of Crystal: one of the loins.
To meet my goals of the series, I still have a few cooking techniques and cuisines to check off. Of cooking techniques, there’s what Joy of Cooking calls pan-broiling, or cooking meat in a hot pan on the stovetop with little to no oil. And an under-represented cuisine in my list of meals-to-date was generic American. Steak would check off both goals. After allowing the meat to defrost for a couple of days in the refrigerator, I staked out a spot in front of the cookbook shelf to do some research.
I fist picked up Joy of Cooking, flipped to the index, and looked for steak, which proceeds directly from “Starches” to “Steaming” without an intermediary “Steak”. Eric suggested that I look under “Beef”, which I did. (Never mind that, as a vegetable farmer, I hear “beefsteak” and think “tomato.”) Under Beef-comma-steak I found no fewer than 30 entries, though they were concentrated in just a few pages that I proceeded to peruse. I extracted some tidbits of advice, but I was starting to get the uncomfortable impression that cross-sections of cow cut through the bone were essential to the experience of steak.
Fortunately, that idea was discounted by Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking:
French and American methods for cutting up a beef carcass are so dissimilar that it is rarely possible to find in America the same steak cut you could find in France. But this is a point of small significance as the various steak recipes differ from one another only in their sauces, butters, or garnitures.
This was good news, but I was still stuck in the “steak as beef” mode, so I kept browsing the cookbooks. The Better Homes & Gardens cookbook wasn’t much help, and I discounted as unhelpful the 1.5 feet of our shelf housing vegetarian cookbooks, even if many of my favorite titles refer to a large, wild, northern ungulate.
Finally, I went to our newest addition to the collection, The Food Lab cookbook. I had hoped the lamb section would be of help, but I was disappointed to discover that the “complete” guide to cooking lamb includes only two pieces: leg and rack. Trying not to imagine what a lamb would look like if it were “complete” with only those two pieces, I reluctantly confronted the beef section. Here, though, I found the depth of detail and tips I needed.
First, I put to rest one nagging concern. I had been wondering how I was supposed to prepare a sauce without the meat getting cold. I had even been wondering if I should prepare veggies in a different pan so they’d be done at just the same time as the meat. Nope. Actually, I learned, resting meat is desirable and necessary for best results. The time it takes to prepare a sauce is about the length of time the steak needs to rest for maximum flavor and quality at serving time. Good; I’d let it rest.
Another problem presented by a goat steak is its lack of marbling (and lack of fat in general). Marbled fat in a beef steak provides a built-in insurance plan to guard against overcooking. What to do without that? I was pleased to find the section on “A New Way to Cook Tenderloin Steaks.” Here, López-Alt describes the challenges presented by the lack of fat in a beef tenderloin and a strategy to combat this problem. Great; I’d put to use his method of pre-heating the whole piece in the oven before putting it on a hot skillet, which would make it easier to hit my desired temperature target with a properly and uniformly cooked piece of meat.
Finally, I learned some interesting stuff about cutting meat across the grain to maximize tenderness, so chewing long fibers wouldn’t be necessary. I figured I’d use the same slicing approach as for the beef tenderloin in the photo. Here was the logic: A tenderloin is a pretty small part of an animal compared to that individual’s loin. So I was thinking, “Okay, that small cut of a big animal has a diameter about the same as my defrosting package of loin (bigger cut) of goat (smaller animal). Great, I’ll cut the cross sections the same way.” This was a well thought plan, with one unfortunate problem. Kid loins are way smaller than beef tenderloins, and the diameter of the package was a result of the loin having been folded over on itself to minimize use of freezer paper. Oops. Time for a plan B.
If I were to cut the loin into cross sections, I’d end up with a whole bunch of mini-medallions. I realized the thickness of the loin itself was similar to the thickness of the steaks in the photo. I decided to just cut the loin into four pieces that would be closer to the expected shape for steak, even if the orientation relative to the grain for cooking and eating purposes ended up flipped. The heck with the grain, I decided. (Hadn’t we decided “the heck with the grain: long ago, when we decided this would be an exclusively grass, brush, and milk-fed kid?)
I decided to cook only half for the first go, so I’d have a second chance if I screwed up, there would be plenty of room in the pan, and we’d be able to spread the meat over a couple of meals.
Here’s what I did:
- I pulled the meat out of the refrigerator around 11 a.m. I trimmed off bits of fat and a substantial white membrane by sticking the tip of a sharp knife under the membrane and peeling off strips. This was a little fussy but it worked.
- At about 11:30, I preheated the oven to 250ºF and rubbed the meat with some salt and pepper, maybe a quarter teaspoon or so of salt per side and a nice grinding of pepper.
- I prepared ingredients for the sauce/garnish. This included chopping some of our delightful fresh shiitakes and some not-so-fresh but still work-able garlic. I also picked and minced some fresh chives and did nothing at all to some of last spring’s frozen peas that had been defrosting in the refrigerator.
- I started preheating a cast-iron pan on medium heat (5).
- I put the meat in the oven, folding it over on itself and resting it on a couple of meat skewers on a toaster oven tray.
- I kept the meat in the oven for about 20 minutes, checking at 10. It was barely starting to show color, but it had definitely warmed.
- I upped the cast-iron pan to 6. (I tried 7, but there was too much smoke.)
- I dried the meat on paper towels, then cut it into two pieces.
- To the pan, I added a bit of safflower oil (the best suited to high heat in our cupboard at the moment), then I put on the meat.
- I flipped the meat about every 30 seconds for about 2.5 minutes. After the first couple of flips, I added some butter to the pan, which resulted in some immediate smoke but some very nice browning as well.
- After a couple minutes from the time the meat hit the skillet, I stuck a thermometer right down the center of one and just watched it. Good thing, too, as it started at too-cold-to-register then started to rocket towards 140ºF. My target temperature for medium was 130ºF.
- This motivated quick actions with the tongs to put the meat on the waiting plate to rest. I covered that with a piece of previously used aluminum foil and proceeded with sauce.
- For the sauce, I added a nice glob of butter to the pan (a couple of tablespoons or so) as goat doesn’t drip fat. The pan was still a tad too hot, so that started to darken quickly, but I whipped the pan off of the burner and added the chopped mushrooms and garlic to moderate the heat intensity. I added some salt to the mix.
- I cooked those for a bit, added some flour (about a tsp or so), stirred for a minute or so, added a little water (no broth or wine on hand), and finally added peas.
- I served the vegetable “sauce” over the steak and sprinkled with chives.
I have to admit that this was one of the more satisfyingly scrumptious things I’ve eaten in some time. Eric swooned. My notes indicate “umami central.” Eric noted, “You could easily fool me that that was good beef.” And there are more quotes along those lines, but I’ll stop bragging, except to proudly note that we did NOT say “well done.” So it is possible to turn a good cut of lean goat into an amazing steak; it just takes some care and attention to detail.
I made the second half the next day. This time, my reaction was a little too quick when I started to see the thermometer needle star to rise, and the steak arrived at the table with the verdict “too rare.” Perhaps that response was an unconscious commentary on the frequency of steak appearances on our table.