Our chef friend Evan (owner of the fabulous opposite-coast restaurant Black Trumpet Bistro) likes to check in when driving home at night. This works out nicely, since Evan loves talking food and doesn’t mind troubleshooting my cooking woes. Over the years, he’s impressed on me that the best way to do a good cut of steak is to apply a salt and pepper crust to both sides, then grill to rare. Anything more is a distraction, he feels.

Evan’s advice always serves me well. But yesterday I found myself contemplating a dinner of beef tenderloin steaks alongside roasted carrots, parsnips, and potatoes — pretty dry fare. The steaks were something to admire, thick cut with a gorgeous deep red coloring, like everything we’ve had from Sweet Grass Farm. But it was lean stuff, so I started a slow-cook guajillo chile sauce that presented itself as both a marinade and a reduction for the plate.

In the end I eschewed a full marinade, remembering Evan’s admonitions, though I rubbed the steaks lightly with the sauce before sending them to the grill. They cooked up quickly and at the table displayed all of that killer beefy taste we’ve grown accustomed to. The flavors paired well with the spicy guajillo reduction and the hearty root vegetables, though I did find the meat’s texture to be more like very tender strip steak than the silky tenderloins I’ve sampled before. As we ate and savored I couldn’t help wondering whether a legitimate marinade might contribute something extra without altering the meat’s taste. I’ll ask Evan the next time he calls, even if I cringe to think of what he’ll say. Here are the recipes:

Recipe: Beef Tenderloins with Guajillo Chile Reduction

3 dried guajillo chiles / 2 cloves garlic, skin on / ½ tsp dried oregano / large pinch cumin / black pepper / 1 cup meat stock / ½ tsp sugar / 2 tsps cider vinegar /2 half-pound beef tenderloin steaks / salt & pepper

Heat a heavy frying pan over high heat and toast chilies for about ten seconds per side. Remove and soak in a warm water bath. Add garlic to pan and press down to char the skins, 1-2 minutes, then turn heat off and let garlic continue to soften in hot pan. When chilies are ready, scrape out seeds and veins and place in a food processor. Remove skins from garlic, chop coarsely, and add to processor along with oregano, cumin, and several grindings of black pepper. Add 3 tablespoons of water and process until well pureed. Reheat pan over medium-high, swirling in vegetable oil when ready, and add paste from food processor. Stir as the mixture sizzles and darkens, about thirty seconds. Add meat stock, boil, then turn heat to low and reduce slowly for about 45 minutes. Add sugar and correct for salt & pepper.

When cool, mix vinegar with 3 tablespoons of guajillo sauce and spread thinly over beef. Let rest at room temperature for about half an hour while the grill heats. When the flame is ready, grill steaks to desired doneness and serve alongside the remainder of the guajillo sauce. Feeds 2. Adapted from Rick Bayless.

Recipe: Roasted Potatoes & Winter Root Vegetables

½ pound fingerling potatoes / a quantity of carrots, parsnips, and other root vegetables to your liking / 2 tsp chopped fresh thyme / 1 tbls olive oil / salt & pepper

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Peel carrots and parsnips if you like. Halve the potatoes, cut the root vegetables into chunks that are approximately equal in size, and place all in a heavy baking dish. Sprinkle with thyme, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix with your hands to coat. When oven is hot, roast for 20-25 minutes, until vegetables are crisp, browned, and tender inside. Feeds 2 generously.

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