Over the three-day President’s day weekend I tried to deflate my body somewhat. I am not yet at my highest weight ever, but getting dangerously close. I thought it was time to make my clothes fit a little looser – at least. Three days at my Connecticut place, away from restaurants, and even the temptations of the big, food-filled city (I mean, we don’t even have a grocery store in my town) seemed, as it has before, a good opportunity to diet. My friend Bob Harned was feeling the same and so, instead of doing something sensible, I did what he likes to do when he feels bloated: Eat only protein.
Like any red-blooded American male, I saw this as an opportunity to eat mainly red-blooded food. We pigged-out on meat, with bacon and eggs for breakfast and Swiss cheese as a snack. On the way up, I stopped at the Grand Union on Route 22 in Pawling, where they sell prime meat, and bought two thick rib steaks, two well-marbled sirloin strip steaks, some hamburger meat, and rib-end slabs of pork, which are often called “country-style” spare ribs, though they are so meaty you would hardly consider them “spare.”
I got through the weekend fine enough. According to my unreliable bathroom scale, it seems I even lost three pounds. Once again, however, I decided I cannot tolerate this diet. Besides that it shall I say disrupts my regularity in a most uncomfortable way, it is a very unhealthy way to eat, it makes me feel like a caveman, and it leaves a terrible taste in my mouth. I know, I know, I could do a drastic diet like this eating fish, which would be far healthier, but 1) I have to go way out of my way to buy fresh fish where I live in Connecticut, and 2) I love steak. After three days of this, I crave beyond reason some salad and fruit and vegetables.
All this confession stuff is to lead up to some instruction on how to broil a steak at home. It is really easy if you have a decent broiler. Even with an indecent broiler — the old, cheapo stove I had in my Brooklyn apartment, where I had to practically get on the floor to use the broiler — I was able to produce a well-browned, medium-rare-on-the-rare-side steak. If you like your steak medium, the same instructions apply. (I won’t address those of you who eat steak well done because your steaks are always well-browned).
How To Broil A Steak
Make sure your steak is at between 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 inches thick. For my timing to work, the steak should be cold, right out of the refrigerator. I actually find that a cold steak helps insure a rare center, while giving the exterior enough time to develop a crust.
Sprinkle the steak well with salt. I use sea salt with about the same granulation as kosher salt. Kosher salt is perfect. Fine table salt (sea salt or commercially processed salt) doesn’t help a crust form as well as coarser salt. I put freshly ground pepper on at the table. As my Neapolitan friends always say, one of the beauties of black pepper is its fragrance and you can only get the full impact of that if you grind the pepper under your nose.
Adjust the rack under your broiler so it is as close as possible, but of course leaving enough room for the broiler pan and the steak. Put the broiler pan on the rack under the broiler and preheat the broiler pan for a few minutes. It should be very hot so the underside of the steak starts cooking immediately.
When the broiler pan is very hot, pull out the rack holding it and put the steaks on the pan. Broil for 5 minutes. Open the oven, being aware that the oven is now full of smoke. Avert your eyes. Turn the steak and broil for 4 minutes longer.
If you find this timing has produced a steak that is too rare, you can put it back under the broiler for another 30 seconds to a minute, but remember to increase the time on the second side next time you broil a steak. You may need a small adjustment on this timing (I’m talking seconds), depending on your broiler and your steak, but this has worked for me consistently for a long time, through several different broilers.
I use the same technique for thick hamburgers – a double-fisted amount of meat (about a third of a pound, up to a half pound of meat), just pushed into a three to four-inch diameter patty, seasoned only on the outside with salt — except that the first side needs only 4 minutes.
As for the “country-style” pork ribs, I cooked them Neapolitan style, more or less as I describe in my recipe for lamb arriganata, or baked lamb, in Naples At Table, where I mention in the head note that it is a good method for cooking meats other than lamb and goat.
I arranged the ribs in a 13 by 9-inch baking dish. I had just enough to fill the pan rather snugly. I seasoned them with salt and freshly ground black pepper, about a teaspoon of dried oregano, which I crushed with my fingertips as I sprinkled it on, 4 large cloves of garlic that I was too lazy to do anything but slice thickly (in the Naples At Table recipe I use onion), and a 14-ounce can of San Marzano cherry tomatoes in tomato juice, a product that is imported by and sold at D. Coluccio on 12th Ave. in Brooklyn. I understand that it is most unlikely you would have such a can of tomatoes in your pantry. Let me assure you that a similarly sized can of regular plum tomatoes would do the job very well, too.
I truly did nothing but dump all this on the pork ribs in the pan, except that I did squish up the tomatoes somewhat.
I put this in a preheated 350-degree oven for an hour, but when I went to turn the ribs after an hour, I realized the oven wasn’t hot enough. After turning the ribs and spooning the tomato stuff back on top of the ribs, I turned the oven up to 375 degrees. This made the juice in the pan simmer more briskly and begin reduce – my goal. After another 45 minutes, I turned the ribs one more time, checked my seasoning and added some more salt and pepper, and kept them in the oven until they were very, very tender – about 2 hours and 15 minutes all told.
Yes, there was a tremendous amount of fat in the pan. Don’t serve it. Remove the chops to a platter and spoon up the tomato sauce – now very thick – allowing the fat from each spoonful to drain back into the pan. Or, tip the pan and spoon off as much fat as you can before serving the sauce.
Now, if only I had been eating pasta or bread or potatoes, had a pile of vegetables on the side, and drinking wine, I would have been in heaven.