Tuesday, May 05, 2015

James Beard’s Teriyaki Steak

James Beard’s Teriyaki Steak

As the James Beard Awards celebrate 25 years, the 20th-century American chef and food writer’s focus on fresh, simple ingredients has never been more pertinent. His terikayi steak recipe is a perfect example of the power of pared-down meals

By Paul Levy in the Wall Street Journal

JAMES BEARD WAS a giant of American food and cooking. Credited with 26 cookbooks between 1940 and 1983, he was an early champion of local produce and markets, and was one of the first food writers to express the idea that America had a national cuisine. He hosted the first TV food program in the U.S. in the 1940s. But, perhaps most importantly, he was a generous teacher and mentor to younger chefs and writers, from best-selling author Barbara Kafka and influential cooking teacher Peter Kump to Wolfgang Puck, the first chef to cook a benefit dinner at the Beard House.
The awards given out each May in his name are a testament to Beard’s impact and legacy, even now, 30 years after his death. The ceremony, held May 4 in Chicago, is considered the Oscars of the food world. Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the James Beard Awards often bring national fame to restaurants previously little known outside their local area, and honor individuals and groups—from chefs to publications—for their contributions to the American food scene. Ms. Kafka is this year’s Cookbook Hall of Fame honoree.
When I first met Beard in London in 1981, it wasn’t just his personality that loomed large. I had arranged for Bill Poon, the chef behind Poon’s, the best Chinese restaurant in town at the time, to cook one of his Michelin-starred dinners for Beard and me. When I arrived, already hungry for Mr. Poon’s wind-dried duck and sausages, the chef was sitting with Beard on a banquette in the bar. Beard stood out immediately—he was tall, and spectacularly large.
His opinions were just as outsize. Despite Beard’s books and his years of teaching classes at the James Beard Cooking Schools and other places around the U.S., he eventually became convinced, according to a transcript edited by Ms. Kafka in “The James Beard Celebration Cookbook” (1990), that “nobody really needs a recipe today. Just take a little of that, a little of that, and it comes out.”
This beautifully simple recipe, adapted from the Beard Foundation website, is a perfect example of this. Using few ingredients and a basic technique, it works well with grilled chops, chicken, salmon or tuna. But Beard recommended skirt, or hanger, steak. This particular cut, taken from a bit of the animal called the plate, illustrates what the Portland, Oregon-native advocated as “respecting meat,” preparing it as simply as possible, and making a superb dish from a humble, inexpensive cut. In France, they call it onglet and the butcher often saves it for himself.
‘Nobody really needs a recipe today. Just take a little of that, a little of that, and it comes out’
—James Beard
Though chewy, it’s more flavorful than any other beefsteak. But be warned: It must be served rare or medium-rare; otherwise you might as well try to eat your shoe. To measure your steak’s doneness, use this infallible trick, a favorite among chefs: Using your thumb and index finger, pinch your opposite hand at the thick point just under your thumb. The softer sensation you get when your hand is relaxed is how a rare steak will feel; your tensed hand is how a medium-rare steak feels.
The teriyaki marinade, familiar to me from my student days in the 1960s, is still a great way to punch up the flavor of a plain hunk of protein. For this recipe, choose Japanese soy sauce. Called shoyu, it’s always fermented, and often has a little sweetness because it contains roasted wheat. (For a gluten-free option, try tamari.)
You can serve this dish with your usual steak accompaniments, though it’s especially nice with rice, and sensational served warm on top of mixed salad greens, such as mizuna, watercress, rocket or baby spinach, with red onions and sliced radishes for crunch.
Total Time: 15 minutes, plus marinating | Serves: 4
120 mL soy sauce or tamari []
120 mL dry sherry or mirin []
60 mL peanut oil
1-2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tsp orange zest
1-2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
800g-1kg skirt steak (around 200g-250g per person)
1. Prepare the meat: Leaving the slab of steak whole, remove any large sections of fat. Using a sharp knife, score the surface lightly on the diagonal.
2. Prepare the marinade: Mix soy sauce, sherry, oil, garlic, orange zest and ginger together in a deep dish or sealable plastic bag. Add meat, covering with mixture. If you can, marinate overnight in the fridge. If you're short on time, marinate for several hours, turning frequently.
3. Heat a grill pan until it’s very hot. (If grilling outside, ensure the coals are gray.) Add the meat and cook for a few minutes, turning once or twice.
4. Cover the steak and allow it to rest in a warm place for 5-10 minutes. Slice against the grain; thinner slices will be more tender. Serve immediately.
—Adapted from James Beard’s Teriyaki Marinade on

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