Quarantine Cuisine: Surf and Turf
Updated: Apr 17, 2020
Apologies for the delay in posting this next installment! The Maestro's computer suffered an unfortunate cracked screen, so a new one had to be procured before the next post.
Here I bring you a jewel in the crown of the Quarantine Cuisine series, and one that (most) all of you will appreciate––surf and turf.
Now, it's easy enough to hop down to your local Red Lobster and snag a low-quality filet and two overcooked lobster tails curbside, but to make amazing surf and turf, you need some fantastic quality surf and glorious turf.
We have been using a service called Crowd Cow for a few years now to get some of the best meat you can buy in the U.S. They contract with small, sustainable farms producing incredible proteins to bring their products to the broader market. They started with a handful of beef producers, sometimes only one at a time, and now have a broad portfolio spanning beef, pork, lamb, chicken, and seafood. Since we are increasingly relying on delivery for our food, I took the opportunity to stock up on stuff from Crowd Cow to keep us fed (remarkably!) for the next couple of weeks, during which the virus will likely hit its peak.
The flagship of Crowd Cow's work is their wagyu beef catalog. They contract with farmers in the U.S. and Japan to bring some of the finest wagyu available, including the mystical A5 Japanese wagyu. Wagyu beef (pronounced "wag-you") is produced from one of four strains of Japanese cattle. These cows are not fed beer nor given massages, but are fed certain things that foster the natural tendency of the breed to produce beautifully marbled beef. Perhaps most "famous" type of wagyu in popular society is "Kobe beef," which, according to strict Japanese naming laws, is wagyu produced in the Hyogo prefecture. However, there are tons of other prefectures producing wagyu that is just as good as that in Hyogo. In the U.S., however, these naming conventions and rules don't apply, so many farms and restaurants have just been deploying "Kobe beef" to hike up the prices of their products.
In the U.S., farmers produce two types of wagyu––domestic pure wagyu and wagyu cross. Wagyu cross is from the progeny of a wagyu cow and an angus cow, and some call wagyu cross "American Kobe." Domestic pure wagyu is between 93 and 100% wagyu beef that just happens to be produced in the United States and not Japan. Because it is not Japanese, it doesn't get the same "sticker shock" and is much more affordable. You can read more about domestic wagyu from Crowd Cow's much more thorough and knowledgable write-up.
Just a short drive outside San Antonio, Tebben Ranches has a herd of some 200 black wagyu cattle. Larry Tebben, the proprietor, has become known for his sustainable, holistic farming practices (and lifestyle) that produce some of the finest domestic fullbred wagyu beef in the U.S. It is from this farm that Crowd Cow sent us this show-stopping, beautifully marbled New York strip.
I mean, come on.
While I was initially compelled to wait to serve the steak on its own when we finally got to harvest a few morels this spring, I just couldn't resist a steak and lobster night, especially after a series of depressed days in quarantine. Crowd Cow sources these lobster tails from Tenants Harbor in mid-coast Maine, where a local fisherman's cooperative provides their wild catch. We had some of their "new shell" lobster this fall, which is a special treat, but I was excited to try their early spring catch.
Since we were doing a steakhouse-style dinner, I decided to whip up some steakhouse-style sides: creamed spinach and king trumpet mushrooms.
Creamed spinach is a super easy side dish, and a great way to avoid wasting spinach that is looking less-than-fresh. Dice up half and onion and some garlic and cook over butter until fragrant and translucent. Meanwhile. blanche the spinach in boiling water for 30 seconds. Reduce the heat in the onion/garlic pan and add about 1/2 cup of milk and some cream cheese. Once melty, add the spinach, seasoning, and a good helping of grated parmesan. You'll need a good amount of spinach, more than you think, because the leaves cook down substantially. This eve, we were out of cream cheese and parm, so I used a creamy Brie. Delicious, but careful not to cook it too much or you’ll get a bit of a curdle! *weep*
King trumpets, if you can find them, are some of the best mushrooms out there. They are imposing in size, but fear not––once thinly sliced, the mushrooms take on butter beautifully. Heat a healthy amount of butter and olive oil and add the mushrooms, flipping when they get nice and brown. I like to just lightly score each mushroom before cooking to help it absorb all that buttery goodness. Wait to add salt until the end of the cooking––this ensures the mushrooms don't lose their moisture too quickly, preventing browning. Toothsome and umami-laden, a king trumpet is a perfect (and decorative!) mushroom to add to your steak dinner.
For the lobster, my favorite technique is butter-poaching, but for the visual element of this meal, I decided to go for the classic butterfly-and-broil technique. Butterflying a tail is a bit tricky, but stick with me. First, cut the top of the shell to the base.
Then, flip the tail and break the ribs underneath so the shell will open more readily. You can do this by gently pressing on either side of the little spike on each rib with your thumbs. Careful!
Turn the tail back over and carefully use your thumbs to press the meat out on either side of the shell and the bottom, leaving the end of the tail attached. Pull the tail almost all the way, and push the shell back together so it pinches the bottom of the tail meat and holds it in place.
You can broil the tails about six inches from the heating element; internal temp should be about 145, which varies from 6 minutes for the smallest tails to 14 for the biggest. Use your judgment (and your instant-read thermometer!)
I love lobster tails with a simple melted butter, which is what we used tonight!
For the steak, my new preferred method is called the "reverse sear." In restaurants, they cook the outside of the steak at high heat and then transfer to the oven to finish. This reverses that method, starting at low heat to get the inside of the steak to just-before perfect temp and then giving it the crust over searing heat at the end. The result is a perfectly and consistently cooked interior.
Evenly-cut steaks are best for this method, with at least 1.5" of thickness. This makes the NY strip a good candidate.
Preheat the oven to 275 and have your instant read thermometer ready to go. I use one that sends readings to my phone over Bluetooth. Season the steak and cook on a wire rack until the internal temp is 125–130 for mid-rare. Let the steak rest under foil for about 15 mins and then sear first 1 minute per side on a screaming hot cast iron skillet. Serve right away.
Absolute perfection! Too bad about the curdled spinach. Still tasty, though!
Wine to cook by: Dominio IV is a stellar, small producer in Oregon, and they source grapes from the Willamette Valley and their own vineyard up in the Columbia Valley by Mt. Hood. I’m a huge fan of their Willamette pinots, but they also grow heavier varietals like syrah and tempranillo up in the Columbia Valley. This tempranillo, a 2014 called “The Tango,” was dark and full bodied with spicy red fruit. A great steak wine. Surf and turf is a tricky pairing, though!
We finished the bottle on the porch while a chill came through, foretelling the incoming rain this evening.
Needing a new hobby during all this madness, I have decided to become more interested in excellent tea. I’ve already learned quite a bit just researching things, and I’m excited to learn more! To start, I ordered some Taiwanese oolong teas from a vendor in the Bay Area, Tillerman Tea (get the Cat Stevens reference?), one of which I enjoyed this evening after dinner.
My first in the Maestro's new "Quarantini" series comes on Friday, and some Korean food will be featured this weekend! Stay tuned, and stay safe!