Thursday, August 11, 2005

Cold comfort

Another revival, to inspire you to actually cook. Me, I'm eating melon and Grape Nuts. But you should be grilling.

IS THERE ANYTHING more domestically satisfying than cold steak in the fridge? Sizzling, just-grilled meat is a wonderful thing, the pinnacle of the summer cookout, needing only a plate of sliced ripe tomatoes and a stack of butter-dripping corn on the cob. But the true pleasure comes from peeling back the foil over the plates as you lean down into the refrigerator the next day. It's better than money in the bank: it's like free money in the bank. If you've ever wanted to feel like a rock star with a personal chef, cold steak will do it for you.

And few things are as succulent and appetite-gripping as cold steak. There's a certain grandeur to cooking meat at home. I like tofu skewersand puttanesca sauce just fine, but after a while, even the most scintillating conversation pales over the same old plate of pasta and salad. The first batch of fresh summer pesto is thrilling. By now, we're taking those huge floppy bunches of basil for granted. Familiarity, in this case, breeds not contempt – who can be contemptuous of such a charmer? – but a certain amount of ennui. By mid August, there's no drama to pesto.

Meat, which used to be the default entrée for every celebration, now evokes something close to a double take. Determined to add a grown-up note to a dinner party back in school, I brought out a platter of two massive roasted chickens, to the visible surprise of the guests. It was like uncorking a bottle of champagne for no reason, or serving a massive layer cake instead the usual Häagen-Dazs.

"It's so nice to have a roast," Alistair from Sydney said, giving the term its full Anglo-Australian, Sunday-lunch emphasis. And even with a table full of hungry grad students, we had enough leftovers for at least three meals. Cold chicken sandwiches, curried chicken salad, hot chicken cacciatore: every time I opened the fridge, there was something to pick at.

But for sheer glamour and chewing satisfaction, nothing beats meat. Flank steak, skirt steak, hanger steak, London broil: Straightforward meat like this doesn't need a lot of marinating or fussing around; the most important addition is a liberal scatter of crunchy, grainy sea salt and a good grinding of fresh black pepper at the table. About 10 to 12 minutes, turning once, will cook your steak, whether you're using a grill, broiler, or grill pan. After cooking, let the steak rest, uncut, on a platter for five minutes or so. This will relax it and let the juices sink from the hot surface of the meat back into its fibers.

If you're grilling, throw a few red onions cut in half crosswise onto the grill. They'll char and sweeten as the meat cooks. While the meat's resting, peel and slice the onions into chunks and serve alongside. Or grill some olive-oiled red peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes too, and make escalivada, the slippery, luscious Spanish salad of grilled vegetables. Separated from their blackened skins, tossed with a handful of chopped parsley, and drizzled with a vinaigrette of mashed garlic, sherry vinegar, and olive oil, the vegetables are delicious warm and almost better cold the next day.

One of my favorite ways to eat cold beef doesn't even need leftovers. You can make it with deli roast beef cut a little thicker than usual. During our last week in Bologna in mid June, the heat wave that has been baking Europe all summer was just settling in. The city was nearly deserted during the day, the shaded porticoes over the sidewalks the only respite from the relentless heat.

We couldn't even think of eating anything more than gelato until the sun faded into a warm indigo twilight around 9 p.m. The trattorias kept to their weighty, traditional tortellini and ragus, with one grateful exception: a cold salad of beef sliced like proscuitto, banked in gorgeous pink sheets over pungent arugula, glossed with olive oil, spritzed with lemon juice, and showered with long salt-grained shards of parmesan cheese, flaked off a huge wheel on the counter. This, followed by runny cups of puckery, almost-melted lemon granita, sustained us and made those summer evenings seem, for the moment, just about perfect.

1 comment:

David said...

That was such a great comment...
"...every time I opened the fridge, there was something to pick at."

I love that, since every time I open the refrigerator door, I'm looking for something to rip a chunk off of.

be cool...