Fit for a Board: Bistecca alla Fiorentina

Conor has invited me to join his board. He had commissioned four handmade chopping boards to be cut from the same block of walnut by his friend Terry from 2 Wooden Horses and has sent them as Christmas gifts to Richard, Nick and myself. As chairman of the board, Conor challenged us to use the board. And so all four board members are showing today what they have done with their boards.

The first thing that came to mind was a dish that is certainly fit for a board: Bistecca alla Fiorentina. This is a T-bone steak as it is served in the Tuscan city of Florence. I have prepared the Bistecca alla Fiorentina in the traditional way that doesn’t take into account the latest ideas on how to prepare a steak but is delicious anyway. A true Bistecca alla Fiorentina should be of a special Tuscan breed of cattle called Chianina. It should be about two fingers thick (4 cm or 1.5 inches, about 750 grams/26 oz). It should be cooked over a charcoal fire and otherwise as little as possible should be done to it: only salt and freshly ground black pepper should be added, strictly after cooking. Such a simple preparation with such a lot of flavor is certainly fit for a board of which Conor is the chairman.

And so thanks to Conor, Kees was building a charcoal fire in our back yard in the middle of January. Luckily the local hardware store still had some leftover charcoal from last season.
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Braised Flat Iron Steak with Parsnip Fondant (Draadjesvlees)

Braised beef is known as “draadjesvlees” in the Netherlands. This literally means “thread meat”, referring to the flaky structure of the meat. Good draadjesvlees should be juicy and tender, not tough and dry. This means braising it over low heat for a long time. One of the most common cuts that is used for this “sucadelappen”, which in the US is called flat iron steak. The difference is that in the Netherlands the tendon is in the middle is left in and after long braising is eaten. The braised tendon looks like candied peel, which is “sucade” in Dutch. Hence the name.

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The ‘threads’ in the draadjesvlees are clearly visible

The dish I prepared can be made with or without sous-vide. With sous-vide cooking, a flat iron steak or other types of beef that are usually braised, can be cooked for 24-72 hours at 55-57ºC/131-135ºF to obtain the texture of a tender steak cooked to medium rare. I’ve very rarely used sous-vide to get the texture of a traditional braise. Exceptions have been duck confit and pulled pork. This is the first time I’ve prepared draadjesvlees sous-vide. I cooked it for 5 hours at 88ºC/190ºF. The result was comparable to a good traditional braise on the stovetop. The advantage is that there is less margin of error.

The advantage of cooking the beef sous-vide at 88ºC/190ºF is that that is also a fitting temperature for cooking the potatoes and parsnips sous-vide. Continue reading “Braised Flat Iron Steak with Parsnip Fondant (Draadjesvlees)”

Beef Wellington

This history of this dish and the origins of its name are uncertain according to Wikipedia, but it definitely plays an important role in my personal food history as Beef Wellington was one of the first gourmet dishes I learned to prepare. It was at the christmas party at my first job back in 1997. We were a small team at the office and since many of us loved to cook, for a christmas party we cooked our own dinner under supervision of a chef. I loved it and have since prepared it many times following the same recipe, even though I later found out that Beef Wellington often also includes pâté (which is not included in this recipe). Beef Wellington is beef tenderloin, wrapped in puff pastry with a umami bomb called duxelles (mushrooms, ham, tomato paste, shallots, garlic, and parsley). I always serve it with haricots verts and a strong red wine sauce. It is a great dish for festive occasions.  Continue reading “Beef Wellington”

My First Chili con Carne

When I wanted to try and make chili con carne from scratch for the first time, the natural place to go for a reliable recipe was REMCooks.com. Richard’s recipe for what he calls Super Bowl Chili, Texas-Style has been the basis. According to Richard (and I consider him a reliable source), true Texas-style chili includes only meat, chile peppers, and spices. This means that the chile peppers used for it are very important, as they are the determining factor in how the chili will taste. This is why I made my own chile powder rather than using store-bought. By using different types of chiles you can achieve great depth of flavor. Continue reading “My First Chili con Carne”

Rendang Daging (Indonesian Beef Stew)

Rendang Daging is beef stewed in coconut milk with spices until all of the coconut milk has been reduced and the beef is tender. The stew becomes more and more dry, and turns from a light color to a dark color because of the caramelization that will occur. Rendang is traditionally served at festive occasions. The cooking method was developed to preserve meat in a tropical climate before refrigerators were available. Now rendang is still prepared because it is loaded with flavor. Rendang is so popular that it is regarded the national dish of Indonesia. Continue reading “Rendang Daging (Indonesian Beef Stew)”

Wagyu Short Ribs Sous-Vide

Beef short ribs sous-vide are great, and I already did a post on the best cooking time and temperature for them. With some experimenting I found that for ‘regular’ beef short ribs, 48 hours at 57ºC/135ºF is best. However, not all beef is alike and I found that for wagyu short ribs a lower temperature and longer cooking time are better: 72 hours at 55ºC/131ºF. I suppose I could stop the post here, but I’m going to show you the nice photos that I took 🙂 Continue reading “Wagyu Short Ribs Sous-Vide”

Bresaola

If you don’t want to cook but like to impress at a dinner party, bresaola is what you should look for in an antipasto. Bresaola is Italian air-dried, salted beef that has been aged two or three months. Like carpaccio (raw beef) it is often served with shaved parmesan, roasted pine nuts and arugula, but it has much more flavor. Bresaola has a very rich pleasant flavor. I like to brush the bresaola with a bit of aged balsamic vinegar. The good stuff is called aceto balsamico tradizionale, is aged for at least 12 years, and very expensive. But you only need half a teaspoon or so per serving.  Continue reading “Bresaola”

Flank Steak Sous-Vide with Tian Provençal

When Clayton told me he’d be coming over to Amsterdam for a vacation, I thought it would be nice to cook dinner for him and his friend Paul.

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Clayton is one of the founding fathers of the International Shanghai Chicken Project. I know he’s very interested in sous-vide, so I picked some nice sous-vide dishes. I prepared sous-vide sea bass with crispy skin, sous-vide chicken ravioli, sous-vide wagyu flank steak with tian provençal as a side. To include something Dutch, I ended with an apricot vlaai (tart from Limburg). Continue reading “Flank Steak Sous-Vide with Tian Provençal”

Parsley-Crusted Steak with Mushroom Ketchup and Garlic Puree

One of the best ways to become a better cook is to learn from others. I asked my modernist cooking friends Teun and Albert to join forces with me to create dishes together. This dish is the first result of that collaboration. It was loosely based upon a dish that Albert had cooked before out of the Big Fat Duck cookbook. We wanted to do something with wagyu sous-vide. The idea for the mushroom ketchup came from the Big Fat Duck dish. As parsley and garlic are friends of mushrooms in Italian cuisine, we decided to coat the steak with parsleyed bread crumbs and serve it with a garlic puree.

For me the main success of this dish was the crust. The wagyu flank steak was very tender and flavorful because it had been cooked sous-vide, and had additional flavor because it was finished on a charcoal grill. The tender beef was complemented very nicely by the crunchy parsley crust. The combination with the mushroom ketchup, mushrooms, and the garlic puree also worked very well. Continue reading “Parsley-Crusted Steak with Mushroom Ketchup and Garlic Puree”

Carne alla Pizzaiola

Alla Pizzaiola indicates something like “pizza style” and is not a clearly defined term in Italian cooking. The basic recipe for Carne alla Pizzaiola (meat pizza-style) is thin slices of meat (usually beef, but it can be prepared with other types of meat as well) cooked in a simple tomato sauce. To the tomato sauce you can add ‘pizza style’ ingredients like oregano, olives, capers, etc. It is a simple dish with a lot of flavor that in Italy is often served as piatto unico with mashed or roasted potatoes. It is easy to prepare, as you should only take care that you do not overcook the meat. An interesting point about carne alla pizzaiola is that in all the recipes that I have seen, the meat is not browned first. Continue reading “Carne alla Pizzaiola”

Braciole alla Barese Sous-Vide

A simple but great dish from the city of Bari in Southern Italy (in the region of Puglia) is Braciole alla Barese, which can be prepared using either beef or horse meat. Thin slices of beef are stuffed with garlic, parsley, and cheese, rolled up, and braised in tomato sauce. I absolutely love this dish, but I thought it could be even better when prepared sous-vide. In the traditional preparation the meat is braised and thus cooked well done; with sous-vide it is possible to ‘braise’ the meat in the tomato sauce to medium rare. There’s only one way to find out, and that is to simply try it. It turned out delicious, and without putting down the regular version, which is great, the sous-vide version to me is absolutely superior. The meat is more juicy and the whole dish has a ‘fresher’ taste. Roll up the beef bundles as in the regular recipe and brown them in hot olive oil.
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Hanger Steak Sous-Vide

Hanger Steak is a lesser known but very flavorful cut of beef. It has so much flavor because it comes from the diaphragm that is needed for breathing, and has therefore had a lot of use in the life of the steer or cow. Hanger steak is called onglet in French, and longhaas or karweivlees in Dutch. It is best when served medium rare, but it can be slightly tough when prepared like a regular steak. With sous-vide we can fix this, because we can cook it for a longer time without taking it over medium rare or we can apply the technique that I have called warm aging.

It is possible to tenderize beef by boosting the activity of calpain and cathepsin enzymes in the meat through bringing the meat to temperatures of 39.5C/103F for calpains and 49.5C/121F for cathepsins. These are the same enzymes that are at work when meat is aged at refrigerator temperatures (both for dry aging and for aging in vacuum), but much faster and (compared to dry aging) without drying the meat. If you can find dry aged hanger steak there is no need to apply warm aging, but I don’t expect this to be a cut that is available dry aged. I finished cooking the steak at 55C/131F for medium rare. You could also cook it longer at 55C/131F instead of applying warm aging, but the meat would turn out less juicy and a bit more like medium. Continue reading “Hanger Steak Sous-Vide”