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Most of the world’s great sandwiches are easy to define. A BLT should always contain its three namesake ingredients. You have a good idea of what’s coming when you order a turkey club, atuna melt, or a bacon, egg, and cheese.
The steak sandwich, on the other hand, is open to interpretation. For some people, it’s got to be a Philly cheesesteak slathered with melted cheese and onions; for others it’s a French dip. Even experts don’t have a clear-cut idea of what one should be.
“Historically, my father and I have found steak sandwiches to be one of the great steak restaurant challenges,” says Michael Stillman, president of Quality Branded, which counts New York’s iconicSmith & Wollensky in its restaurant portfolio. (His father Alan founded the place.) ”We go back and forth on the type of meat and what type of bread to use. We are always working on our steak sandwich options, and retooling here and there.”
Even at a time when customers have switched from suits to athletic wear, and messy sandwiches are, theoretically, of less concern, the basic mechanics of consumption are in question: “How are you going to eat a steak sandwich, how do you cut a great steak sandwich, are you picking it up with your hands, how does it work?” The restaurant’s current solution? A “minute steak” (aka thinly sliced filet) that makes consuming the sandwich an easier, less embarrassing thing to do in public.
Star chef Ayesha Curry does not share this zest for minutiae. She just wants to make a steak sandwich that tastes exceptionally good and can fit multiple situations. In her new book, The Full Plate: Flavor-Filled Recipes for Families with No Time and a Lot to Do (Voracious, $30; Sept. 22), Curry prioritizes dishes that can be created without undue effort but are greater than the sum of their simple parts. Most of the 100 recipes in the book, which focus on dinner with an eye toward a follow-up lunch, take about 20 minutes to prepare, and none demands more than an hour.
“I cook for a living. Once the pandemic hit, I was making three meals a day—and snacks—and developing recipes. I understand the stress of getting that meal for my family around the table at dinner,” she says. (Curry is married to Golden State Warriors player/activist Stephen Curry, who saidin a recent interview that he had never spent so much time at home with his three children.)
“I created this recipe to solve the question of how do I use my leftover steak, because I always cook way too much steak,” says Curry. “It’s how I grew up, in this big Jamaican household with too many leftovers.” And if there’s a holiday where others will find themselves in a similar situation—with leftover steak on hand—it’s Labor Day.
She also supports cooking a fresh steak, on the grill or in acast-iron skillet, to make the sandwich with your cut of choice. Rib-eye makes a deluxe filling, but it could be a leaner, quicker-cooking flank steak. Whatever it is, slice the meat thin. (This advice is echoed by Smith & Wollensky’s Stillman.)
On top of the well-crusted, preferably medium-rare meat, she piles on pickled onion slices, which add a brisk bite that cuts the richness of the beef. (She prepares her own; they’re quickly assembled, although you can use store-bought.) The coup de grace is crumbled blue cheese that she adds with tangy, mustardy mayo. It’s an extravagant, pungent touch that hints at the flavored butter you might find on a steakhouse filet, but with all the glorious convenience of a sandwich.
The following recipe is adapted from The Full Plate, by Ayesha Curry
Grilled Steak Sandwich With Pickled Onions and Blue Cheese
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup warm water
½ cup white or apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 lb. rib-eye or boneless steak of choice, or leftover steak
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp. canola oil
¼ cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
4 ciabatta buns, split
½ cup crumbled blue cheese
1 cup loosely packed baby greens, such as arugula
Make the pickled onions: Put the sliced onion in a bowl; in a measuring cup, combine the warm water, vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper, then pour over the onions. Let stand at room temperature for at least an hour. (The onions can be refrigerated for up to two weeks.)
Make the sandwich: Season the steak generously on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large cast-iron skillet over high heat until it shimmers. Add the steak and cook, turning once, until charred on both sides and medium rare—about 10 minutes total—depending on the cut. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for at least 20 minutes. Thinly slice slice across the grain; the slices should be no more than ¼-inch thick. (If using leftover steak, let it come to room temperature or rewarm it slightly.)
In a small bowl, stir together the mayonnaise and mustard. Lightly toast the buns, then spread the mayonnaise mixture on both sides of each bun. Pile some of the sliced meat on the bottom half of each bun and top it with some of the blue cheese, some of the pickled onions, and some of the arugula. Top with the other half of the bun, and serve.
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