My parents both grew up in a small town in Indiana during the 1930’s. Growing up in the Heartland definitely made us a meat and potatoes eatin’ family. I seldom ate vegetables and didn’t learn to enjoy them until I was an adult. But there was one thing that I always ate happily … beef. Any way, shape or form, I am a beef lover.
When I was young, due to an iron deficiency, my doctors told my parents that I needed to eat as much beef as possible, cooked as rare as I could take it. This was a huge departure from the well-done meat our whole family had always eaten up to that point. It was a very challenging transition at first but we quickly realized that we owed my doctors a huge thank you. The beef was so much more flavorful and tender when it was cooked medium or medium-rare that my entire family changed the way they ate it. These days I can’t even imagine eating any cut of beef well done unless it is a slow-cooked pot roast.
When cooking beef, there are a few tricks to getting the perfect results you see in restaurants and most of them can be accomplished in a regular home kitchen. The first is to properly season the beef before cooking. I like to use a dry rub (a blend of dried herbs and spices) and let the meat absorb it for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight.
The second important point is to bring the meat to room temperature before beginning to cook it. If you don’t take this step, the outside will be done before the center has a chance to cook properly. Pull the meat out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before you want to cook. This is especially important with large cuts like roasts.
Just before you put the beef on the heat, gently pat it dry with paper towels. Wet or damp meat cannot brown – it just steams giving you and unpleasant gray exterior. If you saw the movie “Julie and Julia” you may remember that this was the secret to the success of her Boeuf Bourguignon.
You need to have a hot but not scorching heat source to sear the outside, which seals the juices in, but not so hot that it chars it. I like to start it on high and then reduce the heat or move it to a cooler section of the grill to let the center cook more gently. With large cuts I often finish them in the oven, which provides a more gentle heat source.
And lastly, once the meat comes off the heat you must let it rest. When the meat is cooking, the juices migrate towards the heat. Letting it rest, covered, gives the juices a chance to redistribute back into the center. If you start to carve the meat and the juices spill out all over your cutting board, you didn’t let the meat rest long enough. You can also tell if it hasn’t been given enough time to rest by the way it looks when you slice into it. The area closest to the outer surface will be over cooked and gray while the center will be underdone. If you set it aside for 20 to 30 minutes, the meat will magically turn a perfect rosy hue, the fibers will relax and it will be perfectly cooked.
Today’s recipe makes four servings, but if you want to make enough to have leftovers the next day or are serving a larger crowd, you can buy a whole beef tenderloin – also call a filet mignon – and cook it in one piece. It is easier to slice thinly when it is in a large piece. Use tongs to hold it so you don’t pierce it with a fork and cut slightly on the bias (diagonal). This gives you more surface area and a higher ratio of center to crust.
I know there are many people who choose not to eat red meat, but I am most definitely not one of them. I have tried the low protein diets and I wind up gaining weight. My body is much healthier when I have protein at each meal. It helps keep my blood sugar from spiking and crashing, keeps me feeling full longer, and I ultimately consume less.
I am also including the most amazing onions I have ever had. I recently received a huge box of Vidalia onions from my wonderful friend Wendy Brannen at The Vidalia Onion Committee in Vidalia, Georgia. I had fun trying out all different kinds of recipes, but this is the one that really made me sit up and take notice. And it couldn’t be any easier – just the kind of recipe I love!
Vidalias are naturally much sweeter than regular onions and when you add the apricot preserves, they become just like candy. I can eat these by the spoonful. When you combine them with the creamy heat of the horseradish mayonnaise and the richness of the beef, I think this is a sandwich that anyone would love!
You can also these into mini open-faced sandwiches, which are wonderful appetizers for parties. Lightly toast the baguette slices and top with one or two pieces of onion. Set a thin slice of beef on top of the onions and then drop a small dollop of the horseradish mayonnaise. You can garnish with a fresh cilantro leaf for a spot of bright color.
You can serve the steaks as dinner one night and then use the leftovers to make these sandwiches. They are just the thing after a busy day or a long work week. And of course they make fantastic picnic or tailgate treats. Il mange mes amis!
Grilled Steak Sandwiches with Portobello Mushrooms, Glazed Vidalia Onions and Horseradish-Thyme Mayonnaise
Jane Evans Bonacci – The Heritage Cook © 2012
Recipe for the onions modified from The Vidalia Onion Committee
Yield: 4 servings
Glazed Vidalia Onions
2 medium (about 1 lb) Vidalia onions, peeled and halved lengthwise
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
4 tsp apricot preserves
1/2 tsp salt
Pinch ground red pepper
1/2 cup high-quality mayonnaise, such as Hellman’s or Best Foods
1/4 cup prepared white horseradish
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
Organic olive oil
3 (1-1/2-inch-thick) filet mignon or New York steaks
8 oz portobello mushrooms, stems discarded
4 (7-inch) pieces of baguette, split in two, 8 slices of any artisan bread, or 4 croissants split
2 cups watercress or mixed greens, rinsed until clean and spun or patted dry
Sliced fresh, ripe tomatoes (if in season)
Roast the Onions: Preheat oven to 400°F.
In a 9×9-inch baking pan, place prepared Vidalia onion halves. Drizzle with olive oil, turning to coat and place them cut side down. Bake, uncovered, until onions are tender, about 40 minutes. Depending on the size of your onions, this may take longer. For larger ones I would recommend you quarter them so they will cook faster and more evenly. Using a pair of tongs, transfer to a cutting board. Let sit while you prepare the glaze. Do not clean the baking pan.
Make the Glaze: Transfer the juices from the baking pan to a small saucepan. Add the vinegar, preserves, salt and red pepper, stirring over low heat until smooth and slightly melted.
Cut the onions into bite-sized pieces or slice them and place back in the baking pan. Pour sauce over and toss to coat evenly. Place back in the oven and continue cooking for another 10 to 15 minutes.
Serve warm or at room temperature. These will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to a week or more.
Make Horseradish Mayonnaise: Whisk mayonnaise, horseradish, and thyme together in a small bowl until blended. Set aside so flavors can meld. Flavored mayonnaise can be made several days in advance. Store, covered, in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Prepare Steaks and Mushrooms: Prepare a two-tired fire in your charcoal or gas grill. Let coals burn down until covered with ash. Spread them over one half of the barbecue and top with grill. When hot, brush with a stiff wire brush to remove any cooked-on foods. Brush grill lightly with olive oil.
Meanwhile, lightly brush steaks and mushroom caps with additional olive oil. Lightly season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Set aside.
When the fire is ready, place the steaks directly over the coals and the mushrooms on the cooler side of the barbecue. Cook the mushrooms about 2 minutes per side, remove from the heat and set aside. The steaks will cook about 4 minutes per side, flipping only once, for medium-rare.
Transfer steaks to a cutting board, lightly tent with foil and let rest for at least 10 minutes, giving the juices a chance to be reabsorbed. When the steak has rested, use a very sharp knife to thinly slice against the grain. Cut the mushroom caps into 1/4-inch slices.
Assemble the Sandwiches: Brush both cut sides of baguette pieces, bread or croissants with some of the horseradish mayonnaise. On the bottom halves add a small handful of the watercress, a couple of tomato slices, top with steak, a few mushroom slices and some of the glazed onions. Place the baguette tops on the sandwiches and serve immediately.
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