Welcome to the Feedbag, where all the dumb questions about food, drink, cooking, eating, and accidental finger removal you've been embarrassed to ask can finally receive the berating they goddamn deserve. Also: answers. Send all your even-vaguely-food-related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. All of them.
I like steak, but the thought of going to Fleming's and paying $45 for an $8 piece of filet makes me angrier than a Tea Partier at a gay bar during happy hour on tax day. Any ideas on how to replicate the results of a steak house filet? I've tried putting it on a grate directly over a full chimney of charcoal with mediocre results.
Yeah, no, Drew, don't do that. There's probably no actual basis for this, but I think of grilling as a technique appropriate for big, fatty cuts of steak—ribeye and strip and the like, the kind eaten by dudes with ten-gallon hats and bushy Sam Elliott mustaches. The filet, I dunno, the filet is a more delicate wad of sawed-off cow muscle. It requires gentler treatment than just chucking it onto an open fire, I think.
A filet, since it has less marbled fat than other steak cuts, should be minimally cooked to prevent it from drying out. That is to say, when you stab it with a fork to hold it in place for your steak knife to cut, it should moo horribly, buck wildly, and crush your ribcage with a kick. We've beaten this technique into the ground, but the best way to prepare a filet is to sear-roast it—or even, if it's fresh and of high quality, to leave out the roasting part, sear it on its two flat sides, and serve it with the inside still essentially raw.
So, here's what you do. Let your filets get all the way to room temperature before you start; then, get a cast iron skillet blazingly, outrageously hot on your stove and add a couple of glugs of a high-smoke-point fat (canola or vegetable, or ghee, which does not come in glugs). At the last second, just before you toss them into the outrageously hot skillet, sprinkle the filets generously on both sides with some good salt, and nothing else. Very gently press the salt with your fingertips, just to help it adhere to the steak during cooking. Then, sear the goddamn motherfuck out of them for, say, three minutes on each flat side.
I really cannot stress enough how important it is for your heat to be shriekingly bugfuck insane, here: the longer it takes you to get a nice caramelized sear on each side of the steak, the more the inside of the steak will have cooked, and the drier it will be. This is a particular concern with the filet, which will go all the way from a delicate, juicy cut of steak to a goddamn ten-dollar hockey puck in a frighteningly small span of time, since, again, there's virtually no intramuscular fat to keep things moist in there. Real, wild, serious heat, Drew.
Once you've seared the filets on both sides, get 'em off the heat, top 'em each with a pat of good butter, and let 'em sit for just a minute or two. Then, serve.
I just started getting into cooking about a year ago, and while it's been a slow process, I'm at the point now where I can follow most any reasonable recipe—or improvise something simple—and have a pretty good chance of not screwing it up.
Now that I'm reasonably comfortable in the kitchen and planning to continue cooking a lot more in the future, I'm thinking about spending a little money on some new kitchen equipment. My girlfriend and I have very little cooking stuff now—basically the shit any idiot would have (spatula, cookie sheet, measuring spoons/cups), plus a stainless steel pot, a cast iron skillet, and a reasonably heavy/expensive chef's knife.
I've found that these things alone can make a lot of tasty food, but are there any other items you'd suggest to a fledgling cook to make my life easier, or expand the range of things I could realistically make in a cramped Brooklyn apartment?
Ben, I'm generally a believer in keeping a smaller number of kitchen implements that you trust, over having a bunch of specialized bullshit laying around. For one thing, you save a lot of space that way. For another, having a small number of pots and pans (for example) removes the temptation to, say, break out a fresh pan for your next cooking project, instead of cleaning the scrambled-egg-encrusted one that has been sitting in your kitchen sink for five months. For yet another thing, going with a smaller number of implements means you can spend more money to ensure they're durable and made from the best materials.
And, finally, for as silly as this may seem, it's rewarding to develop a relationship with a few trusted pots and pans; to get to the point at which you know exactly how they handle heat and can improvise new stuff with a good sense of how it'll turn out. It's fun to let the air out of cooking, but ultimately, preparing food for yourself and others is no small thing; knowing your tools well enough that their use feels entirely native to you makes a big difference in how confidently you'll approach cooking endeavors, and how good your results will be.
With that in mind, here's the stuff that's good to have: In addition to your skillet and pot, it's always a good idea to have a large, heavy, high-quality, flat-bottomed wok around. Flat-bottomed woks are tremendously versatile—they can do the work of a skillet, and the work of a pot—which makes them great for making pasta sauces, for example, in addition to their more traditional use in stir-frying. If a wok's too big for your kitchen, or you can't find a really good one in your price range, go for a stainless steel saucier pan. The saucier pan is another versatile pan you'll find yourself using for all kinds of shit: sauce-making, sautéing, bashing intruders over the head, and so forth.
Lastly, it's a good idea to have a second big pot around, so that you can, for example, make chicken soup in one and some noodles to serve it with in the other. A good idea is to make one of your pots a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, and make the other a tall stockpot.
As for utensil-type stuff: a nice wire whisk, a trusty pair of tongs, a sturdy long-handled wooden spoon (you will come to love this thing like it was your child), and a slotted spoon.
Oh! And! Forks. You'll be surprised at what a welcome addition they make to any kitchen.
First-time, long-time. Favorite cookbooks, and favorite books about food?
I have a copy of the 8th edition of The Professional Chef, by the Culinary Institute of America, which I love because it focuses on techniques and ingredients as the basis for knowing how to cook, rather than focusing on recipes—as most cookbooks do—as the basis for making you want to eat at their authors' restaurants. It has a textbook-ier vibe than most cookbooks, but that's what I like about it. Honestly, I've got three shelves of cookbooks in my home, but that's the only one which I find myself returning to with any regularity.
As for books about food, I re-read Heat, by Bill Buford, probably once a year. Describing what makes a book great is like describing a smell, in that I am constitutionally incapable of satisfying myself that I have done it properly, so I am going to abandon the endeavor altogether and just say, holy shit, that book.
Also: Green Eggs and Ham. No, seriously. Green Eggs and Ham is the most important book ever written about food. Shut up.
I'm a huge fan of crockpot cooking during the fall and winter months. But, now that spring has sprung and summer is inbound do you have any suggestions for my crockpot?
Sure thing, Kev! A fun thing to do with your crockpot in the summertime is to wipe it down with a sterile cloth, wrap it in a towel, and hurl it at Darren Rovell.
Image by Jim Cooke.