It is probably fair to say that france is king of the severely underdone steak. And if you have access to quality meat, you really should consider cooking it this way. If a steak sees any flame at all, it should be for the minimum time possible for the specific cut of meat.
When perusing the dismembered cow carcasses at market stalls in paris you really get to see every cut in all its glory. None of this pre-portioned, shrink wrapped, bright-red-minute-steak-defrosted-for-your-convenience crap. We are talking whole slabs of meat. Entire rib racks. Hooves and heads. Whole shoulders. Grass-fed veal vs suckling veal. Rump cut to your preferred thickness. There is no mistaking what the message is when you buy from one of these guys: you are eating an animal. A big animal. Properly raised and butchered with care and integrity. To be honest, we didnt recognise most of the cut names here – bavette, chine, faux-filet – so we went with “we want to cook it like this” and we haven’t been let down yet.
And therein lies probably the most important lesson we have learnt in our time in france: respect the cut and your enjoyment of meat will be greatly enhanced. Sounds obvious, we know. We thought we knew all about it. Especially when it came to a blue steak. But sometimes, even the biggest rare steak enthusiast needs a refresher, so here’s a few of the basics that keep popping up on how to enjoy your steak bloody (taken from both experience and a shitload of advice from a couple of awesome french butchers):
1) pull the meat out of the fridge well in advance of cooking it (like a couple of hours) and only cook it when it comes to room temperature. Otherwise, the centre will be cold and gross when you cut into it.
2) Always season your meat with a pinch of salt well before it hits the pan. Meat is always better with a bit of salt.
3) If it is a lean, tender cut like fillet, crank the heat up as high as possible and sear the crap out of it for a minute on each side, leaving it tender and raw in the centre.
4) If it is a marbled cut like waygu or has a strip of fat like rump or flank, cook it rare (not blue) to let the fat melt through a bit and flavour the meat.
Lastly, choose your accompaniments wisely. Steak and chips? Mushroom sauce? Green peppercorns? Nothing wrong with that. But every now and then, you need something lighter, something spicy. Something that’s not on the menu at sizzler. Try chimichurri. Most definitely not french – argentinian salsa verde basically. Your mouth watering? Go make this.
200g beef fillet (or whatever grilling cut you prefer)
1 bunch flat leaf parsley
1 bunch coriander
hot red chillis (however many you can handle)
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
juice of 1 lime
200g tiny tiny baby potatoes
1 garlic clove
small handful of cress or baby beet leaves
Parboil the potatoes in slightly salted water with the garlic clove and preheat the oven to 180º. Rub the meat all over with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Allow to come to room temperature. This is an important step, as is the seasoning (see above). Once you start doing this you will wonder why you never did before.
When the potatoes are almost soft through, drain but keep them in the pot. Generously coat the potatoes in olive oil or butter. Keep the garlic clove in there with them. Put the lid back on the pot and give the whole thing a really good shake. Like you want to give those babies brain damage. They should scuff and roughen and break. Turn everything out into a single layer onto a baking tray and bake for 20 minutes or until goldenish. Check them occasionally and turn them so they crisp and colour evenly.
To make the chimichurri, lightly toast the coriander and cumin seeds until fragrant. Remove from the heat and grind into a powder. Roughly chop the chillis and deseed them if they are too hot. Chop the fresh coriander and parsley on top of the chilli making sure they all mix together. Place the chopped herbs in a bowl with the ground seeds and add the lime juice and a few tablespoons of olive oil. Season sensibly with salt if you want to and mix thourougly. Fish the roasted clove of garlic out from the potatoes and mash it into the mixture. Add more olive oil if needed. The chimichurri should be wet and loose . Yep. We heard it.
When everything is about ready to go, get a skillet or a bbq smoking hot and sear the meat on all sides for about one minute each – just enough for the outside to caramelise. If you’re not using fillet, remember our advice above and cook to the cut you’ve got. Leave to rest on a board for a few minutes while you plate everything else.
Arrange the potatoes on a serving plate and scatter with the beet leaves or cress. Slice the meat against the grain and plate with a generous dressing of chimichurri.