A timeless staple of outdoor grilling, steaks have occupied a special place in omnivores’ hearts ever since the first caveman dropped his chunk of woolly mammoth into the campfire all those years ago. Since then, however, we’ve discovered that barbecuing a great steak is not as easy as it sounds. In search of answers, we spoke to Justin Leboe, Executive Chef at the soon-to-open Rush in downtown Calgary. Fresh from a stint heading the kitchen at Calgary’s esteemed Vintage Chophouse, Leboe shared some of his tips with us for grilling the perfect steak. -JF
1.Find the best quality beef you can and try not to screw it up before you put it on the plate. Look for marbling, that’s the fat in the muscle, not surrounding it, and look for color. You’re looking for something that’s almost purple, purple tells you that there’s been oxidization and ageing. If it’s bright red it’s not aged enough. Go with grain-fed beef as opposed to grass-fed. Grain-fed is a little nuttier and more robust, and tends to have better marbling. You don’t want it to be too lean, either, because fat is really what carries the beef flavour over your palate, so usually the more marbling the better.
2. A good steak shouldn’t need to see the inside of a marinade bowl, and it shouldn’t need barbeque sauce. Use salt and pepper, absolutely. Give it a rub all over, and that’ll help build that seasoning right into the crust of the meat. You can add some other stuff to that if you want, or you can buy some steak seasoning or steak rub, it just depends what you like.
3. Charcoal. It’s a no-brainer. Gas has no flavour. You get good charcoal and it does such a better job. I’d avoid briquettes, so get natural wood charcoal, mesquite or hickory or some sort of fruitwood. You want the fire as hot as you can get it so you get a good sear and you want to keep turning your steak every minute or two. Heat one side and let the other side rest, and you’ll get more even cooking.
4. After you grill it, you have to give it some time to relax. You put a piece of meat on a grill, the first thing that happens is it starts to seize and all the moisture goes to the centre. As you let it rest, those juices are going to return to the surface. A really great steak should be the same colour all the way through when it’s done and that happens when it’s been rested properly. Also, if you take it straight off the grill and eat it, it’s going to bleed out all over the place. This won’t happen if you rest it. All the juice should stay in the meat. We rest steaks for about five to ten minutes, then show them the inside of a hot grill for two to three minutes, and then serve them. Just give it some heat the second time around, but not too much, because even when it’s off the heat it’s still cooking as it relaxes.
5. Keep it simple. You don’t want to put something on the plate that’s going to take away from the meat. Brush it with a little butter, or garlic butter if you want, but you really don’t want to do much to it.
‘Having the perfect steak is very nice, but should you want to compliment it with more than just a sprig of parsley, we offer the following suggestions.
Because fats and tannins compliment each other nicely, Sharp’s wine expert Nick Keukenmeester recommends big, tannic, oak-aged wines like Cabernet Sauvignon. Bordeaux, Barolo, and Australian Shiraz, he says, are also a good bet.
Starter: Baby arugula and tomato salad with piave
4 cups baby arugula, washed and dried
2 cups pear tomatoes
100 g piave (or other hard Italian cheese) coarsely shredded
1/4 câ€Šup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Combine the arugula and tomatoes in a bowl. Juice the lemon through a strainer to filter out the seeds, mix in the olive oil, salt and pepper, whisk and drizzle over the salad just before serving.
Side: Grilled Portobello Caps
4 medium-sized Portobello
mushrooms, stems removed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Juice the lemon through a strainer to filter out the seeds and blend in the olive oil. Brush the mixture over the mushroom caps, lightly salt and pepper them and grill until tender, about 8 minutes.