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The A.O.C. Cookbookby Suzanne Goin
Grilled hangar steak with sweet peppers, cherry tomatoes, and chimichurri
Many years ago, right after my father passed away, my friend the punk-rock chef guru Fred Eric invited me to assist him at a cooking festival in Rio de Janeiro. I have to say it was one of the wackiest of all my culinary adventures ever. It turns out that the man who arranged the whole event was a raging cocaine fiend and had not actually “arranged” anything at all! Well, that’s not completely true. We did have hotel rooms and what looked like an amazing itinerary. But, the first day, Fred and I stood outside our hotel for 4 hours waiting for a mysterious culinary expert who was supposed to take us to the market and then on to our host restaurant to prep for the first event, which was, of course, that evening. Long story short, the host restaurant didn’t exist, and the crazy coked‑up guy placed us at some friend’s restaurant, where they plied us with Caipirinhas made with Bolivian coca-leaf liquor and tried to make us cook—let’s just say things got very ugly from there on out.
As soon as I got over the once-horrifying, now hilarious moments, I remembered having some of the most delicious meat of my life served in more ways than you can imagine—roasted on long skewers, in outdoor pits, and jury-rigged barbecues at the town market. As much as I was craving salads and vegetables after a few days, I told myself, when in South America, just indulge your inner carnivore. One of the most delicious ways to do that is with grilled steak seasoned with a traditional Argentinian warmed herb-and-olive oil sauce called chimichurri.
As you may have realized by now, I am on the constant prowl for new olive-oil-and-herb-based sauces. Something about the way that silky olive oil and the brightness and power-packed flavor of fresh herbs meld with meat juices is so perfectly balanced for my palate. The oil turns the natural juices into a sauce, and the herbs lift and counter the richness of the meat. But, whereas I tend toward the “soft” herbs, such as parsley, mint, and cilantro, in my herb salsas, chimichurri is made with tougher, more sturdy, dark-and-earthy-flavored members of the herb family. Rosemary, thyme, oregano, and even bay leaf are minced and warmed in olive oil with charred jalapeño and red-wine vinegar. This is a strong, bold gaucho to pistou’s delicate mademoiselle.
3 pounds hangar steak
2 tablespoons thinly sliced chile de árbol
1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon thyme leaves
1 teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon rosemary leaves
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons or so for brushing the steak
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
1½ teaspoons sweet paprika
6 large bell peppers (about 3 pounds), julienned
¼ cup sliced garlic
½ pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
6 ounces cleaned arugula
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Light the grill.
Trim the hangar steak of excess fat and sinew, if any (it doesn’t usually need much trimming). At least an hour before serving, season the hangar steak with 1 tablespoon sliced chile, the cracked black pepper, and 1 tablespoon thyme. Leave out at room temperature to temper. (Or, of course, you can refrigerate for later. Just make sure you take the meat out to temper at least an hour before serving.)
To make the chimichurri, char the jalapeño on all sides on a medium-hot grill, or on the burner of a gas stove, or in the broiler, until it is completely blackened. Place it in a small paper bag, and close it tightly (peppers can leak, so place the bag on a plate). Let the pepper steam for about 10 minutes, and then remove the seeds and chop the flesh of the jalapeño, including the charred skin, and place them in a medium sauté pan with ½ cup olive oil.
Mince the oregano, rosemary, and remaining 1 teaspoon thyme. Bring the jalapeño in oil to a simmer over medium-low heat, and then remove from the heat, and add the minced herbs, the bay leaf, the vinegar, and the paprika. Leave the chimichurri in the pan, off the heat, and let the herbs infuse for at least 1 hour.
Meanwhile, stew the peppers. Heat a large sauté pan over high heat for 1 minute. Swirl in ½ cup olive oil, and then add the bell peppers. Season with remaining 1 tablespoon thyme, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 teaspoon ground pepper. Turn the heat down to medium, and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes, until the peppers start to wilt. Add the sliced garlic and the remaining 1 tablespoon sliced arbol chile, and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring often, until the peppers are completely tender. Turn off the heat.
When the coals are broken down, red, and glowing, season the steak generously with salt, and brush it lightly with 3 tablespoons olive oil. Place the meat on the hottest part of the grill, to get a nice sear on the outside. Cook for about 3 minutes, turn the meat a quarter-turn, and cook for another minute or two. Turn the meat over, and move it to a cooler spot on the grill. Cook for another minute or two for medium-rare. Rest the steaks on a wire rack set over a baking sheet.
In a large salad bowl, gently toss the arugula with the warm peppers, the remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Taste for balance and seasoning, and divide among six large dinner plates. Set the pan with the chimichurri on the stove over medium-high heat. When it starts to boil, add the cherry tomatoes, and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 30 seconds, shaking the pan, as the tomatoes blister a little and release their juices. Squeeze in about 1 tablespoon lemon juice, toss in the parsley, remove from the heat, and taste for seasoning. Slice the steak against the grain, lay the slices over the arugula, and spoon the sizzling cherry tomatoes in chimichurri over the steak and around the plate.
I love the Argentinian influence on this dish and am, of course, drawn to that country’s dark and seductive wines for pairing. The Mendoza region produces outstanding Malbec, which is a really fabulous accompaniment to grilled meat. Malbec tends to show deep cocoa-infused black fruit notes with touches of smokiness and grippy tannins. These darker aspects of the wine are very much like the sweet charred flavors of the steak itself. The wine also tends to show a good dose of acid, which will work seamlessly with the bright-green herbs in the chimichurri and the tomato.
Fattoush salad with fried pita, cherry tomatoes, crumbled feta, and sumac
Fattoush is the Arabic word for a traditional salad made in most Middle Eastern countries, originally as a vehicle to use up stale leftover pita bread. I think I must just be a leftover lover, because so many of my favorite foods—stuffings, daubes, terrines, meringues—all evolved from using up excess or old product so it wouldn’t go to waste. Traditionally, the stale pita is torn into bigger-than-bite-sized pieces, fried, and then tossed with lettuces and seasonal vegetables.
I’m sure there are as many “recipes” for fattoush as there are cooks, but I credit the key to our delicious version to Brian Wolff—one of our A.O.C. chefs in the early days, who was determined to make a better fattoush than the one he ate every Sunday at the local Middle Eastern restaurant in his San Fernando Valley neighborhood. Besides, of course, the super-farm-fresh ripe and crispy ingredients, the secret behind this salad is the dressing—and it’s the touch of cream in the dressing that really brings this fattoush to greatness.
For me there are two types of salads, the ones that need to be gently and carefully tossed, and the more rugged ones with bold-flavored dressings—like escarole with anchovies and Parmesan, the farro salad with spring vegetables, and this fattoush, which I like to toss really well, almost massaging the dressing into the greens and other components. The flavors and textures really need to be brought together and integrated to create one glorious whole. It’s amazing to me that you can give the same ingredients, and even the same dressing, to two different cooks, and, between the seasoning and the way the salad is dressed and tossed, you can end up with two very different results. So remember to toss this salad well; get your hands in there, make sure every element is getting well coated, and taste. You actually want the tomatoes to break up a tiny bit, so their juices meld with the creamy lemon dressing and bring all the flavors of the salad together.
3 pita breads
½ cup plus 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 large heads romaine lettuce
1 small red onion
3 Persian cucumbers, or 1 hothouse cucumber
½ pint cherry tomatoes
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsely, plus ½ cup whole fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
¼ pound feta cheese
¼ cup mint leaves
1 tablespoon ground sumac
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Cut the pita bread into rustic 1-inch squares, and toss, using your hands, with 3 tablespoons olive oil until the pita is well coated and saturated. Spread on a baking sheet, and toast for about 20 minutes, tossing once or twice, until the pita squares are golden and crispy. (You can also deep-fry the pita if you like.)
Using a mortar and pestle (or the side of a knife on a cutting board), crush the garlic clove with a little salt, and then transfer it to a mixing bowl. Add the lemon juice and a heaping ¼ teaspoon salt to the bowl. Whisk in the remaining ½ cup olive oil, and the cream. Taste for balance and seasoning.
Cut each head of romaine in half lengthwise, and place them cut-side down on a cutting board. Make three long slices lengthwise, then turn the romaine and chop across the slices into ½-inch-sized pieces. Clean the lettuce, spin it dry, and place in a large mixing bowl.
Thinly slice the onion. Cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise, and cut them on the diagonal into ¼-inch-thick slices. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half. Add the onion, cucumbers, and tomatoes to the romaine, and toss with the dressing, the chopped parsley, toasted pita, half the feta, ¼ teaspoon salt, and some freshly ground pepper. Taste for balance and seasoning. Gently toss in the whole parsley and mint leaves, and arrange on six dinner plates. Sprinkle the remaining 2 ounces feta and the sumac over the top of the salads.
This is one of my all-time favorite A.O.C. salads, and one that I have probably eaten over a hundred times. Though the crispy pita adds an indulgent, rich crunch, the essence of this salad is very clean, calling for a wine that is similarly so. I’ve found that the best match for this dish is a white wine with a savory core and notes of bright-green herbs, like Assyrtiko from Greece, which is lean, refreshing, and kind of unfruity. The wine almost becomes an extension of the salad, creating a seamless connection between the two, while also allowing the sweetness of the tomatoes to shine through.
Grilled fig leaf panna cotta with figs and melon sorbet
1/4-ounce package (2 1/2 teaspoons) Knox powdered gelatin
5 or 6 fresh fig leaves, washed and dried
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
Vegetable oil, for molds
2 tablespoons crème fraîche or yogurt
1 recipe Walnut Pain de Gênes (recipe in book)
1 recipe Walnut Lace Cookies (recipe in book)
9 ripe figs
1/2 ripe cavaillon, honeydew, or other melon
1 recipe Melon Sorbet (recipe in book)
Place 1/4 cup cold water in a large bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over it, and gently swirl the bowl to combine. Using tongs, gently grill 2 or 3 fig leaves for about 2 minutes, rotating frequently and being careful not to burn them. Or, alternatively, fan each leaf over a gas stove, without directly touching the flame, until the leaf begins to smell toasted. It is important that the leaves get toasted and have slightly golden- brown spots and edges but are not burned.
Combine the cream, milk, and fig leaves in a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for 30 minutes, allowing the fig leaves to steep in the hot liquid. Strain the leaves from cream mixture, discard them, and return the liquid to the saucepan. Heat this cream mixture over medium heat to a scald, add the sugar, and stir until it dissolves. Slowly whisk the cream mixture into the bloomed gelatin until completely incorporated. Chill the cream mixture over an ice bath, stirring occasionally, until it’s at room temperature or slightly cool.
Prepare six 3- inch ring molds (or individual ramekins) by lightly brushing vegetable oil on the inside surfaces. Pour a small amount of the cream mixture into a bowl, and whisk in the crème fraîche or yogurt. Then whisk that thickened cream– crème- fraîche mixture back into the cream. (Tempering the cream this way creates a very smooth and silky panna cotta.) Pour the panna- cotta cream into the prepared molds, and chill in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours, until set. When ready to serve, cut the remaining three fig leaves in half and place them on each of six dessert plates. Cut six 3- inch circles of walnut pain de Gênes and place one in the middle of each fig leaf. Center one walnut lace cookie atop each cake. Carefully unmold the panna cottas on top of each cake- cookie stack. (To unmold, gently press your finger down on the panna cotta close to the edge, pulling lightly inward, to the center, and then moving your finger along the perimeter of the panna cotta. When f ipped upside down, it should pop right out.) Trim the stems of the figs, and cut each one in half. Place one fig half on top and one fig half on either side of each panna cotta. Thinly shave the melon with a vegetable peeler; weave the slices around the plates, and place scoops of melon sorbet nestled among the fruit.
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