Steak Only or Surf & Turf 單吃牛排還是來個海陸

After skipping two years, I "resumed" our annual wine party two weeks ago. For everyone who got a few slices of the barbecue grilled ribeye, the consensus was "not enough!" Soon after the party, our new skier friends started this whole steak dinner discussion on Facebook. I was heading out to the Bay Area for a short business trip the following week, so I thought I better have another dinner-at-home gathering soon so we all didn't have to wait too long for big juicy chunks of steak. Now, should we do steak only or surf & turf? Surf and turf of course! What kind of surf? Big prawns or lobster? I thought I'd make up my mind at the market. Guess what? They had fresh small spiny lobsters for US$5 each! Bin Jiang market (濱江市場) is sort of a whole-sale traditional market in Taipei (huge place!), and is where you can find some of the best produce, meat, and seafood in Taipei. Boy this dinner quickly got upgraded big time. Thinking the lobster would be worthy of having its own course, I also decided to throw in risotto, another "component" I've never cooked before. Having lobster and steak separate made it easier for wine-paring anyway, as I found out in the last dinner that these good friends LOVE WINE.

Dinner Menu 11 June 2011:

Orange Teriyaki Seared Tuna
served with yamaimo and asparagus 附山藥 蘆筍

Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio 2009
Banrock Station Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot

Seafood Course
Lobster in Garlic Butter
set on mushroom risotto  蘑菇義式燉飯

Perelada Cava 西班牙香檳 (from MoonWine Wine Shop)

Meat Course
Australian Ribeye with Red Wine Jus
truffle mashed baby red skin potatoes and sauteed mushrooms
搭配松露紅馬鈴薯泥 煎鴻禧菇

Kendall Jackson 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon
Don David Malbec 2009

Baked Caramel Apple Puff Pastry
with vanilla ice cream 佐香草冰淇淋

    This seared tuna appetizer is something I've wanted to cook again for a long time. I've had good seared tuna in the US, but haven't found anything good in local restaurants here in Taipei. I found a few recipes online and combined the best parts of them to my own liking. The marinade actually has orange juice, yes, orange juice. Raw tuna maguro, unless extremely fresh, doesn't have much taste (of course, toro or tuna belly is whole different ball game). By searing the outside with high heat, the sugar is slightly caramelized and brings much more aroma to the tuna. Mixed with the orange teriyaki sauce, ginger, wasabi, and scallions, this dish packs plenty of punch to the taste buds. Pinot Grigio was a little too light to counter the rich Asian flavors, so we quickly corrected that with a sparkling Chardonnay Pinot (like, not a problem at all when someone screams "drink up we gotta switch wine!"). This was also the first time I used sliced asparagus in a dish, as I think it's a visually-pleasing way of presenting asparagus, with greening outline on the edge of the white slices.

    Yes, I've always thought about making risotto, but never got around to it. A college buddy was so proud when he found out he cooked risotto before I did! With a box of Italian Riso Scotti risotto rice in my pantry and vague memories of chefs making risotto on TV (and horror stories of over-cooking it into porridge), I went for the "challenge" and was really mentally prepared to fail miserably. "If it's bad, I just won't serve it right?" I thought. As it turned out, it wasn't that difficult after all -- slowly ladling stock in, constant stirring, and frequent tasting did the job. I was even able to maintain a bit of bite in the rice core, not bad for first time! Now onto the lobster. I've made grilled and roasted lobsters tons of times before, but I've always used Maine lobsters (with claws). This is the first time I'm working with spiny lobster. I'm a big opponent of boiling lobsters, because I think some of precious juice is lost during the process (probably just a personal myth). Borrowing a cooking method of an Australian lobster farmer I saw on TV, I split the lobsters in half, and seasoned the lobsters in salt and pepper, and sauteed with med-low heat in olive oil and butter mixture, adding garlic and fresh parsley about mid way through the 8-minute cooking process. The result was a wow'ing succulent, sweet, and tender lobster. I know I'm biased because I cooked it, but man I ended up eating the lobster so slowly, enjoying every bite in my mouth. We paired this course with Spanish Cava semi-seco, a good balance of delicate savory flavors and sweetness of the wine.

    Since I had "surf & turf" in my mind, I started Googling for surf & turf plating ideas during the week. Boy there were some ugly plating pictures. Let's say I was quite relieved to separate the lobster from the steak. There're also quite a few ways to present steak, but I think I like the ones that clearly show the medium-rare color of the beef. What sides should go with the beef? Since I was going high-end with lobster already, I thought truffle baby red skin mashed potatoes would be a winner. Baby red skin potatoes have a natural creamy, silkiness texture that, in my opinion, is much better than good old Idaho potatoes. I used to add truffle oil directly into the big pot of mash, but not anymore. I think you taste much more truffle if you drip it on top of the mash in your plate - simply sends sensory systems through the roof. I also had creamed spinach in the plan, but that turned out to be a total disaster, so the sauteed mushrooms was a last-minute swap-out. Last but definitely not least, let's talk about the red wine jus now. To me, the jus was what MADE the dish. I used to cheat and do a bunch of ad-hoc methods to make the steak sauce, with inconsistent successes. I wanted to make sure this steak dish is really steak-house / bistro quality, so I followed the Bouchon red wine jus recipe to the T. Basically, the sauce consisted of standard mirepoix, mushrooms, thyme, bay leaf, half bottle of red wine, and beef stock, reduced and strained through cheese cloth. Gosh the sauce really elevated the Australian grain-fed ribeye at so many different levels. At that instant, I wasn't missing US beef that much (though I still prefer it). On top of all this, I had a creme brulee torch gun for everyone to char up the ribeye fat on the table, talk about entertaining! This was definitely one of the best dishes ever coming out of our kitchen.

    Sometimes, I amaze myself with the number of decisions made and problems encountered during the course of preparing a dinner. It's all good, love every second of it.

    Dessert has never been my forte. I found a bakery supplier in our neighborhood recently, a store that sells supplies to the bread and cake shops in the city. Simply out of curiosity, I bought some frozen puff pastry without any idea of how I'd use it. What I had in mind for tonight's dessert was an upside down caramel apple pie, but wasn't quite sure if I could do it with puff pastry. I didn't want to do caramel apple without the pastry, so I went for the apple and puff pastry combo without knowing what would happen. The steps were: cut up the golden delicious, stirred into caramel (didn't get as brown as I'd like), put into baking pan, laid pastry over, and baked for 20 minutes - pretty straight forward and simple dessert. Ice cream melting on warm fruit is an formula to make people happy.

    This was one of the best dinners I've cooked in the past few years. I don't want these skier friends to get used to this, because heck the next dinner might get a hiccup or two (or a complete disaster). Alright folks, I'll strive for perfection! Thanks all for another fantastic evening, and all your kind compliments on the food!

    Date: 2011.6.11


    William said...

    5 bucks for a lobster!! what an amazing deal!

    Steve said...

    Crazy right? Cheaper than big prawns!

    g. said...

    hi steve! looks like an AMAZING night!!

    Steve said...

    hey Giao good to 'see' you here! so happy to see all the awards and recognition on your blog!!!! so so cool!!! i'll be in SF in Nov. let's see if we can get a cook-off going ;-)