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March 08, 2009

Protein, Protein and More Protein

Pan Dripping Vinaigrette Dominic Armato

Doesn't look like much, but this has been one of my lifesavers over the past couple of months.

It turns out that the Top Chef hiatus came at a pretty good time. Since the holidays, my ladylove has been on a doctor-ordered very low carb diet. The imminence of our second offspring has caused her blood sugar to go a little wonky, and some corrective action was necessary. It's only temporary. But by the time she's done, it will have been a four month stretch with very little sugar, and no rice, fruit, bread or pasta... pasta. More accurately, I should say by the time we're done, because in a show of spousal solidarity, I've been doing it with her. Though the pasta thing is killing me, I'm mostly okay with the rest. In some ways, it's been a fun challenge. One of the first things I did was to make a forty-something item low carb menu containing a ton of recipes I've been wanting to try but haven't quite gotten around to. The long and short of it is that we're eating a ton of meat. And if this dietary sacrifice means I have to go pick up a good dry-aged steak once a week for us to share, I'd say we'll get through the next two months just fine.

Anyway, back to the photo above. These days, I'm a huge fan of pan vinaigrettes. We don't have a grill here, and it's been too cold outside anyway, so most of our meats have been of the braised or pan-seared variety. For the latter, I can't stand to let good pan drippings go, and balsamic vinegar is like ambrosia when you're on a low carb diet, so you do the math.

Here's a quick favorite we've made a few times during this run. Cauliflower is a fairly low carb vegetable, and given our love for sauteed cauliflower, we've been hitting it pretty hard. Here, I actually make the vinaigrette in the pan that was used for the cauliflower, which I think marries the meat and vegetable nicely. I've also been playing with Cook’s Illustrated's oven-then-pan method for steak cookery and getting some pretty impressive results out of it, hence the method used below. But if you're a traditional sear-and-blast person, by all means, cook it up that way. Or toss it on the grill if you're also in the midst of the unseasonably warm weather we're having this weekend. I realize mace and mint isn't the most orthodox combination, but after the first run I thought the meat needed something a little earthy and spicy and mace fit the bill. I think it works.

Dominic Armato

1 head cauliflower
5 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
4 cloves garlic
coarse salt & pepper
12-16 oz. thick NY strip steak
1/2 tsp. ground mace
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. fresh mint chiffonade

Steak with Sautéed Cauliflower
and Mint Vinaigrette
Serves 2

After you move your oven rack to the center and preheat it to 275°, a little light prep. Trim the cauliflower and break it into small florets, slicing larger ones into halves or quarters, giving it time to dry after washing. Also, halve the steak with a single vertical cut through the middle, to create two filet-sized chunks. Sprinkle them all over with coarse salt and pepper and put them on a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet. Pop the steaks in the oven and cook until they read 95° in the center (a little warmer for medium, a little cooler for rare -- if you want them well-done, why are you reading this blog?).

While the steaks are warming in the oven, start up the cauliflower. Put 3 Tbsp. of the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high, peel and crush the garlic cloves very lightly and toss them in the pan. Let them fry in the oil for a few minutes, turning, until they're lightly golden on all sides. Then remove them from the pan and discard them. Immediately toss in the cauliflower and spread it evenly around the pan. For the next minute or so, resist the urge to stir it. Let it be, so that the underside takes on a nice, golden color. Then toss it well, season with salt and pepper and continue cooking, occasionally stirring and tossing, for about 10-12 minutes until it starts to soften a little. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking gently for another ten minutes or so, until it's tender and flavorful.

Meanwhile, sear up the steaks. Heat the vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet over high heat, and once the steaks have hit their internal temperature, remove them from the oven and lightly dust them on all sides with the mace (don't let them cool before searing!). Then transfer them to the pan, cooking for just a minute or two on each side to sear them, give them some nice color and finish cooking them. Continue to give them a very quick sear on the edges, then return them to the wire rack (out of the oven, this time), tent them with foil and let them rest for about ten minutes.

That'll give you time to finish up the cauliflower and cook up the vinaigrette. Once the cauliflower is done, check its seasoning and adjust for salt and pepper if necessary. Transfer the cauliflower to a warm plate or bowl, turn off the burner and add the remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil and balsamic vinegar to the warm pan. Whisk them together, scraping up all of the seasoning and little bits of browned cauliflower, then mix in 1 Tbsp. of the mint and set the vinaigrette aside, off the heat.

To plate, divide the cauliflower between two plates. Thinly slice the steaks, fan them out and plate them with the cauliflower. Spoon the vinaigrette over the steaks, sprinkle them with the remaining fresh mint, and get them on the table.


I just got a bunch of mint from my CSA last week and was wondering what I could do with it. Serendipity! Thanks, Dom. This looks delicious.

And as someone who just committed to a weeklong veg-and-fruit-only diet this week, I so feel for you guys and your dry-aged-steak meat-stravaganza. Honestly, I do. Honest.

Weirds, I am teh jealous. Our CSA hasn't moved year round yet, so we certainly do not get organic fricking mint in March!

Dom, I'm curious what your perspective is on halving the steak before cooking. I assume that's generally a personal preference thing, but wondered if there was a specific reason.

I'm considering addressing certain carb issues myself—-for other reasons, we're done having children. So I'm definitely interested in observing your progress through the 40-item menu. Keep us posted!

Finally, now that you've taken pains to post your bio, consider taking pains to talk about your approach to food photography. You presumably don't have a food stylist on staff, so I'm curious what you do to get so many terrific photos, including the great restaurant ones where you would have much less control over lighting conditions.

"Dom, I'm curious what your perspective is on halving the steak before cooking. I assume that's generally a personal preference thing, but wondered if there was a specific reason."

Actually, no, that was simply a directive of the Cook's Illustrated method that I blindly followed. And since I was planning on slicing it tagliata-style anyway, I didn't give it a second thought. I'm presuming it's a matter of even cooking. Otherwise, I wonder if the warm-then-sear method is less done in the middle than it is on the ends. Pure speculation, though. My limited experience thus far, however, backs up their claim that it results in less grey around the edges while maintaining a nice sear.

"Finally, now that you've taken pains to post your bio, consider taking pains to talk about your approach to food photography. You presumably don't have a food stylist on staff, so I'm curious what you do to get so many terrific photos, including the great restaurant ones where you would have much less control over lighting conditions."

I'd be happy to! I suppose I should make something official out of that... an addendum to the bio, maybe. But as a quick FYI, almost all of my phtos were taken with a Fujifilm Finepix F30, which is EXCEPTIONAL in low light (even better than its successors, actually, but that's a long, sad story). That and I use Photoshop for some very basic digital darkroom stuff -- levels, color correction -- nothing dishonest.

I'm less happy to hear about the circumstances than to see you post low carb friendly recipes. Not that I don't want my carbs! Pasta, bread ... While I very much like making both, I can't consume as much of them as I used to. And try making less than a loaf or two of bread --of course I give most of it away.

Second, I'm a diehard griller. I've given up on seriously bad weather, but if it's above freezing you can find me playng with charcoal. Yet those pan drippings are calling me. So I am going to try this ... and I almost NEVER cook steak indoors. Looking forward to a different experience.

It's funny, but I'm in almost the exact opposite position. Having just adopted the World's Cutest Dog, cooking meat now requires an iron will and stone heart. It's been mostly pasta, rice, and vegetables for me since then.

Non-food question, Dom. Will you be blogging Marco Pierre White's show, chopping block? I'm not sure what to think of the show, but it seems like a cross between Amazing Race (everything in pairs), Top Chef (cooking) and Hell's Kitchen (given MPW white's legendary temper). Based on the previews he's rude/mean, but not screaming which might be more interesting. I'm hoping (but not hopeful) that it will be more food and less screaming than Hell's Kitchen and be foodie worthy.

I'm sorry for the circumstances but happy for the recipe(s). My wife got some pretty bad gestational diabetes during her second pregnancy and unfortunately it never went away. Fortunately her sugars are decently controlled with diet and exercise still. And now our second son is 20 mos. old and eats what we eat and it turns out he's allergic to dairy (all dairy, goat's milk etc.) and eggs. It's really sad to watch him eat (with love) an American style slice of vegan "cheese," and have him call it "cheese."

Incidentally, if you have Costco there, their Kirkland brand balsamic is actually good, and the price is right.
Happy eating

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