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Betsy Block

Steak in the Fire


By George Germon and Johanne Killeen

Johanne writes:

"At home, we cook steak in our fireplace by burning down the cord wood (maple, oak and ash) to large embers -- roughly the same size as lump hardwood charcoal. The size of the fire depends on how many steaks we're going to cook, but we are not blazers. A small, controllable fire is George's ideal.

We use boneless ribeye steaks -- sirloin works as well -- about 1-1/2-inches thick (don't trim the fat off until after it is cooked). The steaks should be at room temperature, so take them out of the fridge about one hour in advance. They should be bone-dry, with no moisture at all on them. Any blood or moisture will cook to a livery taste and allow the ashes to stick to it.

When the embers are ready, knock off any ash with a poker so the embers glow bright red. Gently lay the steaks directly on top of the coals. They will sizzle and smoke. Cook 3 to 5 minutes per side for a rare steak -- you have to gauge how hot your fire is -- not an exacting science, but easily learned with a little practice. The steak is best served rare or medium rare. The steak should not be cooked any further as it will then lose tenderness, juiciness and integrity.

Transfer the steaks to a cooling rack suspended over a plate to collect any juices falling from the steaks. (If placed directly on the flat surface of a plate, the meat will continue to cook by steaming from below.)

Season with salt, tent loosely with foil, and allow the steaks to rest in a warm place near the fire for 8 to 10 minutes. (This is a general rule for any meat cooking technique. If you cut into the steak right away, it will bleed a good deal of fluid and leave the meat itself dry. Resting the steak allows the juices to remain in the meat and produce a juicier result. Harold McGee is brilliant on the subject. See page 165 of the revised and updated On Food and Cooking.)

Slice and drizzle with an exceptional extra virgin olive oil from Italy."