I was recently planning a small dinner party for which I planned to make the venison and beet dish from the Eleven Madison Park the Next Chapter Cookbook. I was excited about the recipe and had already began prepping it, even though the dinner was over a week away. However, just moments after my venison loin from D’artagnan arrived, I found out that one of my guests hates beets. This particular dish not only has beets, you see, it has beets in many variations. There’s a beet purée, beet chips, smoked beets, and a sauce made with beet juice. So, yeah, I had to find something else to make.
Autumn had just started, so even though the temperature was dropping, I browsed the summer chapter of the EMP cookbook to find something that I could still make. That’s when I came across the aged beef dish. When I first bought this book, a year ago, this recipe didn’t really appeal to me. It seemed overly time consuming — even by EMP standards — and not necessarily worth the effort. However, this time around I was drawn in by the sauce, a complicated and decadent one that seemed like it would be fun to make — and eat. And, since eggplant season runs pretty much until November, I decided to give it a go.
Before I got started, I headed to Kalustyans to pick up several relatively obscure ingredients that the dish, mainly the sauce, calls for. This includes mushroom soy sauce, black garlic, dried porcini, amaranth, and Bliss fish sauce. While shopping, I decided not to get the fish sauce, as I already had Red Boat fish sauce at home. Bliss sauce is essentially Red Boat sauce that’s been aged in bourbon barrels, which doesn’t sound particularly appealing. I mean, Bliss maple syrup (see my foie gras with maple syrup post) is excellent, but maple syrup and bourbon is an obvious combination. Bourbon and fermented fish? Not so clear. Compounding my hesitation was that the combination of charred eggplant and fish sauce did not sound tasty to me. True, I love baba ganoush, which is essentially charred eggplant and tahina, but fish sauce ain’t tahina. Nevertheless, as the cashier was ringing up my items, I thought “I better do this right,” and ran to the back of the store to grab the bottle.
On my way to the train, I realized it was Monday, so the Union Square farmers market, which was just a few blocks away, was in full swing. It was a good time to pick up Japanese eggplants for the pickling solution, a step that needed to be completed at least two days before the dinner party. So, I picked up some eggplant, along with the required thai and regular basil, and headed home.
The next day, I stopped by the butcher to procure the protein. I knew 140-day dry aged beef was probably out of the question, but if there was anyone who would have something close, it would be the fabulous Dellapietras, one of best butchers in the city. Their offerings are pricey, but you can’t beat the quality of their inhouse-aged beef. When I asked what’s the longest-aged beef they had, a butcher brought me to the aging room and enthusiastically showed me a whole rib eye that was approximately 100 days old. It smelled and looked beautiful. He cut a couple chops for me, vacuum-packed them, and I was on my way.
On Thursday I began the eggplant puree, a component that could be made several days in advance. While the recipe calls for the small Italian eggplants to be charred in a cast-iron pan, I opted for the broiler. I’ve charred many eggplants this way for various middle-eastern dishes, and they always come out great. After the eggplants were done, I reluctantly blended in the fish sauce. I took a taste expecting the worse, but was blown away. It was good. Really good.
Next up was the arduous process of the beef fat-amaranth crumble. This labor intensive component didn’t seem like it would be worth the effort to make, but I wasn’t going to skip it. The first step was to make the dried amaranth, which meant boiling the grains, dehydrating them for several hours, then deep frying them at 400 degrees for 3 seconds. The second step was to make the shallot crumble. Now, I’ve made fried shallots before, and usually you just heat the oil super high and fry, but this particular recipe calls for starting in room temperature oil and gradually frying them over the course of 30 minutes. This seemed unnecessary, but in the end was worth it. The results were more nuanced and less bitter than your traditional fried shallot. I combined the fried amaranth and shallot crumble and put them away until Saturday, when I would be adding the third and final layer of the crumble: fried beef fat.
When I woke on Saturday morning, I couldn’t wait to make the the beef sauce — so that’s where I started. The basic building block of this sauce is a deep, highly reduced chicken ju. I already had some of this ready to go, as I made it the previous weekend in advance of the venison dish I had planned to make. Usually, when I make this ju I omit the chicken feet, but I had coincidentally seen them in a grocery store, so I thought ‘why not’? The thing that freaked me out, though, was how human-like chicken feet look, complete with what seemed to be well-manicured nails. I put the package in my fridge upside down and told my wife, “there is something on the bottom shelf of the fridge that is upside down. Don’t look at it because you might scream and/or vomit.”
I combined the ju with regular chicken stock, ribeye bones I had browned, and about 10 other ingredients and simmered it all for 45 minutes. In just a few short moments, my entire apartment smelled amazing.
While the sauce did its thing, I began the fried beef fat component of the beef-amaranth crumble. When the butcher was carving my chops from the ribeye, I had asked him to reserve the fat, which seemed like an unusual request, but he was happy to oblige. I had about a half pound, which was barely enough. I followed the instructions to render the fat and crisp the solids, but I guess I wasn’t really paying close attention, because I let them burn. They tasted awful, and my only hope was that I would have enough fat trim left over when portioning the steaks to try this all over again.
Cutting the ribeye steak into separate caps and eyes was daunting. This was rare and expensive beef, and I couldn’t afford to mess it up. To exacerbate my nervousness, there was — surprisingly — almost no information online about doing this. Nevertheless, I followed my gut and ended up with what I believe were nicely trimmed portions.
With the steak portions all set, I realized that I had enough fat left over to give the fried beef fat another go. This time I chopped the fat more finely (I neglected to realize the first time that the fat was supposed to be ground), and whisked more frequently as I kept a close eye on the color. As soon as the fat solids hit golden brown, I separated them from the rendered liquid, and placed them on a paper towel to cool off and dry. Once cool, I took a little taste. I couldn’t help but say “Lord, have mercy,” as it was one of the most delicious things I had ever tasted.
At this point, the only outstanding item was the pickled eggplant slices. The recipe actually calls for using a deli slicer, which I don’t have, but I found that a Benriner mandolin worked perfectly well. Now all that was left was the actual beef.
While at Eleven Madison they sear the steak and finish it in an oven, I decided to cook this sous vide. This was for two reasons. First, there was so much that could go wrong with this complex recipe that I didn’t want to leave anything to chance. Perhaps more importantly, though, was that these were really thick cuts of beef, and cooking them the specified way would engulf my Brooklyn apartment in smoke. So, I seasoned the portions, vacuumed them, and put them in a water bath at exactly 134 degrees Fahrenheit about 3 hours before I planned to sear them and serve.
The next couple hours were a blur, drinking good wine with great friends and eating a few good courses of food. Then it was showtime. After cooking the eggplant planks in beef fat and searing the steak portions, I carefully plated the dishes as close to the book as possible. And, to add a sense of pomp and obnoxiousness, I used a Mauviel copper saucepan I had bought in Paris to sauce the dish tableside.
Everyone loved the dish, and one guest even said it was “on par with the best steak I’ve had at any top steakhouse.” Those words got me feeling pretty good, until much later, when I was cleaning up and realized the full bowl of pickling glaze (a concoction I made by blending leftover pickling solution with xanthan gum) on the counter. I completely forgot to brush the eggplant with it, which made me realize the dish totally could have used a pop of acid to cut through all the fat. In retrospect, the pickled eggplant didn’t have enough acidity to accomplish that on its own. Oh, well, now I have a reason to make this dish again; I’ll just have to wait a year.