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Peter LaFrance

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Why Stout goes with ... "Hanger" Steak

Preface: The above picture was taken at The Brasserie Artisinale and Bistro Le Reservoir (9 Duluth East, Montreal, PQ). The photo is but a crude representation of the remarkable food on that dish. If you can determine, from the above illustration, the origin and name of the tuber (roasted, with flavor similar to a potato) nestled under the beef steak I would appreciate knowing what it is.

This morning I found this illustration hiding in an empty file… it brought back such fond memories of Montreal, and it is such a fine day here in Brooklyn, I am going to read, once again the piece I posted in March about visiting The Brasserie Artisinale and Bistro Le Reservoir.
Settle down and I’ll tell you all about it again…

"You see, “Hanger steak” is a cut of beef that is found attached to the last rib at the spine, near the kidneys. In French it is called onglet. Italians know it as lombatello, and the same cut of beef is called solomillo de pulmon in Spanish.

Many years ago it was known as “Butchers Steak” in the United States. According to legend it was the cut of beef the butcher would keep for themselves.

These fellows knew a good thing of course… being in the business as they were. It is very tasty, when properly cooked, and a not-in-demand-cut. Customers are more interested in tender, easier to cook cuts of meat, or a piece of chuck steak for pot-roast if they are thrifty. Hanger Steak takes a deft hand and the understanding how different ways of cooking affect that particular cut of meat.

It is essential that the serving size be thick but narrow cuts of the steak cut diagonal to the grain, or striations of the muscle. It is also important to have the grill or broiler hot enough to char the meat on contact. These two things are essential because it is not desirable to give the muscle any reason to contract. Anything less than a searing heat will cause the thick muscle strands react by loosing water and contracting. However, when placed on a properly heated grill or under a properly heated broiler the charring is quick and frees the particular aromatics that make cooked beef special.

Contrary to legend, this charring does not “seal in” juices, as anyone who has allowed a roasted cut of rare beef knows. The cutting board starts out with a glimmer of roasting juices well before any slicing is done.

The third essential bit of knowledge necessary to insure the steak is tasty and not trash is timing. The interior temperature of that slice of steak should never get over 120F… this is rare, not “blue” (not barely warn- cool) but blue is best. Those who insist on well-done should be encouraged to find other sustenance.

There you have the essentials to cooking a “hanger steak.”

What about a beverage to go with that tasty bit of beef?

Might I suggest a fine dark beer?

And where might this perfectly cooked “hanger steak” and fine dark beer be found?

Le Reservoir.

Where is Le Reservoir?

The Brasserie Artisinale and Bistro Le Reservoir can be found at 9 Duluth East

Avenue Duluth is a pleasure of Montreal that shouldn’t be missed. As well as Le Reservoir, there are at least a dozen other pubs, bars and restaurants; including Chef Martin Picard’s Au Pied De Cochon (536 rue Duluth Est). His poutine with foie gras is legendary.

I digress… Le Reservoir has an unassuming brick front with doors that open out to the sidewalk and give the fifty or so seats a out-door feeling. For those who want to dine al fresco, there is additional seating on the roof. The bar is to the rear of the room, facing the kitchen. The wine and beer chart is over the service window to the kitchen, behind the bar. The brewery is off to the right as you sip one of the four or five brews on tap. The white walls, high ceilings and wood accents give the place a comfortable, casual feeling.

The menu is simple and featured ox tongue, fried calamari and assorted cheeses as well as the onglet pictured above. It was the best onglet I have ever eaten. It came with sautéed fiddle-head greens and a tuber I have yet to find again. (It was as long as a finger and twice as thick. It seemed to have been roasted.) The char on the beef was crisp and intense. The interior temperature was just before blue but not quite warm. (Body temperature?) Fiddle-head greens are forest ferns before they unfurl. Clenched up before unfolding, they look very similar to the neck of a violin where the strings are keyed to the proper tension. At Le Reservoir the greens were crisp and enjoying a close friendship with the butter it was sautéed in. The aforementioned starch was a hint of nutty flavors with a firmness and flavor similar to potato.

All of these flavors needed to be paired with a brew that was pallet cleansing but also rich enough to not get lost in the beef intensity. The answer was the house “noire” or black beer.

The house “noire” was sturdy ale of about 7% abv and based on roasted rather than patent malts. The hops were kept to a minimum but were floral in the flavor. This richness of the roasted malt complemented the beef and the freshness of the floral hop flavor made the fiddle-heads flavors intensify as well.

Desert was a chocolate pot pudding with a dusting of fleur de sal (fluffy sea salt). It was savory on its own but with the “noire” it was enhanced to the point of symbiotic fulfillment.

And that’s why stout goes with hanger steak…"

Monday, July 27, 2009

Oysters… Stout or Pilsner?

Preface: The above picture was taken at the Spotted Pig (314 West 11th Street, New York, NY). As you can see, those lovely bivalves are properly chilling and the beverage at one o’clock is what’s left of a pint of Stout. The reason it is a pint of Stout is because there was no pilsner style brew on tap at the time. If there had been a pilsner style lager on tap I would have opted for the crystal elixir.

I know that popular, romantic connections of the Irish Stout and copious amounts of oysters most likely has its origins less in culinary enjoyment and more in the fact was that at the turn of two centuries past both oysters and stout ale were considered sustenance for the unwashed masses. An oyster house was not a pretty place.

All of that aside, the flavors of neither one really accentuates or contrasts with the other. Start with a chilled oyster, freshly shucked by a sure handed shucker, sitting shimmering in a limpid pool of saline and bivalve so fresh that a drop of lemon juice will curl its edges. The flavors here and the textures recall the sea and a gelatinous richness of perfect Piscean aspic. The Irish Stout is a deep, rich, almost thick elixir that is full in the mouth and finishes with a tannic dryness. It lands with a thud on the delicate sea creature… unless the sea creature has been around a while or is as big as a dinner plate. The following notes rendered from a conversation I had on this very subject, long ago and far away, with Chef Rick Moonen…

Appearance: The delicate colors of the oyster and the subtle flavors are paired perfectly with the crystal clear, sparkling golden pilsner style of lager. The first impression of any food is what it looks like, if you are unlucky enough not to be in the kitchen and enjoying the aromas first. In this case sparkling and subtle are essentials.

Aroma: Yes, there are distinct aromas to every type of oyster. It is a mixture of the saline brine of the sea and the Piscean essences of various intensities. These are echoed by the ever so slightly sweet malt aromas followed by the fresh green tang of hops from a well poured pilsner style lager in a slender pilsner glass.

Mouth feel: The sparkling Pilsner and the slick ouster give the mouth a full feel and a rich finish.
Flavor: The combination of saline of the oyster and the tang of hops is enhanced by the slightly sweet grain addition from the malts.

Finish: The final notes from the oyster are given a refreshing coda from the last of the hops, in a most diplomatic way. So subtle you don’t notice they have gone.

Comments: If you want to abuse your taste buds with something other than a nice Pilsner style lager I wild suggest you try a sparkling white wine. The acid in the wine will rape the poor ouster in its own brine and leave you with gas as well.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Why Pale Ale goes with Deep-Fried Twinkie

Preface: Here we have a traditional American treat… deep-frying. I do not believe that there is any form of comestible that cannot be deep-fried. Ice cream, pickles, okra… well, there might be a bit of a fuss with leafy greens but then why would anyone want to eat leafy greens?

On Atlantic Avenue, In Brooklyn, NYC… there is “The Chip Shop”. Here they deep-fry almost everything on the menu… with curry chicken an exception. So on a fair day in July I ventured in and the following are my notes…

Appearance: The deep-fried Twinkie comes, as can be deduced from the above illustration, sliced in half, sauced with raspberry sauce and topped with whipped cream. The whipped cream on top of the Twinkie calls to mind the creamy head on pale ale. The golden color may resemble a pilsner but no matter.

Aroma: The sweet aromas of the warm (well it was deep-fried) Twinkie are almost caramel accented. The sweet aromas from whatever the Twinkie is made from are almost citric. The Pale Ale has a caramel aroma that is only slightly accented with a hop flower tang.

Mouth feel: Naturally there is a hot and cold game being played here.

Flavor: The creamy whipped topping as well as the filling from the Twinkie have company in the sweet malted barley flavors of the brew. All of this sweetness is held in check with just a wisp of the hop bitterness in the brew.

Finish: The better Pale Ales will have a rather lengthy hop tang that clears the senses for the next sip of the tasty but not emphatic brew. This lasting finish from the brew is helpful in keeping the very sweet flavors of this dish from becoming cloying.

Comments: The contrast in temperature and lightly hopped brew vs. the onslaught of the sugars makes for a taste contest that should be experienced at least once in a lifetime.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Why Stout with Steak & Eggs?

Preface: Once again I venture into the world of “brunch” to explore a popular pairing of food and beer. In this case a basic brunch dish has been paired with a pint of stout. The above pictured dish was served to someone recovering from a lengthy bout with beer the previous day, which the beer won. Thus, the consumption of the above was a matter of survival as well gustatory gratification. I digress…

There are a few solid reasons that Stout is a better beverage to serve with steak and eggs than either lager or Bloody Marry…

Appearance: The plate of eggs, warm, rich and runny, aromatic roasted potatoes and a charred slice of beefsteak is an imposing sight. A tall pilsner glass appears effete but a proud pint of stout (all pints are proud) is a visual stimulus promising rich roasted flavor friendships.

Aroma: As noted previously, the roasted potatoes and the charred beef have distinctive rich aromatics. The roasted malted barley of the stout (especially when served at 50F) is noticeable and echoes both the char of the beef and the roasted tuber aromatics of the potato.

Mouth feel: The first thing I do when presented with a dish like this is place the eggs on the beef and slice across the yolks, allowing the rich yolks to “sauce” the meat. This makes for a rich and slightly viscous sensation that is well met by the slightly astringency of a good stout.
Flavor: Again, as noted above, the char of the beef and the richness of the egg is a fine match for the rich chocolate and patent malts in the stout as well as the slightly astringent character of the roasted non-malted barley.

Finish: Stout has the character to finish off the rich flavors of the eggs and the meaty richness of the beef juices and then cleanse the pallet for more. Lager style brews may finish well but they can’t stand up to the rich flavors. A traditional Bloody Mary numbs the flavor receptors with Horseradish (or should so if done properly).

Comments: I can attest to the curative effects of this dish on a hangover and comfort food. The fact that I am not a “brunch” fan withstanding, this is a dish I will treat myself too when the body needs nourishment and the soul solace.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Why to Witt with Eggs Benedict

Preface: In the late 1800’s, on the island of Manhattan, at either Delmonico’s or the Waldorf, a rich white person either challenged the chef or was suffering from a hangover. The former was a woman and the latter a man. Eggs and hangovers I can understand. I expect the Delmonico’s legend must have been a response to her sense of comfort food. I prefer to believe the Commodore at the Waldorf version of the legend.

Over time this dish has been adapted to respond to as many names as there variations on what you can put between a poached egg and a toasted English muffin before swaddling it all with a rich sauce. A basic list of variations can be found: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eggs_benedict

The version pictured above is the “Eggs Norwegian” with a slice or two of Norwegian salmon in place of the slice of ham.

Tasting notes…

Appearance: The snowy white eggs, napped with golden yellow sauce, are the upside-down of a well poured Weiss/wheat beer.

Aroma: If you are lucky the notes of toasted bread from the muffin will be wafted upward with the distinct rich aromas from the sauce and the egg. An American Wheat will be crisp and clean the pallet. A Bavarian Witt beer will have sparkling clove and banana aromas that will have nothing in common with the dish but will synergistically create sensory anticipation.

Mouth feel: Both the egg dish and the various versions of wheat beer will have a smooth, rich feel in the mouth. The egg yolk richness needs no introduction and the enthusiastic carbonation of most wheat beers brings a very full mouth filling sensation.

Flavor: Done properly, the richness of the poached eggs enhances the crunch or the toasted bread and, in this case, the salinity of the salmon. The distinctive fruity flavor of the Bavarian Witt or the distinctive acidic flavor spike of Belgian Witt is particularly complementary.

Finish: The creamy rich combination of egg and sauce is nicely chased away by the crisp flavors that most wheat beers have. In particular, the clove flavor of the Bavarian wheat beers and the sparkling finish of American wheat beers are effective in cleansing the pallet.

Comments: I cannot attest to the curative effects of this dish on a hangover. However I can attest to the soothing effects of this as a comfort food. The fact that I am not a “brunch” fan withstanding, this is a dish I will treat myself too when the time is perfect to relax and enjoy. This is not something to be rushed through. It also seems to demand to be served al fresco in the back yard of a small bistro… but I digress.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Taste of Brew Free or Die I.P.A.

21st Amendment Brewery
Cold Spring, MN (USA)

Preface: Yesterday I had the chance to meet Nico Freccia, one of the founding fathers of 21st Amendment Brewery, Restaurant and Bar. The initial meeting place was an Indian restaurant on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. When I got to the address Renee Davidson, the brewery representative was there in a “Hell or High Water” watermelon hat… another story. She told me that they had found a “bar” around the corner that might be better. The “bar” was Blue Smoke. (That was like saying that they had decided on a local restaurant and chose Les Halles.) I can only assume that Mr. Freccia made the best of a marketing opportunity. The follow are my tasting notes from this morning…

Appearance: The copper/bronze brew has a slight chill haze and is well carbonated. The head is a rocky, long-lasting rich head of small to medium bubbles. The Belgian lace is slow to form and fall.

Aroma: First aromatic impression is more hop than malt, with the hops coming in as green rather than metallic. The second take on the aromatics brings a grassy and fresh grain accent to the initial green hops. The third dip into the aromatics is such a combination of the first to sensations that it is hard to distinguish where the individual notes leave off and the contrasting or complementary note begins.

Mouth feel: What we have here is a mouth-feel that is almost obese.

Flavor: Between lip and sip there is not a hint of what is to follow. After the initial refreshing sensation the mouth fills with a rush of hops and an undertone of roasted malts. The second taste reveals more of the malts under a still rather emphatic bitter sensation. By the third sip the malt has come forward but the truly bitter hops push it aside. This is a multi hopped brew and the result is a hop flavor that starts out grassy and finishes by drying out the sweet flavors from the malt.

Finish: This is a long finishing brew and that is a good thing. The time it takes to fully appreciate this I.P.A. is the time it takes for the flavors of a sip to finally fade.

Comments: The appearance and flavors of this I.P.A. are on style. The fact that it is in a can makes it even more interesting. The fact is that there is no good reason that full-flavored crafted brews cannot be canned.

21st Amendment Brewery: http://www.21st-amendment.com/

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