Road Foodie

Some people drive simply to arrive.

Meet the Meatheads

Posted By on August 26, 2009

Julie doesn't realize how nervous I am about grilling her gazillion-dollar steaks.

Julie doesn't realize how nervous I am about grilling her gazillion-dollar steaks.

Although concealing it well (I was yocking it up with Julie’s new and rather younger-than-me buddies), I was petrified by the prospect of grilling the three very expensive porterhouse steaks on a gas grill. Hardwood charcoal is my fuel of choice, always. I’d scored a meat thermometer from Ronda, and had a plan, of sorts, in mind. All too soon, though, the grill was white-hot, the snackie plates were starting to look depleted, and there could be no more dithering. After salting the monolithic slabs of protein like there was no tomorrow, I slapped them on the grate. Gratifying sizzle noises ensued, and I smugly closed the lid of the (at that point, brand new) Cadillac-like grill. Ten minutes later, one of Julie’s friends piped up “Um, is it supposed to be on fire?”
OK, so how does this whole gas concept work?

OK, so how does this whole gas concept work?

“No problem,” I prevaricated. “Julie, got a spray bottle, by chance?” (In an ideal world, I would have asked this before the conflagration.) She did have one, happily, leftover from puppy-training days, and I proceeded to spray the hell out of the huge flames, thus lowering the temperature drastically. My insistence on bathing the steaks in olive oil all afternoon, plus the excellent marbling, was now proving to be my Waterloo. Fat sizzled. Water was sprayed. I deployed the meat thermometer, meanwhile hoping not to destroy the grill. (My usual method, the poke-test, seemed too inexact for this command performance.)
Julie bravely risks immolation while lighting the heater.

Julie bravely risks immolation while lighting the heater.

Eventually, about 25 minutes after I had estimated the behemoths would be ready, I achieved 125F at the center, away from the bone. The three hunks ‘o meat were transferred to a cutting board which was entirely unequal to the job, and I tented the whole shebang with foil. Then I set out to locate a willing carver. (Yes, I can—as in, am able—to do it myself, but do so much prefer the director’s job.)

I have a sixth sense when it comes to identifying food people. In this case, a late arrival, Adam, had seemed mesmerized by my meaty performance; he’d peppered me with questions indicating a high level of carnivorous fascination. Although initially demurring, he was soon conscripted, and I provided him with tongs, a meat-fork, and what was, considering Julie’s girly-ness, a honkin’ big carving knife from her kitchen.

Note droplets of blood on this little Meathead.

Note droplets of blood on this little Meathead.

When the rest period had passed (guests, by this time, were almost passing out from hunger), Adam and I approached the cutting board. Underneath, we discovered Julie’s three tiny white dogs, little mouths open wide, gobbling up the bloody juices as they dripped from the corner of the inadequate cutting board. As Adam began his expert if painstaking job of separating meat from bones, more bloody juices flowed. Despite the best efforts of the three doggy musketeers to slurp up every drop, some of the juices went astray; by the time Adam was done carving, all the previously-white dogs were splattered with blood, as if they’d had a run-in with Dexter himself. They had, in every sense of the word, become Meatheads.

We couldn’t wait to follow their lead. Finally, it was Steaktime.

New and Improved Fennel Salad, prior to tossing.

New and Improved Fennel Salad, prior to tossing.

Since Julie’s divorce (and my—perhaps precipitous—move back East), we haven’t been able to spend as much time together. So I am now thrilled to discover that she’s grown into a capable and graceful solo hostess. Julie bustles about, pouring wine and attending to her friends, setting a pretty table, making sure the gas heater is fired up (I refuse to get near those things until they are safely glowing). Within minutes, the small, select gang of guests is manifesting that mind-set that all enthusiastic entertainers strive for: calm and convivial contentment. La-La Landers may be known as notoriously light eaters, but no one here is at all shy about grabbing for slices of the (perfectly rosy and thickly sliced) Hollywood bistecca. Julie’s a happy hostess and the blood-soaked dogs are sated, too. What they don’t know yet—that a joint bubble bath is in their immediate future—can’t dampen their enthusiasm.
The happy hostess hosts us....

The happy hostess hosts Hollywood!

Julie and Brigit’s New and Improved Fennel Salad (serves six to eight)
This is a sophisticated yet rustic make-over of the lettuce-free salad we ate with our protein almost every night in Italy, back in the summer of 2006.

2 small bulbs fennel
1 bunch radishes, washed
2 oranges, scrubbed to remove wax
6 to 8 brined white anchovies (boquerones)
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, washed and spun dry
¼ cup best-quality extra-virgin olive oil (preferably orange-flavored)
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 teaspoons sherry vinegar

Trim, core, and quarter the fennel. Slice the fennel quarters and radishes crosswise, paper-thin. Remove all the zest of the orange with a zester and reserve. Slice off all the bitter white pith, all the way around, and discard. Cut down on either side of each orange section to release the slices, leaving all the tough membranes behind. Cut the anchovies crosswise into small slivers. Roughly chop the parsley. On a platter, combine the fennel, radishes, oranges, anchovies, and parsley. Drizzle with the olive oil and toss thoroughly with tongs. Season with the salt and a generous amount of black pepper; drizzle with the vinegar, and toss again. Scatter with the orange zest.


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