Particularly when a thick, juicy porterhouse steak sizzles before you, just a bite away from surrendering its juices and rewarding your anticipation with a full measure of the grill’s potential. Especially not when it’s served with watercress and grilled sweet potatoes, offering mild, pillow-y sweetness beneath a crispy, golden jacket.
No way. Get your own @^*# steak! A steak – make that a good steak – no, a great steak, calls forth the primeval. Something about that lusciousness inspires even the most civilized among us to squabble as jealously as do saber-toothed tigers.
Illustrating this point is a familiar source, one of Rex Stout’s novels. In The Second Confession, Archie, our narrator, and his guest, newspaper editor Lon Cohen, discuss Lon’s favorite entrée:
It was really a handsome platter. The steak was thick and brown with charcoal braid, the grilled slices of sweet potato were just right, the watercress was high at one end and out of danger, and the over all smell made me wish I had asked Fritz to make a carbon.
“Now I know,” Lon said, “it’s all a dream, Archie. I would have sworn you phoned me to come down here. Okay, I’ll dream on.” He sliced through the steak, letting the juice come, cut of a bite, and opened wide for it. Next came a bite of sweet potato, followed by a mushroom. I watched him the way I have seen dogs watch when they’re allowed near the table. It was too much. I went to the kitchen, came back with two slices of bread on a plate, and thrust it at him.
“Come on, brother, divvy. You can’t eat three pounds of steak.”
“It’s under two pounds.”
“Like hell it is. Fix me up.”
After all he was a guest, so he had to give in.
Not surprisingly, reading Rex Stout is deliciously hungry work, and when a steak recipe made it to The Nero Wolfe Cookbook, the entry was bookmarked. Stout himself referred readers to Nero Wolfe’s preparation for planked steak, which was modified slightly to use a grill instead of an oven.
This is the first time this journal has featured planking, the concept being relatively new and imperfectly understood. It turns out a piece of meat is seared to lock in the juices, then it’s placed on a plank, set over the grill, to finish cooking. Not only does this lightly smoke the meat, resulting from the plank’s underside eventually charring, but it protects the steak from direct contact with the flame, allowing it to retain its moistness.
Here’s what today’s steak looked like, just after it was removed from the sear and placed on a plank, in this case, of white oak:As today’s headline photo proves, the result is exquisite. A good steak and planking combine to produce something wonderful. Are those who enjoy a good steak prepared to elevate it to the next level? Just be prepared to resist demands to share it. Guest, or no guest.
Planked Porterhouse Steak
- 1 porterhouse steak, 2 inches thick
- 2 cups mashed potatoes (*1)
- 1/4 cup melted butter (*1)
- salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 6 slices lime
Procure a porterhouse steak of fine-grained texture, bright red in color, and well-marbled with fat. Trim off excess fat and wipe with a clean cloth. Stoke a flame on a grill. (*2) Sear the steak directly on the grill for about a minute per side. Place the steak on a plank oiled with olive oil and placed on the grill.
After twenty minutes, surround the steak with mashed potatoes. After nine more minutes, brush the potatoes over with melted butter. (*1)
Salt and pepper the steak and cook for five minutes more. (*3) Remove from grill, sprinkle with parsley and garnish with lime.
1 – If you’re serving the steak with grilled sweet potatoes, as in today’s entry, and as Lon enjoyed, skip the mashed potatoes and the butter, as well as the second paragraph in the instructions above.
Instead, I quartered two sweet potatoes, brushed them with olive oil and placed them directly on the grill for about two minutes per side. I then placed them on my grill’s upper rack for the rest of the time the steaks cooked. They were soft and fluffy by the time the steaks were done. If you lack an “upper” rack, leave a section of the grill unheated and place the sweet potatoes on it.
2 – As mentioned in the text, I modified the recipe slightly to configure it for a grill. If you’d prefer the original oven method, tell me or write, and I’ll provide details.
3 – If you’re foregoing the mashed potatoes, the steak will be on the plank for thirty minutes, total.