The last time I ate beef was the summer of 1987. I remember it quite well: I was home from college, working in Boston as a temp secretary for a rather stuffy accounting firm down at South Station, and living out near Boston College with some friends. The father of one of my roommates was in town on business and decided to take “us girls” out to dinner. He chose Anthony’s Pier 4, which was a bit of a thrill as it was fancy and expensive and none of us had ever been there. But also not so much of a thrill for me, because it is mostly a seafood restaurant, and then, as now, I just couldn’t abide the stuff.
Then, as now, there weren’t a lot of choices on the menu for a non-seafood eater at Anthony’s: steak, steak and more steak. I chose filet mignon, knowing that it would be the smallest cut and that I might be able to power my way through most of it without appearing rude by leaving half of a huge steak on my plate. (Note: Teenager, worried about appearing rude. My Mom raised us right.) But what I hadn’t thought about was that I was practically a vegetarian at the time: I was a poor college student, living on pizza, cheese fries & beer. Every once in a blue moon I’d get a cheeseburger, but I hadn’t had a steak in years. Unfortunately for me, my body decided that digesting that steak was not going to happen: I don’t think I’ve ever been so sick from something that didn’t involve tequila. And that was that: beef became fooda non grata and I basically never ate it again. Until now.
Because now, you see: there’s this little thing called the World Cup. You might have heard of it? Every four years, the entire world stands still for the month of June, watching & cheering, obessively checking schedules & results, or traveling, decked out in face paint and flags, representing for the home team. (Well, the entire world except the US, that is: but I digress.) I’ve been traveling to the World Cup since it was in France in 1998, and let me tell you: for a picky eater who hates seafood and can’t digest beef? France, Korea, Japan, Germany, and South Africa? Not the easiest countries to find something to eat. The next World Cup, in 2014, is in Brazil, a country known for love of beef: Brazilian barbecue, anyone? So this World Cup, I am going to be prepared: it’s time to get back into beef.
To break back into beef, I know I need to take it slow: slapping a steak on the grill and forcing it down is just going to be a trip down memory lane to 1987. No thanks. So I needed a recipe that was amenable to eating tiny amounts, or even just some beef-soaked sauce, like spaghetti & meatballs, or lasagne with ground beef. But the thought of ground beef just did not appeal at all. Since my problem with beef is a lack of digestive enzymes to aid in breaking down the protein, I thought a long, slow braise was in order: surely the most tender, falling apart meat would be easier to digest, no? I thought about this recipe for Mexican braised beef tacos (which I still may make at some future point), but I realized that the flavors & ingredients in that dish are almost exactly the same as the bean & sausage chili I just made (of which there is still some in the fridge). Also, in a rare burst of common sense, I decided that spicy Mexican tacos might not be the best plan for a stomach that is under assault by beef for the first time in 25 years. So: wine was pretty much a given; jam not too far behind; and I had blackberries in the freezer and a big bottle of blackberry vinegar in the pantry. Three and a half hours, and a little consultation with my Facebook Beef Consultants, later: dinner!
And the verdict? Tai loved it: the steak was very high-quality, the beef meltingly tender, the sauce had incredible flavor, the tangy goat cheese played off everything beautifully. As for me, I will say that the blackberry-wine reduction sauce was killer: savory, sweet, tangy, umami, it had it all going on. But the beef itself? Hmm. It was certainly very tender and the outsides got nicely caramelized, almost like carnitas, during the long braise; the texture was lovely. But the taste? Awfully, well, meaty. (Which I know is a revelation: beef is meaty. Film at 11.) It’s been a long time; maybe I just need to get used to the flavor of beef again. But I did eat some sauce and a couple of bites of actual beef without any horrid consequences so I’m calling it a success. And Tai will get to eat 95% of it: win-win!
- 1 lb beef sirloin tip steak (or any braising-suitable cut; I just happened to pick up this steak at the farmer’s market from Bettinger Bluff)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp butter
- 2 cups berry-forward red wine (I used Sand Castle claret)
- 1 cup blackberry jam
- 1/2 cup blackberries (fresh or frozen)
- 2 tbsp blackberry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled & smashed
Herbed chèvre rice
- 2 cups cooked rice
- 5 oz (about 1/3 cup) chèvre
- 3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- salt & freshly ground black pepper
- sliced green apple, tossed in lemon juice or white wine vinegar (to prevent browning)
- handful of fresh, or thawed, blackberries
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
- Rinse the beef and pat dry well. Liberally season both sides with salt & pepper. Heat the butter over medium-high in a small Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pan (with tight-fitting lid for braising) until butter foam subsides; add beef and sear until browned, about 2 – 3 minutes per side. Add wine and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add jam, blackberries, vinegar and garlic. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve jam, then cover tightly and place in the preheated oven.
- Braise until meat is falling-apart tender, about 3 – 4 hours, checking once an hour or so to flip the meat. When meat is done, remove to a clean plate and allow to rest, under an inverted bowl, while you prepare the rice and reduction.
- Combine warm cooked rice, chèvre, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix together thoroughly with a flexible spatula, incorporating the cheese into the rice. Taste and adjust seasonings. For fancy-pants serving, pack rice tightly into a round cutter or ramekin, then invert onto serving dish. Pull apart chunks of beef using two forks; pile a serving of beef on top of rice.
- Strain the braising liquid, pressing on the solids to release juice, and return the strained liquid to the Dutch oven. Bring the liquid to a boil and continue to boil until reduced and syrupy, stirring constantly to prevent scorching, about 5 minutes (if using frozen blackberries to serve, toss into the reduction sauce in the last minute to thaw). Spoon sauce over beef & rice. Garnish with apple slices and blackberries.
Serves 2 – 4.
- If you have blackberry jam, but no fresh or frozen blackberries, you can skip them: I don’t know that they added all that much to the flavor of the sauce.
- There is no reason this couldn’t be done with a bigger cut of beef to serve a crowd. There was not that much reduction sauce, in the end, however, so increase accordingly if you increase the amount of beef.
- For a completely local meal, you could skip the rice and serve this over mashed potatoes, roasted vegetables or even wrapped in a soft pita.
Store refrigerated, for up to 5 days.