Sun 1 Mar 2009
Rummaging around in the freezer Friday night — “dum-dee-dee-dum-dum-dee-dee” — my hand lights on a package and I exclaim, “Sacre bleu, qu’est-ce que c’est?” It’s a smallish rib-eye steak, but pretty damned thick, too. Ah, this will be good, because the steak derives from an animal nurtured at Westwind Farms in East Tennessee, a family-owned establishment that adheres to strict principles of grass-fed, organic, free-range meat. The first time we ate a roasted chicken from Westwind, I though, “Holy moly, this is what the first chicken off the Ark must have tasted like.”
So, I thawed the steak in the microwave and set it aside, and prepared some little tomatoes for broiling; yeah, I’ve been big on those this week. I didn’t have any potatoes, so (under my injunction against going to the grocery store) I made a little pasta as a side-dish. I chopped a quarter of a preserved lemon, some roasted garlic and the now inevitable oil-cured olives, put them in a small bowl and added capers, salt and pepper and minced rosemary.
One can make all sorts of sauces to accompany steak, but I though “Oh, no, let’s make this pure and intense,” just the steak, some salt and pepper, and the cast-iron skillet. Years ago, in The New York Times, an article in the food section described how French chef Alain Ducasse cooks a rib-eye steak. Instead of dropping the thing in a hot pan with butter or olive oil and searing the hell out of it, he stands the steak on its fatty side (holding it with tongs so it doesn’t tump over) and gently, over medium heat, renders that fat; the idea is not to cook the fat but to melt it. Then he adds a little butter to the pan with the rendered fat, turns up the burner — but not to High, he likes Medium High — and cooks it for about five minutes on each side for medium rare. The outside still gets wonderfully crusty, and the flavors are locked within.
So that’s what I did, and after letting the steak sit on a cutting-board for a few minutes, I sliced it and cried “Whoo-hoo!” when I saw how perfectly rosy-red-pink the interior was. Then it was a matter of “plating the food” — I poured the pan juices over the steak — as they say in the restaurant biz and sitting down to dinner. This was, frankly, close to the best steak I have eaten in my life.
I opened two bottles from St. Supéry, the Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, Napa Valley, and the Élu 2004, Napa Valley, both current vintages.
The St. Supéry Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, Napa Valley is predominantly cabernet with 10 percent merlot and three percent petit verdot. Though smooth and mellow, it’s quite hefty, even sleekly muscular. Aromas of cedar and tobacco, spicy oak and walnut shell gradually cede space to scents of ripe and roasted black current and black cherry. The black fruit flavors persist in the mouth, while retaining the rigor of polished oak and tannins and the essential backbone of acidity. After a few minutes, the chief characteristic of the wine is a tremendous depth of minerality; there’s austerity on the finish, though etched with hints of bitter chocolate and exotic spice. I would love to try this wine on its 10th birthday. At a little more than five years after harvest, the wine went beautifully with the medium rare rib-eye steak, pitting its spareness and fat-cutting earthy/mineral nature against the meat’s superb texture and favor. Excellent. About $38.
Élu 2004, Napa Valley, is a blend of 66 percent cabernet sauvignon, 23 percent merlot, eight percent cabernet franc, two percent petit verdot and one percent malbec. It opens with dust, minerals and leather, and then emits scents of black cherries, red and black currents and licorice; the bouquet is, actually, extraordinarily seductive. Luscious black fruit flavors, with that tinge of red fruit, are ripe and fleshy, almost meaty, yet are never over-ripe or flamboyant, because balance comes from a riveting quality of iodine and sea-salt minerality. The wine delivers terrific tone and texture, detail and dimension; oak is fairly lavish but not obtrusive or overbearing, and while the finish brings in a note of stewed plums and fruitcake, the raison d’etre of the wine’s conclusion is to express the power and dignity of fundamental tannins. A great cabernet sauvignon (and a great steak wine), one, again, that I would like to try on its 10th birthday. Exceptional. About $70.