In India, talking about beef is often seen as politically incorrect. However, as part of global cuisine, a good steak is a must-have on any international menu and those who love this dish find themselves at a loss in this country, both in terms of finding a good product with which to cook, as well as finding a satisfactory one in restaurants. Out of desperation, many chefs in top hotels import.
Off the bone: Tenderloin is the best Indian cut.
The other problem is consistency. If you do find a good cut of meat, you are never assured of the same thing next time. Having said this, I have managed to find excellent tenderloin in Bangalore, which is succulent and consistently mouthwatering.
In America, which must be the home of great steak in terms of variety and quality, the cuts of meat you find are intended for a specific recipe. Chef and author Anthony Bourdain also admits that even the French don’t come anywhere near the Americans as far as beef is concerned. French butchery grew up around a system of distribution and economics which sprung from a frugal necessity to deal with the whole animal. In America, much like in India, the “best” piece of meat is one without any fat, boneless and very tender. Tenderloin, which sits just under the spine of the animal, and gets no exercise, is the most tender piece of meat that you can buy. It doesn’t need any fat on it to cook and is almost always flavourful. This is the cut you should look for in India.
Indian butchers do understand tenderloin or undercut, as it is sometimes called. Don’t bother trying to look for prime rib, T-bone, sirloin etc. We simply don’t cut meat that way, and I certainly have not had any success in locating a butcher who understands those cuts. When you find your undercut, I would recommend that you freeze it for about a week. This, in India, has a similar effect to “hanging” or ageing meat. You can either roast it whole in the oven or cut into steaks across the grain.
Good meat never needs to be bashed. Either pan-fry or barbecue it. My husband has got this down to a fine art. It is about the only thing he cooks to perfection, I have to admit. He prepares the coal barbecue by lighting it at least 20 minutes before he needs to use it so that the embers are warm and give off a medium-consistent heat as opposed to a raging fire. This makes the steak quite sublime—well seared and slightly smoky on the outside and buttery on the inside. The right technique and a good piece of meat are all you really need. Forget the fancy recipes and sauces. Here’s one that is a sure shot from my kitchen.
Classic Pepper Steak
Serves 4 to 6
1kg undercut or tenderloin, made into 1½ inch-thick steaks
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp brandy
4 tbsp cream
For the marinade:
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1½ tsp sea salt
2 tbsp Kerala green peppercorn or 1 tbsp coarsely ground black pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried thyme
Marinate the steaks for at least an hour. Cook the steaks over a medium heat for two minutes, turning them once to seal the juices. A rare steak takes about three to four minutes, medium rare seven to eight minutes and a well done takes 10. If cooking on a barbecue, baste with olive oil and butter. If you are pan-frying, melt the olive oil and butter first. When the steaks are ready, take them out of the pan. Warm the brandy in a ladle and pour into the juices. Draw the pan off the heat and gradually stir in the cream. Serve this either with, or on top of, the steaks.
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