I AM living alone again for the first time since I was 28 years old.
What do people eat when they live on their own? I entered adulthood the same year as Sex & The City started and was convinced I was going to be skinny and spend my evenings in dim light, working on a typewriter while I waited for The One, with a pack of cigarettes and a single bottle of wine in the fridge as my only companions.
But unlike Carrie Bradshaw, I fell more in love with food than with men, so I spent my evenings with cookbooks and a wooden spoon in my first yellow kitchen in Observatory. I often made myself risotto and ate by candlelight on the narrow balcony in Crown Street while listening to CDs.
But oh, those date nights…
The best thing about living alone again is that you can eat whatever you like and maybe add a bit of luxury, since it's only you and not the youngsters and maybe also their friends (who want to sleep over for the second night in a row).
What I can tell you about today's recipe is that it is also my favourite meal for date nights. I've made it so many times, I can do it with my eyes closed.
But even if it's your first try, it's a safe option — provided the guest likes meat, something you will hopefully find out before you invite someone to your home for dinner. If they don't eat meat, I can guarantee that will be one of the first three things they tell you.
Another advantage of the dish is that you can prepare everything in advance, then just quickly heat the pan and drag the steak strips through the sauce and serve. It's foolproof. If your guest doesn't eat meat, you can grill porcini mushrooms and serve them with the sauce. That's also very yummy.
This is the type of dish I definitely need when trying to seduce someone. Because, heavens know, I must have been born with one foot in my mouth. Reasons for this can probably be found in my previous article.
And the more aware I am that I have to keep my foot out of my mouth, the worse it becomes. In decent company. With people who are easily offended. People I have to try to impress — bosses, famous people or crushes — send my foot upwards involuntarily. Please send help!
‘When we are married’
What follows really happened. Recently someone started seeing me. We were not yet at that stage where intentions were clear, but between the litres of coffee and continuous WhatsApping, I invited the man for dinner.
During the cooking process, I asked him how he prefers his steak. Just the way you make it, he answered. And it was at this point when my brain and mouth once again did not cooperate in a way that makes sense to the “normal brain". What I said next is so earth-shatteringly cringeworthy that no backtracking was possible.
“Well," I blurted out, “you'd better tell me exactly how you like it, because I don't want to hear one day when we're married that you actually don't like medium."
This made perfect sense to my brain. On the inside and before the words were blurted out. In my past I have prepared a special meal for more than one loved one who ate it reluctantly and finally admitted that they were now vegetarian; or were really allergic to garlic; or detested raw meat.
People think they are saving you trouble by pretending they're easygoing, but I find direct likes and dislikes so much easier to navigate. That's exactly what I thought when the man replied: “Just the way you make it."
Can you imagine this poor man? He is in my kitchen for the first time, sipping his first glass of red wine, and I'm confronting him about the meal that he might one day (WHEN WE ARE MARRIED) have to eat so many times that he will eventually have to throw his hands up in the air and shout: “I can't, I can't pretend that I love buttery pink steak strips in an irresistible buttery garlic sauce! And to be completely honest, rocket leaves are fucking bitter and I don't know why you have to keep tossing them onto everything!!"
Two days later, after I hadn't heard from the man again, I “walked back the cat" (an FBI expression). That's when I remembered what I'd said, as well as the feeling of my soul leaving my body. And also his careful question later: “Are you always like this?"
I suspect I can rest assured that from now on I will be serving this delicious meal only to myself. And I have to say, after so many decades of catering for other people's food tastes, that prospect sounds quite attractive.
Steak with butter garlic sauce
I prefer sherry vinegar for the sauce – it's worth buying. If you don't want to cough up for it, you can use good balsamic or red wine vinegar. Maggie Beer, one of my favorite food writers, suggests vino cotto. So, use whatever you have available in the vinegar division.
- 500 g sirloin or rib-eye steaks
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
- 80 ml sherry vinegar
- 5 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1-2 teaspoons fresh tarragon or oregano leaves (or rosemary needles)
1. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan until very hot, but not smoking. Make sure the meat is at room temperature and rub the black pepper on both sides. Use cooking tongs to fry the fat in the pan, holding the steak upright so that only the fat touches the pan. The fat should be fried and brown but not burnt.
2. Once the fat is crispy and brown, place the steak in the pan. Use a metal spatula to flatten it. You should hear it frying immediately. Sear the steak for about 2 minutes without moving it – that's important. The meat will form a brown layer. Now turn it over and fry the other side in the same way for 1-2 minutes until it has also formed a brown layer. At the end, the steak should be a little more raw than how you prefer it.
3. Remove the steak and place it on a plate. Cover and let it rest for at least 8 minutes, or until you're almost ready to eat. Then cut the meat into strips about as thick as your pinkie.
4. Pour the vinegar into the same pan – it will immediately start to sizzle and evaporate. Then stir in the butter and garlic with a wooden spoon until melted. Add the soy sauce and herbs. Taste it and, if you like, adjust the taste with any of the other ingredients.
5. Remove the hot pan with the sauce from the heat and arrange the meat in the pan. Serve immediately. The heat from the pan and the sauce should heat and cook the meat a little more. That's why you don't want to overcook it the first time. The resting period is necessary to keep the meat tender.
6. At step 3, you can also grill the steak perfectly to your liking, remove it to rest, then pour the sauce on top before serving. The preparation of the sauce takes 5 minutes at most.
7. Serve the steak with fresh rocket leaves and mashed baby potatoes with olive oil and parmesan cheese. Or roast broccoli with olive oil and strips of brie cheese for 15 minutes in the oven and serve.
♦ VWB ♦
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