How not to cook a steak

Kitchen Fire

So I was feeling kinda badass the other day.

I had just relaunched Celinabean and much to my surprise readers came back. And the client I cook for said that my food helps him through his hard times. And then, in the same week, a couple of my nutty dance friends decided that offering dinner invitations to my house might lure good dancers to our area.

Yeah, I was maybe walking a little tall and swishing my hips a bit.

So when my friend KJ told me that she wanted to have steak for her birthday party and she wanted me to cook it, I said yes.

A year ago, I would have warned her off. Big hunks of meat have often been my downfall in the kitchen. But like I said … badass.

And I’ve been practicing.

My cooking client loves steak. I’ve made more steaks in the past few months than I made in the last few years before taking the job. And because it was his money and his steak, rather than just fumble my way to something edible, I consulted the experts. Esquire is one of my favorite food magazines, especially when it comes to meat. They keep things simple, and they use great verbs. What more can you ask for when trying to cook a steak.

Esquire has a lot to say on the steak subject, but here is my favorite recipe. The beauty of it is the incredible crust that gives way to a melt-you tender inside.

The last few steaks I made for my client were so good, I convinced myself that I had mastered steak once and for all. When it came time to plan KJ’s party, my friend Pookie hinted that he was pretty good with a grill. Nah, I said. I got this.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I was swinging my swag.

So KJ goes and spends her birthday money on a bunch of grass-fed steaks from some local farm where the cows meditate and get massages or something like that. And we gather at June’s house. And now it is time for me to, you know, be a badass.

I probably should have realized that my stars were crooked when I forgot to bring all the stuff I needed to cook the steaks. Badass steak cookers travel with their own pans. (I’m sure I read this somewhere.) My cast iron weapons were hanging comfortably from their hooks in my house. My high heat oil was also at home. As was my magic apron.

So, OK, I could improvise.

The only oil in June’s house was olive oil. Once you heat olive oil past its smoke point it goes from being healthy to horrible. Because olive oil has a low smoke point, I wouldn’t be able to get the pan hot enough for the Esquire steak recipe without smoking the heck out it. No good.

Do you have anything else? I asked.

Bacon fat. That was only other option. Did you ever notice that badass has everything to do with a part of your body that is a long distance from your brain?

Let’s do it, I said.

The only cast iron anything June had was a flat pan, the kind of thing on which you might cook a pancake while on a camping trip.

I slathered that sucker in bacon fat and seasoned the first steak.

Even in the best of times, this is a sizzle and smoke and splatter kinda recipe, so I asked June to borrow an apron. Part of me is convinced that I could have pulled off the whole bacon fat, crap pan, not-my-stove steak thing if only I had not put on that damn apron.

You see, cooking, at least for us less analytic types, is as much about mojo as anything else.

June’s apron is some kind of retro thing with ruffles. I put it on and couldn’t decide if I was Betty Crocker or a porn star. Or maybe a porn star named Betty Crocker.

Whoever I was in that thing it wasn’t me. There was no mojo gonna come in that apron. I could feel the guys at Esquire shaking their heads.

Standing there in front of the stove, I knew. Anything that starts with me wearing green and white ruffles is going to end badly. I heated the pan anyway.

Bacon fat smokes. Steak plopped in bacon fat smokes even more. In case you were wondering. It smokes like my dad did in the 70s. Smokes to fill a room, no holding back, life is better if you can’t see it clearly anyway, right? Smoooookin’.

I couldn’t see the people standing three feet away. I could hear laughing and coughing and questioning, but I couldn’t see their faces.

Things went down hill from there.

Did I mention that the pan was flat with maybe a quarter inch lip? Did I mention that there was a lot of spitting and splattering going on? Did I mention that I was wearing ruffles, which can really mess with a girl like me?

The steak burst into flames.

Two people ran over … with cameras. We tried to move the pan off the heat. The pan with no real sides and lots of grease.

The stove caught on fire.

People took more pictures. I screamed. I blame the ruffles for this.

The fire spread to the counter.

I froze. I saw June’s house going up in flames. Hubris personified.

I heard a calm voice coming through the smoke. “Put a lid on it.”

Although my arms were paralyzed, my mind immediately set this phrase to the tune of Beyonce’s “Put a Ring on It.” I started to bounce to the beat. I’m weird like that.

Through the smoke I saw a long arm reach over the back of the stove and smother the fire with a big shiny lid. June came rushing in with towels to get the rest.

The flames subsided. The smoke stayed.

I took off the ruffles, poured myself a stiff drink.

Everyone else was laughing.

I was not.

Pookie, I said, you better grill the rest of the steaks. Don’t wear the apron.

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