July 8, 2013
Amuse-Bouche
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rouleaux de bœuf avec la sauce fumé
(beef rolls with smoked dipping sauce)
It was in the early 1960s when my mother “discovered” the concept of marinating meat. For our family, cooking steaks meant getting the broiling pan dirty and smoking up the kitchen. The result usually required a bit of exercise to chew. My mother knew little about cooking and although she often achieved her cooking goal of medium to medium rare, the concept of resting a steak was something she had never heard of. She tried Adolph’s Meat Tenderizer, but with no apparent benefit. Then she was introduced to the concept of marinating the steaks in soy sauce and oil. Soon all steaks had a dark‑brown surface, and the kitchen became even smokier. They were not any tenderer.
And then came flank steak. This was an incredibly cheap cut of meat back then, and if overcooked, it was incredibly tough. However, cooked rare and sliced on the bias, it could be quite enjoyable. All throughout my high‑school years, a marinated flank steak was my mother’s steak of choice. She cooked it under the broiler, and still smoked up the kitchen.
To my father fell the chore of slicing the meat. My father was the classic Norman Rockwell meat carver. When guests were in attendance for special celebrations, he would carve the meat sitting at the table, usually in coat and tie, with a meat fork and a slicing knife. He never used his fingers. For our casual steak dinners, which usually happened on Sunday evenings in the summer, the coat and tie were gone, but he still sat while he carved.
Although I prepare a flank steak with a little more ease and more consistent results than my mother did, my preparation often is not too different from hers. My marinate is a little more sophisticated, I’m better at producing a rare steak each time, and I understand the concepts of resting meat and carryover cooking.
One result of my flank steak cooking and slicing is that the results are as good cold the following day as they are warm, just after they are cooked. So last January, when I had to prepare a number of small‑plate dishes for a friend’s impromptu tapas party, I decided to do flank steak slices as one of the dishes.
My preparation was straightforward. I marinated the steak overnight in a combination of soy sauce, sake, oil, sugar, water, pureed garlic, and finely minced green onions. The morning of the event, I wiped the marinate from the steak, dried the surface, and vacuum packed it in a plastic bag. This was placed in a 55 °C (131 °F) water bath until the core temperature came close to the water temperature, which took about an hour. The bag with it contents was then placed in an ice‑water bath until fully chilled. The cooked meat was thinly sliced on the bias. Each piece was rolled and a small plastic pick was inserted to make the rolls into finger food and to keep them from unrolling. (I had bought the picks in Spain, so they were authentic.) Some very finely diced green onion was sprinkled over the final meat arrangement. It was a hit.
A week or two after the party, I was attending the Winter Fancy Foods Show in San Francisco. I got into a long conversation with Miho Suzuki, a representative from the Terunuma Katsuichi Shoten Company. Ms. Suzuki and her company were at the show promoting products from the Ibaraki Prefecture in Japan. One of the products I sampled was smoked soy sauce. It was very interesting, and I thought it would make a great dip for the rolled steak slices. Alas, it is not available in the United States. So being who I am, I went home and smoked some soy sauce on my own.
Apparently, the Japanese producer smokes the soy sauce in traditional open vessels for twenty‑four hours. This method relies on the phenolic compounds in the smoke settling on the surface of the soy sauce and becoming infused. I decided on a more direct method. I injected the smoke directly into the soy sauce using a Smoking Gun.
My smoked soy sauce was interesting but excessively salty. I used a standard Kikkoman soy sauce brewed in Japan with a sodium content of about 980 mg per tablespoon, which makes it about 6.5 percent sodium. Therefore, off I went to my local store that carries all things Asian, and started reading soy sauce labels. This particular store has at least fifty different brand‑style combinations of soy sauce from almost every Asian country and a few produced in the United States. The lowest sodium level I found was still above 600 mg per tablespoon. On the same shelf was dipping sauces, and I found one at a level of 375 mg per tablespoon. So, I bought a small bottle of Wei‑Chuan dumpling sauce,  a combination of soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, garlic juice, sesame oil, and salt. (In retrospect, I probably should have made my own version of it.)
I poured a few tablespoons of the sauce into a shot glass, filled the Smoking Gun with apple‑wood chips, and inserted the smoke tube into the liquid. I discovered that the gun had insufficient pressure to push the smoke through the tube if the end was too deep in the liquid. With a little practice, I found the best depth and proceeded to inject smoke into the liquid for the next 5 minutes. Most of the smoke bubbled out of the liquid, along with its flavor components, but enough stayed to give the sauce a mild smoky flavor.
While at the market, I had purchased a flank steak. This I brushed liberally with Pearl River Bridge‑brand dark soy sauce, my go‑to dark Chinese soy sauce, on both sides. I placed the steak on a rack over a baking sheet, and set it into the refrigerator so the soy sauce could dry.
Later that day, I cooked the steak the same as I had for the party. The only change was a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper over the steak before it was bagged. The individual slices were rolled and placed on bamboo picks. The sauce was served along side so that guests could use as much as each wanted. I didn’t try to save the extra sauce since meat had been dipped in it.
Since one decent‑sized steak will produce enough slices for twenty or so guests, I took some of the slices and arranged them, slightly overlapping, on squares of parchment paper. These were covered with another piece of parchment paper and vacuum packed flat. I put the packages in the freezer to see if they could be stored this way without problems. A week later, I thawed one package, and the meat seemed no different from the day it was cooked.
Notes: You could substitute a whole range of sauces for the dipping sauce described above. Classic sauces like a sauce béarnaise would work nicely. Barbecue sauce, if not too sweet, could be okay. Even an Argentine chimichurri sauce or a Japanese teriyaki would be interesting.
Instead of flank steak, a properly trimmed flat iron steak could work. I wouldn’t use a skirt or a hanger steak, they are likely to be too tough. Thinly cut ribeye or strip (New York) could also produce exciting results.

© 2013 Peter Hertzmann. All rights reserved.