As anyone in his or her right mind knows, Saturday television is for watching cooking shows on PBS. My longtime favorite has been Martin Yan’s show “Yan Can Cook”. He’s entertaining, well-prepared and obviously loves to cook. Before Martin Yan, my favorite TV cook was the legendary Cajun chef Justin Wilson. Who cared what he was cooking, it was just fun to hear him talk. Maybe all the best chefs have funny accents.
My first unfortunate foray into the culinary arts has become legendary in my family and seriously impacted my confidence in my own cooking skills for many years. I think that I’ve outlived the hurt and embarrassment, but I still have a lingering dislike for the Marlboro Man and his Cowboy Cookbook.
It all started innocently enough back in the mid-1980;s when I found a new cookbook mixed in with all the others on top of my Mom’s refrigerator. It was called “Chuckwagon Cooking from Marlboro Country : Range recipes and chuckwagon history”. The title alone sounded like an adventure and sure enough, the book was filled with gorgeous close-up photographs of mouthwatering steaks interspersed with detailed maps of historic cattle drive trails, illustrations of how chuckwagons were loaded and pictures of cowboys out riding herd.
This was a book that Ken Burns could make a whole documentary out of without ever leaving his studio; he could just photograph the pages from this cookbook and hire a hungry-sounding Clint Eastwood to narrate. PBS would have another hit on their hands.
I went looking for that old recipe book last night and I FOUND it! (How else do you think I’d have been able to give you its title two paragraphs ago?)
It was very important for me to get this book into my hands again because I think that I might actually be able to figure out what went wrong with the recipe that derailed my cooking career and put a serious dent into my love of steak. Let’s take a look at that recipe:
2-inch-thick sirloin steak (about 3 pounds)
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups coarse salt
3/4 cup water
Trim excess fat from steak. Crack peppercorns coarsely and mince garlic. Press peppercorns and garlic into both sides of steak and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour. Make a thick paste of salt and water; cover top side of peppered steak with half the mixture. If cooking steak over coals, cover salt side with a wet cloth or paper towel and place salt side down on grill. (Cloth or paper holds the salt in place; will char as the steak cooks, but this does not affect the taste.) Cover top side with remaining salt mixture and another piece of wet cloth or paper towel. If broiling, put salt side up, 3 inches from heat. Put salt on other side of steak when it is turned. Cook 15 minutes on each side for rare, 25 minutes for medium rare.
And here’s an important one: REMOVE SALT BEFORE EATING.
Makes 4 – 6 servings.
Okay, so studying that recipe again I think I spotted where I made my big mistake. If you guessed that I left the salt on the steak then you would be wrong. I was very careful to scrape off every last bit of the salt.
The TABLE salt.
Yup. Table salt. Imagine putting a big spoonful of salt in your mouth. That’s what my steak tasted like, only difference was there was chewing involved.
I’ll give my parents credit, they were polite; I think they waited until their third or fourth chew before the spitting and water-drinking began. I gamely continued chewing away on my piece of steak, forcing myself to consider how tough the cowboys must have had it when they were out on the trail. All their meat had to be salted to preserve it. I tried to justify the taste of the meat as being “authentic cowboy flavor”? for at least two more mouthfuls before admitting that my steak was bloody AWFUL.
I won’t swear to it, but I seem to remember my Mom holding the steak under the kitchen faucet trying to wash some of the saltiness out of the meat, but it was too late, that steak was beyond salvation. The dog wouldn’t even get near it.
In the years since that fateful culinary failure I confined myself to simpler dishes like “grilled cheese sandwich” and “campbell’s tomato soup”. It’s not great cooking, but I manage.
Take for example my special tomato soup recipe:
CHEESE CURRY TOMATO POTATO SOUP
1 can Campbell’s Tomato soup
1 can of water (you can substitute milk)
3/4 tablespoon red curry powder
2 slices cheddar cheese (or Kraft American cheese food)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups Ruffle’s ridged potato chips
Open can of soup. Plop contents of can into soup pan. Add 1 can of water to pan. Stir. Turn on stove burner under the soup pan. While stirring add in 1 cup of potato chips. Lay one cheese slice on top until everything cooks down, then add remaining chips and second piece of cheese. Add curry powder and pepper. Stir until second cup of chips have started to soften, remove from fire and serve.
Makes 1 really big serving.
Holy toledo, have you ever looked at how much sodium is in a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup??!! Wow, and I thought that my steak was salty.
Now that I know what went wrong with that steak recipe I guess that it’s time to climb back in the saddle and learn to cook again. Forget food that comes out of a can or from an outstretched arm at a drive-through window.
[cue: ‘Happy Trails’]
It’s time for me to cook REAL food; food with names like “Tin Plate Special”? and “Wild Card Chili”. So as I ride off into the sunset in search of Kobe beef and an extra-large wok, never fear, because I’ll be back one day…
…and I’ll be packin’ beans.
Trail Drive Beans.