Wednesday 6 April 2016

On Being A Food Snob

Often-times, one hears about a person being a food snob. Specifically food bloggers. I never cared much for such talk, being rather laid back about criticizing other people's efforts. Everyone has a right to do as they please, including preparing food.

Until a recent dining experience made me think again about my norms regarding food and dining. The missus and I went out to celebrate an anniversary and decided to splash a bit and have a proper meal without having to clean up afterwards. We had some pre-dinner drinks, then ordered food. I decided on a rare steak. This time around, the establishment got the dish sort of right on the third try. The first one was overdone and the second one was raw. By round three there was no veggies on the plate, only the steak. The worst part was that the missus had finished her food by that time, so I dined alone. Not good.

I was about to complain bitterly, then held my thoughts in check. My reason said that the dish could be difficult to make, and perhaps before complaining I should try my hand at the same dish before passing comment.

The dish in question was a pan fried fillet, so that set the scene for an experiment at home. The requirements were easy: fifteen minutes time lapse from order to serving a pan fried fillet, rare, complete with side dishes.

Now everybody and their mate here in South Africa pride themselves on being able to produce such a dish on the braai. This one had to be cooked in a pan, which makes it slightly more tricky if you are not used to using a pan. I perused the internet via Google, a wonderful  source of information. And who better qualified as the Braai Master champions. In this case they actually won the competition by preparing a similar dish to what I had in mind.

Steak can be cooked in the oven, in a pan or grilled over coals. All of these methods have their own intricacies and there are tomes written about each. My book on basic methods is quite old, but still has a paragraph or two about preparing steak.

The Braai Master winners had a different approach to the cooking process, which I since used in several experiments using other cuts of steak. Needless to say, they all worked very well. The method involves searing the outside of the cut to seal the juices in, then allowing the meat to rest before completing the cooking process. In this way, hardly any juices are lost and the meat cooks in its own juices, making for a very juicy steak. This makes a sauce really superfluous.

In my experiments with other cuts, I found that one needs to get a rather thick steak, of about 40 mm/1½ inches thick. The method also works for a thinner steak, but the thick cut makes things easier. Of course, this means that the cut is too large for a single portion. No problem. You cut the meat into 12 mm thick slices before serving. Then guests may choose how much meat they really want. Makes life at the table a bit easier. There is a caveat, though. Sirloin and rump has so much juice, you need to be careful when cutting the meat, as the juices will run all over the table if your cutting board does not have a furrow around the edges.

Back to the fillet. For this one I decided on a home-grown rub. Whole spices are ground in a mortar and pestle, after which some coarse salt is added. The coarse salt will be ground to a powdery consistency if ground with the whole spices. This will make the steak too salty, so take care with the sequence of the work.

The steak can be fried in real butter and herbs in the pan, which will make the dish really rich. The choice is yours.

Sear in a very hot  dry pan
Before the time we prepared spicy rice, garnished with onions, sweet pepper, carrots and mushrooms fried together to serve as the main side to the steak. This was accompanied by steamed cauliflower and broccoli with a Hollandaise sauce. All prepared while the steak was resting. Bear in mind that the experiment was about preparing a dish similar to what one would expect in an upmarket restaurant, in the same time frame.

Searing bonfire
So here goes.

Pan fried beef fillet with vegetables and Hollandaise sauce


500g fillet steak
Dollop of olive oil
Dollop of butter

For the rub

1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
½ teaspoon whole cumin (jeera) seeds
1 teaspoon whole black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
some coarse salt to taste

For the Hollandaise sauce

1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice
2 dessert spoons water
2 dessert spoons real butter
small pinch of salt
1 dessert spoon chopped fresh parsley

Cauliflower and broccoli rosettes for two servings (About 300g)
Juices sealed in, resting away from heat


Take the meat out of the refrigerator and allow to settle to room temperature. Pat the cut completely dry, else the meat will not brown. Heat a dry pan to very high heat.

Make the rub by grinding all the whole dry spices in a mortar. When the spices are ground fine enough to your taste, add the coarse salt. I used Malden salt. Roll the meat in the rub. When the pan is sufficiently hot, sear the steak in the pan all around for thirty seconds. Not longer. Then dab a dollop of olive oil on the meat, making sure that the cut is covered all around. Hold the meat over the open flame to cause the oil to flame. This will sear the outside of the meat and seal in the juices and flavours. This should last for about fifteen seconds only. Quite fast.

Now remove the steak from all heat and set it aside to rest while you prepare the Hollandaise sauce and the veggies. It does not matter if the steak goes stone cold during this time. It will cook and the temperature will settle while still hot. You have now shocked the meat, not cooked it. The final cooking comes later. Turn down the heat and allow the pan to cool to medium heat.

Cut the large steak into thinner strips
The veggies are steamed in a colander over a little water in a saucepan. While this is on the go, you make the Hollandaise sauce. Add the egg yolk, butter, water and lemon juice to a small saucepan. You can use vinegar instead of lemon juice, but then the sauce is called Bearnaise sauce, so I am told. Heat this very slowly while stirring vigorously. The sauce must not be lumpy. I don't have a double cooker, so this is how I prepare the sauce. Take the pan away from the heat if things seem to get too hot. If this sauce boils, you start over. 

By the time the sauce is ready the steak would have rested sufficiently. You now put the steak back in the frying pan and gently fry it to your taste. This may be tricky, as the meat is now sealed and hardly any juice will come out to give an indication of how far it has cooked. The meat will also be quite stiff and my look bloated as a result of the steam trapped inside. Here is where one may add some butter and herbs if you prefer a different flavour. This should not take more that five to eight minutes.

We are still within the restaurant time frame.

Allow the meat to rest again before cutting it into strips. You may need to warm it again slightly if the weather is cold. Or use a heated plate.

Now dish up and enjoy the fruits of your efforts. This dish goes very well with a full bodied red wine and a loved one to make a romantic dinner.

Then, the next day, come tell me all about being a food snob...

Bon Appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2016-04-06


  1. Great story Johan!:) We'll cook it longer ourselves as rare beef isn't something us Greeks are accustomed too. We eat the stuff always done/well done, so often the meat is first marinated in brine to make it soft and tender to the core before grilling it:) Yes, I know, this may sound strange to non-Greeks, but since the most popular meat here have always been the pork, which MUST be cooked well done (for safety reasons/parasites etc), and beef was rarely used, it explains perhaps the attitude towards done-ness:)
    Wonderful story and wonderful recipe dear friend! Sending you lots of sunshine from Athens!
    Panos and Mirella

    1. Thanks for the kind words Panos and Mirella!
      I also like the Greek style of cooking. Maybe one of these days I should stick my neck out!

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