June 07, 2011

The Jamaican Cheesesteak

The traditional cheesesteak originated in the city of Philadelphia, and is crafted using thin slices of steak that are sauteed on a flat top then loaded into hollowed roll. Optional toppings are added to the sandwich, such as onions and green peppers; and the meat is usually covered with cheese, typically cheez whiz or provolone.

Having never been to Philadelphia, I haven't been able to experience a true, authentic cheesesteak. The popularity of the sandwich, however, allows people all over the United States - and, by extension, the world - to get a taste of the local favourite.

As is expected when a dish is borrowed from another culture, it is adapted to suit local tastes. This is no different in Jamaica. It's no secret that Jamaica is famous for jerked chicken -it is arguably the most well known specialty from the country. Please note the word ARGUABLY in that sentence. Good. During my vacation I was able to sample a local take of the sandwich.

Jerk Chicken Philly

A popular jerk pit serves up a classic Philadelphia Cheesesteak, made with beef; however, they also offer a variation made with juicy, spicy, succulent jerked chicken.
Everything else about the sandwich is pretty standard, and the simplicity of the ingredients only highlights the wonderful flavour of the chicken.Thin strips of grilled chicken are tossed with sauteed green peppers and onions, and covered with Provolone cheese.

June 01, 2011

The Avateur Steak Dinner

I'm back! From a MUCH needed vacation (which was only meant to be one week but somehow extended itself over last week as well). For those who follow me on twitter, I know I said that the time off from work would allow me more time in the kitchen and on the blog.. but I didn't factor in the fact that I would be returning home and spending time with friends and family I haven't seen in months. I didn't cook ONCE. Unbelievable really; but I did get the chance to eat some inspiring restaurant meals which, in true Avateur Chef style, I will attempt to recreate in my 'cozy' apartment kitchen in the coming weeks.

This dinner isn't one of them, but I was reminded of it when I was packing up some of my cookware I didn't have the space to carry when I was moving out. I am in love with my reversible cast iron grill pan and skillet. I was a Junior in college when I bought it, and the first thing I did when I got home was to make jerked chicken. In a second floor campus apartment. Since then I've used it for everything.. and I mean EVERYTHING. Pancakes, Paninis, Burgers, Kebabs and anything else that's typically grilled/BBQed. Everything, that is, except steak.

We don't eat much red meat in my immediate family. We're pork people, through and through. Notice the word immediate in there? Yeah.. My dad's side of the family doesn't eat pork and my mom's side can't get enough. I'm convinced she converted him, but I can't even begin to get into pork politics right now. This is about steak. The first time I can consciously remember having a steak is my freshman year of college. No joke. It's not that I hadn't been anywhere that served it, obviously.. it's just that I never ordered it. It was strange to me. I had always seen it in the media served medium rare, and so always saw it presented with the pink centre and very juicy (with what I thought at the time was blood.. ahh kids. -_-). Growing up we never ate anything that wasn't cooked all the way through.. WELL. I remember once when my brother and I were staying with an aunt, she made us eggs over easy for breakfast and we thought she couldn't cook. Something had to be wrong with her to give us egg yolks running all over the plate.

When I got older and started learning about meat temperatures and ordering in restaurants, I began to understand that I could have a steak cooked all the way through. It took me a while to actually do it though. The only reason I grasped the concept so willingly is probably because I love a good burger. Again, I'll leave that for another post. Fast forward a couple more years, and there I was in college; the time for experimenting with new things and doing things you never did at home. Like eating a steak. Dangerous.

The grill on campus had a special Steak Dinner every Sunday night. It was served with a baked potato and garlic toast - 2 of my fave sides. I believe they served grilled NY strips, but to be honest I know very little about the different cuts of steak. I ordered it well done of course, put A1 on it and ate it, it was a little chewy but it wasn't too dry.. and after it was done I couldn't help but think that I hadn't been missing much.

Then I became a food nerd. It changed every notion I had about steak. Like a steak that is well done in the kitchen, will most likely be overdone on the serving plate. Or that good steaks would never need steak sauce. It should melt in your mouth, not take severe chomping before you can swallow it.

To achieve all this, the ideal thing would be to order a steak at medium well; by the time it rests in the kitchen, and is brought out to you on the plate, it would be at perfect doneness. In the event that you wanted to serve a steak dinner to a family that wouldn't tolerate any sign of pink in their meat however, you would have to find an alternative way to cook the meat all the way through without drying it out.

I began by marinating T-Bone Steaks in a combination of Soy Sauce, Oyster Sauce,  Paprika and Garlic for only about 2 hours. We are used to seasoning meat overnight in my house, but I did not want the marinade to completely overpower the flavour of the meat itself. I then seared the steaks on my VERY HOT grill pan to seal in the juices and get a great colour on the meat. It took about 3 minutes on each side, turning 90 degrees about 2 minutes in to get the grill marks. I then transferred the steaks into a baking dish with 'pegs' of tomatoes, bell peppers and onions and a reserved portion of the marinade mixture that had not been used on the meat earlier. I covered the dish with foil and put in the oven at about 250 degrees. My strategy was to create a braising effect with the steaks; they would be fully cooked through but remain juicy from the sauce and juices that would be released from the vegetables during cooking. I let them braise in the oven for just about 20 minutes until the meat was just about falling off the bone.

I served the steaks accompanied with the roasting vegetables from the same pan. I also made sweet potato steak fries by roasting sweet potato wedges until they were cooked through and then frying them in a deep skillet on the stove until they were crisp. I also served baked potatoes with crumbled bacon and chives, accompanied with sour cream and butter.

My parents enjoyed it which was a HUGE relief for me. I was so nervous about cooking steaks for the first time because I know how easy it is to dry them out. 
Let me know what you guys think of this method! And thanks so much for contuing to visit the blog despite my disappearance :)