Monday, 7 November 2011

Hanger Steak with Barkham Blue Hollandaise

Last week I was rather excited to receive a box of Highland beef from the East London Steak Co.  As well as a selection of Wintery braising cuts I also order a kilogram of the French bistro classic, onglet. This interesting cut is finally beginning to see a bit of a Renaissance over here. Previously better known as butcher's steak, as it would be held back for a treat when the steer was being cut up, we are finally beginning to see that with some careful cooking this piece of beef can be some of the best tasting steak found on a cow.

The Americans know onglet as Hanger steak, as it 'hangs' down from the diaphragm of the steer. The fact it is exposed means that the onglet will age quicker than other, more protected, cuts, and a good onglet should be dark red in colour. Previously, due to its tough nature if overcooked, the 'offally' flavours in the meat (it nestles between the kidneys), and the fact there is only one steak per beast, it was not seen as worth the effort to butcher individually and would often be used as stewing beef or mince. Luckily good butchers are now seeing it's appeal as a cheaper piece of steak that has as much, if not more, flavour as some of the better known, and far pricier, cuts.

Hangar steak has a thickly grained texture that makes it perfect for marinading and quick grilling in dishes such as Korean bulgogi or Mexican fajitas. It also works well prepared in a simple French bistro style; cooked rare to medium rare and served sliced against the grain with a sauce such as red wine and shallot or Bearnaise, and some frites or a green salad.

After spending the morning chopping, slicing and dividing my way through bags of ground beef, chopped chuck, shin and ox cheeks (the postman got a nice surprise as I opened the door adorned with dried blood and lumps of mince) I felt as if I deserved a little cook's perk. With memories of my recent Hawksmoor Guildhall lunch fresh in my mind, and the Hawksmoor at Home cookbook sitting on my kitchen shelf, I decided to really treat myself and whip up a version of their Stilton hollandaise to go with my steak.

As I had a little nub of Barkham Blue (a great cow's milk cheese, made locally in Berkshire) at the back of the fridge I decided to use that instead of the Stilton, and scaled the quantities of the original recipe down by half (even I have limits on how much liquid butter I can manage for lunch). Nigel Slater writes that Hollandaise should be the consistency of custard, but there is some debate whether that's crème anglaise or tinned Bird's. I prefer a stiffer sauce, if it seems a little thin at first the cheese should help thicken it.

The steak was left to reach room temperature, seasoned with Maldon smoked salt and black pepper and seared simply in a ferociously hot pan for a few minutes each side. Ideally I could have probably let the meat rest for a minute or longer before cutting it into thick, juicy slices, but by then I was too impatient to wait. In a flash of inspiration I used the chopped shallots, discarded from the infused white wine vinegar used in the hollandaise sauce, as a basis of a dressing for some simple watercress.

Hangar Steak with Barkham Blue Hollandaise

Hangar steak - approx. 250g per person
Sea salt (use a 50:50 mix of ordinary and smoked if possible)
Freshly ground pepper

Blue Cheese Hollandaise (recipe from Hawksmoor at Home)
(serves 4-6)
3 shallots, peeled and finely diced
100ml white wine vinegar
a few black peppercorns, crushed
A sprig of tarragon
250g unsalted butter
4 egg yolks
150g Stilton cubed and rind removed (I used Barkham Blue)
Maldon sea salt
Tabasco sauce

Watercress or rocket leaves to serve

First prepare the flavoured vinegar.  put the shallots, vinegar, pepper and tarragon into a small saucepan and simmer until reduced by half.  Cool, cover and leave to infuse for a couple of hours or overnight.  Strain before using (I used the shallots, mixed with a little olive oil to dress some watercress).
In another pan heat the butter over a low heat, then let it stand until the white solids rise to the top.  Skim them off and strain the butter through a piece of muslin or a fine sieve.
Place a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water, add the egg yolks, the vinegar reduction (you should have 50ml) and two tablespoons of water and whisk together.  Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the warm clarified butter in a steady stream until it is thoroughly incorporated and the sauce is thick and glossy. 
Season to taste with salt and a few drops of Tabasco sauce.
Crumble in the cubed Stilton.  The sauce will keep for up to an hour if kept in a pan in a warm place.

If there was such a thing as the perfect lunch then chunks of full flavoured, juicy steak, with just the right amount of chew; buttery rich hollandaise, punctuated by the salty nuggets of blue cheese, and a peppery, bright salad of watercress with shallot dressing might just be it. Just add a glass of rough vin rouge and bon apetit!

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