Do you ever think that you might have a cooking guardian angel? One who sits on your shoulder, urging you to do this, and not to do that? I’ve got one, and I find it useful for the simple things (Salt your pasta water! Leave that piece of meat be if you’re going for a good sear!), and even more helpful in those times when you’re attempting a new recipe, and you come to a cross-roads. If you’re like me, and you’ve failed to read the recipe in advance, and you’ve neglected to assemble a perfectly-organized mise, such moments are rather urgent.
As in, you’re seven-eighth’s of the way through a recipe when you realize you don’t have one of the ingredients called for. You must locate a substitute or simply forge on without the ingredient—and you have only a few seconds to decide. Or you’ve followed the recipe to a tee, baking a cake for exactly 40 minutes at precisely the called-for temperature, only to find a resulting specimen that’s pale where it should be golden, or—perhaps worse—sunken when it should be domed.
It’s in those snap-decision moments that that wee angel perched on your shoulder comes in very handy. With authority, it provides direction and confidence, and—more often than not—it saves the dish.
I like to think that that little savior on my shoulder is my mother. An intuitive, confident cook, she always has the answer in these situations. I should know—when I took up cooking after college, I’d frequently call her from my tiny D.C. studio kitchen, when I was in the thick of a recipe and came to a crisis. What do I do?, I’d cry. After no more than a moment’s pause, she’d deliver her sure answer.
So it was such a treat to make the steaks you see here for the first time when my mom came out for her first visit to Seattle. When I came to one of those decision points, all I had to do was turn to my mom (who’d recommended the recipe, having made it before) and ask—Does the sauce seem to dry? (Answer: yes, add a splash of wine) Wait, we’ve only got smoked paprika—oh, no! (Reply: no problem, use that).
The other fun part about having one of these kitchen guardian angels is that you start to realize that, more often than not, you don’t really need to rely on them so much anymore. The wisdom they’ve imparted becomes engrained. You make your decisions without thinking, and your confidence is already there, without need for reassurance. And that’s how I felt the second time we grilled these steaks—over the (insanely warm and sunny) weekend, when my mom was no longer here.
We did, however, just happen to be on the verge of my mom’s next visit (she arrived yesterday!), and just as I felt like I had the steak recipe down cold, I got to thinking about how far we’ve come here in Seattle since her first visit. We’re starting to find our stride here, and it feels great.
Beef Sirloin with Piquillo Peppers & Capers
Adapted from Food & Wine
The thick steaks called for in this recipe benefit from a dry rub that’s equal parts sweet and smokey. Those steaks are grilled until rosy and sliced, before a punchy, briny piquillo pepper-caper sauce is spooned over top. It’s a dish I intend to grill all summer long. We made this along with some skinny asparagus and small carrots, which we grilled briefly after a roll in olive oil, red pepper flakes, and salt.
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
Freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 pounds sirloin steak (about 1 1/4 inches thick)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon drained capers
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
8 piquillo peppers (Spanish roasted peppers), seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 to 4 tablespoons red wine (or water)
In a bowl, mix the paprika, brown sugar, 2 teaspoons of kosher salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Pat the mixture all over the meat.
In a small skillet, heat the olive oil over moderate heat. Add the garlic, shallots and capers and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the sage and cook for 1 minute. Add the piquillos, mustard and Worcestershire; simmer over moderate heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the sauce seems dry, add the wine (or water), 1 tablespoon at a time.
Meanwhile, light a grill or preheat a grill pan. Grill the steak over moderately high heat for about 12 minutes, turning once, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part registers 130° for medium-rare meat. Let the steak rest for 5 minutes, then slice and serve with the piquillo-pepper sauce.