You can imagine Kurt’s excitement when a book with the title Steak with Friends arrived in the mail. Steak! Naturally, my first thought was: what’s in the salad chapter? I received this review copy of Rick Tramonto’s newest book, and it’s devoted to home cooking for casual entertaining. It’s full of ideas for gathering friends around the grill and sharing fun, hearty meals, and it’s also about cooking the things that partner well with steak. So, in addition to steak recipes, you’ll find soups, salads, cedar-plank salmon with mustard and maple, rubs and sauces, grilled chicken with roasted squash salad, bread pudding with gruyere and shitake mushrooms, waffle-battered onion rings with maple-chili sauce, and even desserts. And, while this book is all about entertaining at home, it is clearly from a chef’s perspective with recipes like pan-seared foie gras with peaches and mint, hamachi sashimi with pineapple bubbles (foam), and filet oscar topped with an asparagus and crab salad layered with bread cut in rounds the size of the filet. I like that about this book. I appreciate learning chefs’ techniques as they’re adapted for home cooking. So, of course, Kurt was not deprived of a steak meal, but the first dish that caught my eye was the peanut noodle salad.
I made the peanut salad dressing in advance. Peanuts were finely ground in a food processor, and then peanut oil was pulsed into the ground nuts to moisten them. Rice vinegar, soy sauce, chopped ginger, garlic, a chopped red chile, dried chile flakes, ground Szechuan pepper, a little sugar, and some salt were added, and the mixture was processed until smooth. The sauce was transferred to a bowl, and sesame oil and chili oil were added. Interestingly, before adding the dressing to the cooked noodles, it was thinned with hot, Chinese black tea. Thinning the dressing with tea was something I hadn’t seen in other peanut sauce recipes before, but I have to say I’m not sure I noticed the tea flavor among the other ingredients. Chinese egg noodles should have been used for the salad, but I was lazy about making a special trip to buy them and used spaghetti instead. After the cooked pasta was tossed with the dressing, it was topped with sliced cucumber, bell pepper, jalapeno, scallions, and peanuts, sesame seeds, and lime wedges.
The flavors in the dressing made the salad addictive, and all the fresh, crunchy toppings just made it more so. No kidding, I ended up having this salad for lunch every day until it was gone, and then I missed it. This could be topped with chicken, or even steak I suppose, and the vegetables could be added to or changed. I think the cucumber and scallions are necessary though, as those flavors marry with the dressing so perfectly.
Kurt grilled his own New York strip, and I whipped up Tramonto’s gorgonzola crust to top it. In the steak chapter, there are three different ‘crusts’ to place on just-grilled steaks, and they are gorgonzola, horseradish, and parmesan. They’re called crusts because the choice ingredient is mixed with panko bread crumbs, and as the mixture melts onto the steak, the bread crumbs give it a layer of crunch. Gorgonzola was mixed with panko, butter, cream cheese, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. I sliced the chilled mixture and placed two pieces on the steak, and Kurt grabbed it and ran to the table with knife in hand before I could get a shot of them melting into the meat. He said it was delicious.