The rare part he takes to an extreme. He'd prefer if the cow meandered into our kitchen and he could just take a fork to it. The sweet part he is more moderate about. He likes a mild sweetness. Nothing as brash as full-on sweet-and-sour sauce (not even on chicken). And no brown sugar-spiked rubs. That sort of assertiveness interferes with his appreciation of the rare part.
Over time I have experimented to find just the right balance of rare and sweet. An obvious answer has always been carpaccio, an Italian dish of thinly sliced and lightly seasoned raw steak. And while I have made him this at various times — much to his joy — it does pose a dilemma.
When I make dinner, I like to plan to have leftovers. I use those leftovers to pack my son's lunch the next day. But while I don't have a problem feeding my son raw steak at the dinner table, packing it in his lunch — where it will sit for hours before being consumed — really does strike me as a poor parenting decision.
So I developed a compromise — a recipe for a steak that preserves the essence of carpaccio, but adds both the texture and taste of a light sear to the exterior. For sweetness, I give the steaks a brief bath in mirin, a sweet Japanese cooking wine (available in the grocer's Asian aisle). A bit of salt and coarsely cracked pepper, and you're good.
How to serve this? Keep it simple. Some fresh baguette, a bit of cheese and a fresh salad really are all it takes to turn this into a meal.
Also, I like to make this with bison steaks (now widely available at most grocers) because it is extremely lean and tender. That combination — plus its generally more assertive flavour — makes it an ideal candidate for this sort of minimalist cooking. But feel free to substitute your preferred cut of beef steak.
KIND OF CARPACCIO
Start to finish: 30 minutes (10 minutes active)
1/4 cup mirin
Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
Two 6-ounce bison steaks
1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
1 lemon, cut into wedges
In a medium bowl, whisk together the mirin, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Add the steaks, turning to coat evenly, then refrigerate for at least 20 minutes and up to an hour.
When ready to cook, in a large skillet over medium-high, heat the oil until very hot but not smoking. Add the steaks and sear on each side for 1 1/2 minutes. Transfer the steaks to a platter and let rest for 5 minutes.
Once the steaks have rested, thinly slice them across the grain. Fan the slices onto 2 serving plates, then seasoned with salt and pepper. Squeeze 1 or 2 lemon wedges over each. Serve immediately.
Nutrition information per serving: 290 calories; 90 calories from fat (31 per cent of total calories); 10 g fat (1.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 105 mg cholesterol; 7 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 37 g protein; 570 mg sodium.
J.M. Hirsch is the food editor for The Associated Press. He blogs at http://www.LunchBoxBlues.com and tweets at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch