Monday, 16 May 2016

Gaucho Steak Masterclass

I love steak. This is a fact. I don't love eating steak at restaurants. This is also a fact. I am always disappointed when I eat steak in restaurants and the like, there is always something wrong, it is never quite perfect. D thinks that I make the best steaks at home and although they don't always reach perfection more often than not they do tend to beat those that I eat in other people's dining rooms.

One of the main problems I have when eating steak in restaurants is that they all seem to have differing ideas of what medium and medium rare is, this extends to countries also. Brussels air on the rare side whereas Croatian's tend to leave it on the grill a bit longer for that more well done taste. It's a mine field. It's not often I put myself through the torment unless there really isn't anything else on the menu that I fancy. Due to the uncertainty if I've never had a steak in said restaurant I will always proceed with caution and order my steak medium.

You've got to have a good glass of red with your steak

Gaucho is all about the steak, I've never been before and it's one of the places that just sits in the background as a firm cornerstone in Leeds dining scene. It's not new and it's not re-inventing the steak so it doesn't tend to get much coverage and praise in the (social) media. I often bang on about how we should be revisiting the established restaurants in our city and not always ignoring them for the new, I am a true offender of this. When a new restaurant pops up it's like silver is to a Magpie and it soon shoots to the top of my 'to visit' list budging older restaurants down my list. For instance, you may find this hard to believe, I have never visited Salvos. I know it's shocking, I don't know how I've got away with it.

Anyway, as usual I digress...

Check all that meat

I was invited, alongside three other couples, to attend a grill master-class at Gaucho. It's something that they run in their other restaurants, particularly their larger ones down south and it hasn't really kicked off up here but if you're interested and have a food loving, meat consuming group of friends you should definitely make enquiries. I don't think I have been to an event where I have learned so much about food... and we were only learning about steak! Who knew there was so much to know and understand, no wonder so many places get it wrong.

Our group was led by the wonderful Fernando, he's an Argentinian Chef with a great sense of humour and a sting in his tongue if you get anything wrong. He was a great tutor and thoroughly enjoyed learning about steak and his background.

Rumpy pumpy
Most of you will know that Aberdeen Angus is considered one of the best sources of beef in the world, however did you know that the cattle of Argentina are direct descendants of Aberdeen Angus? Someone bright spark a couple of centuries ago took a few over from Scotland to Argentina and they multiplied, they added a few more and they multiplied again, a few more and they multiplied etc. etc. etc.. There are now hundreds of thousands of Aberdeen-Angus-Argentinian cows and bulls in Argentina these days and they are now considered to produce some of the best beef in the world (alongside the more traditional Angus from Aberdeen). 

chop chop chop

Alongside the history of Argentinian beef Fernando also walked us through each of the different cuts of steak, the rump, the flank, sirloin, rib eye, fillet and skirt (I hope I didn't miss one!). The fillet is often considered one of the best cuts of beef for steak and this is often reflected in the price too. We tried an uncooked thinly sliced piece of the rump with some chimichurri and then a thinly sliced piece of the fillet for comparison. Surprisingly the much more flavoursome piece was the rump. Fernando's disenchantment for fillet became more and more apparent as the lesson went on and it was catching the more teaching and tasting he gave to us. The fillet due to it's location in the bull's body is the least worked muscle, at least in Argentina due to the farming techniques they employ, it is this that gives it a simple taste.

Ingredients for the chimichurri

Following the tutorial about the cuts of beef we were then shown the best way to cut and slice the beef, simple steps of scoring the thinner parts of the steak and tucking them under to get a even grill through the piece of meat (i.e. preventing one end being well done and the other end medium rare) was one of those "Oh yeah, why have I never thought of that before" moments. 

D expertly chopping coriander

Having sampled some of Fernando's chimichurri during the beef slice tasting we were now tasked with making it ourselves... and Fernando would be tasting it afterwards. No pressure then. Unfortunately the pressure got to both D and I, I added too much chilli and garlic to my own and D completely forgot how to chop anything, his main duty in the cooking process at home. Some great tips for chopping onions finely were picked up and a couple pots of very oily chimichurri were taken home by us both. 

Salt your beef on the grill

Once we had insulted any Argentinian that was to try our chimichurri we were then led to the kitchen to be shown how to physically cook the meat. By 'eck it was warm. I'm not sure how chefs do it all day, the opening of the fridge by one of the kitchen staff was a delight and breathed a refreshing chill to my neck. 

Cook on the fat side first to 'melt' it before cooking on the sides

Another "duh" moment came when it was explained to us that the meat should be cooked for 70% of the time on one side and the remaining 30% of the time on the flip side. Of course, as you're cooking the first side the heat is starting to seep through and cooking the centre and the other side. All these 'perfect steak' recipes I've been reading where it states to cook 2 minutes on one side and then 2 minutes on the opposite have been missing this rather simple fact the whole time!

Fernando also doesn't believe in timing the steaks. He can tell just by looking at the steak when it needs turning and when it needs to come off the grill, plus he's been cooking steak for a very long time so has a rough idea of timings. A simple pressing of your spatula or knife on to the steak will show the juices developing at the right amount appearing it's then you flip your steak. I daringly tried it at home the next day, putting my complete faith in Fernando's methods and leaving the timer in the kitchen drawer. D's judgement (my ultimate critic) "you've cooked this steak perfectly". Huge sigh of relief and a win for Fernando and Gaucho! I shall never crack the timer out again!

Expertly grilled steak

The best part of the day followed, the tasting. The board was full of all cuts of meat and plenty of it. We ate it in the order in which Fernando told us to, the best way to see the differences between the cuts. Juices and all (it's not blood, steak is hung up to dry out, there is no blood on your plate it's juices, consider yourselves told). I was recently advised in another cooking class that juice on my plate is indicative of a piece of meat not being rested long enough, Fernando advised not and said with steak the juices should not be balked at but celebrated and mopped up with chips. 

Steak and chips the perfect couple?

I came away from the day with a new found love for rump and skirt steak but rib eye to this day still remains my favourite. My fear of eating steak outside of the home may well have an exception when it comes to Gaucho. The staff all have the same passion and knowledge for steak, they are put through rigourous training where all that they have learnt before is undone and they are taught the 'Gaucho' way, I feel reassured that my meat is cooked by capable hands. I'm looking forward to visiting Gaucho again in the future, but maybe next time I'll leave my apron at home.

Always add salad to counterbalance the naughty calories

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