In Ireland, it’s easy to take the top-quality food for granted. Writing in The Atlantic, Corby Kummer even goes so far as to say we have the best ingredients in Europe. We have butter that’s a creamy yellow, the way it should be; bread that’s baked fresh every day and delivered to the stores first thing in the morning; brown eggs that are so fresh they’re often not even refrigerated in the grocery store; lamb that’s world famous; and grass-fed beef.
I didn’t appreciate how special the beef in particular is until I read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food last year, in which he says that 100% grass-fed beef commands premium prices in America (an article in The Village Voice said a 1 lb grass-fed, local steak set them back $26 compared to $9.99 for a typical feedlot steak of the same weight). Yet in Ireland, famous for the lush green grass (it’s not called the Emerald Isle for nothing), it’s just the way beef is. As I type this, I can look out my window and see my neighbor’s cattle grazing in the field just across the road. When I cook in my kitchen, I look west over a patchwork quilt of fields of potatoes, wheat, more cows and sheep too. When I take a walk in my rural neighbourhood, we pass another neighbour’s dairy farm, and if I walk further still, we pass the lambs that eventually wind up in the local butcher. If I walk east, I can stand at the top of our hill and see the Irish Sea about ten miles away, where small, colourful fishing boats trawl the waters. Compared to the US, where the average food item in a typical meal travels 1,500 miles to reach your plate, I feel very lucky indeed to be able to stand on my front step and practically be able to see where my milk, beef, lamb and fish come from, not to mention potatoes and various grains as well.
This weekend I’ll be singing the praises of Irish food when I’ll be at Salon du Blog outside of Paris with Bord Bia and fellow blogger Anne Marie to do a few cooking demos, including these steak sandwiches with Cashel Blue butter. I’ll also be making Catherine Fulvio’s recipe for mustard and herb lamb chops with a honey dressing and mussels with leeks, bacon and Irish whiskey. Hopefully the French food bloggers will think as highly of Irish food as I do!
Steak Sandwiches with Rocket, Caramelised Onions and Cashel Blue Butter
Both the caramelised onions and the blue cheese butter can be made ahead of time, which would make this even faster to pull together for lunch or a speedy supper.
For the caramelised onions:
25 g butter
2 onions, thinly sliced
pinch of sugar
For the Cashel Blue butter:
50 g butter, softened
50 g Cashel Blue cheese, diced, at room temperature
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the steak sandwiches:
4 x 125 g sirloin steaks
4 small baguettes, ciabattas or other crusty rolls, cut in half and toasted
100 g Cashel Blue cheese, thinly sliced
a few handfuls of rocket (arugula)
To make the caramelised onions, place a large frying pan over a medium heat and add in the butter along with a splash of olive oil to keep the butter from burning. When the butter is foaming, add in the onions and stir well. Spread the onions out evenly over the pan and allow them to cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Sprinkle some salt over the onions and add a pinch of sugar to give the carmelisation process a boost. Cook for around 30 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Lower the heat if the onions look like they’re burning, not browning, and add a little more oil if they’re sticking to the pan too much. As the sugar in the onions caramelises, they’ll go from light tan to golden to deep brown. Don’t cook them past a mahogany colour, because then they might burn.
Meanwhile, make the blue cheese butter simply by putting the softened butter and the cheese in a bowl and mashing them together with the back of a fork. Season to taste with a little salt and pepper, though go easy on the salt because the cheese is already a little salty. You can keep the butter at room temperature if you’re going to use it right away, but if you want to make it ahead of time, place the blue cheese butter on a piece of cling film, wrap it up tightly, shape it into a log and place in the fridge (or you could even freeze it).
Heat a ridged grill pan over a medium-high heat. Brush the steaks with olive oil on each side, then season generously with sea salt and black pepper. Grill them for 5 to 6 minutes on each side for medium rare (though the timing will depend on how thick your steaks are and how well done you like your meat). When they’re done cooking, transfer the steaks to a plate, cover with aluminium foil and allow to rest for at least 5 minutes, then thinly slice the steaks.
Spread each side of the toasted rolls with the blue cheese butter, then lay strips of the steak inside. Top with a few slices of blue cheese, some caramelised onions and a handful of rocket.