To save money this year, L and I decided to stay in on Valentines Day rather that brave the crowds and prices to have someone else cook for us. It felt a little weird not being on 2 phones at exactly 10am on December 14th, to get a table at the most coveted restaurants, but I soon got over it and eventually forgot about the idea of cooking at home. About a week ago, it occurred to me that we were reservation-less and that I’d better start thinking about how I was going to make good on the promises of a fantastic meal at home.
Since the point was to have a special meal while saving money, I wanted to push the envelope on extravagance without blowing the budget. I gave myself $150 to work with to create a “restaurant style” meal. If you’ve been around for a while, you know that I’m not big on planning. I prefer to cook in the moment with what’s available, but seeing as I do the spontaneous thing nearly every night, I felt like I needed to plan something more elaborate, so I went about making plans, plotting out tactics and recipes and even made… gasp… a grocery list!
At first, I thought about doing a slow cooked egg floating in a black truffle consommé with maple foam and caviar on top as an appetizer, but the caviar and truffles alone would have eaten up over half my budget and that was for just a few ounces. As good as it would have been, I quickly abandoned that idea. Foie gras and lobster both seemed like no-brainers on the extravagance side and were rich/big enough to make a multi-course meal without needing to spend much on anything else, so I decided to go with those.
Every now and then, I get these cravings, lustful cravings so strong it’s as if my soul itself is crying out for the food of my desires. While I tend not to eat much beef, the need hit me strong this week and neither the butternut squash tagliatelle I made on Thursday nor the maitake and hoisin pizza on Friday seemed to sate the hunger. As a last minute addition I decided to add beef to the menu. Since I already had lobster pegged as the main, I wanted to do something slightly lighter between the 3 foie gras appetizers and the main.
As luck would have it, Fresh Direct had fillet mignon on sale for $20 a pound so I had two gorgeous inch and a half thick fillets sitting in the fridge calling out to me. I’d also picked up a pristine bulb of fennel the other day and decided I’d do a salad with the beef. Digging a little further into the vegetable drawer I found two golden yellow meyer lemons rolling around and the salad pretty much fell together from there.
I really dislike the taste of licorice and pretty much anything that tastes like it, but I’ve warmed up to fennel over the past few years. Soaking it in water tones down the anise notes and it also helps make it more crisp. When it comes to cooking beef, I have a tendency to err on the side of undercooked since I hate anything more than medium rare. This means I’m often eating raw meat as I get towards the center. I went out on a limb this time and tried to apply a technique for prime rib that JS and TS from Eating Club Vancouver had documented.
I seared the steak on a very hot cast iron skillet then transferred it to a hot oven, which I then turned off. The residual heat gradually comes down, allowing the internal temperature in the meat to slowly rise without overcooking it. The steak was sublime. When I first cut into it, it was more pink than red, giving me concern that it was overdone, but one bite allayed all my fears. It had a crisp brown salty crust with a juicy tender core.
As it turns out, the beef/fennel/lemon combo is perfect. I don’t mean perfect as in “it all worked out” I mean perfect as in these three ingredients were made for each other. The tart slightly sweet dressing cuts through the richness of the meat while perfectly complimenting the savoury crust, the herbal licorice notes in the crisp fennel mate perfectly with the bright, sweet meyer lemons. Even the colours all work in harmony from the earthy browns and reds of the meat to the strips of white punctuated with little bits of green and flecks of yellow.
I paired it with a wonderful La Marca Prosecco Di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene that Stacey from Stacey Snacks had brought over during our miracle berry event. It might sound like an odd choice at first, but the prosecco is smooth, with notes of apples and lemons with a crisp citrusy finish, perfect for this salad.
This was the best dish we had all night, yet it was the simplest and most spontaneous.
1 1/2″ thick fillet mignon
1 small fennel bulb
5 chives chopped
juice and zest of 1/2 a meyer lemon
1 Tbs olive oil
pinch of sugar
salt & pepper to taste
Using a mandoline slice the fennel into 1/16″ slices, discarding the tough bits that come from the core. Put the slices in a medium bowl and cover with cold water. Refrigerate until you’re ready to make the salad.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Take the fennel out of the fridge, and drain it in a strainer letting it air dry while you make the steak.
Remove the fillet from the refridgerator and give it at least 15 minutes to come to room temperature. Generously salt and pepper all sides of the fillet. Get a cast iron pan very hot on high heat. Sear 4 sides of the steak to get a nice brown crust. Once the steak is browned on all sides, quickly put the whole pan in the oven and turn the oven off.
Allow the steak to finish cooking as the oven cools down for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile whisk all the ingredients together for the dressing in a small bowl.
Remove the steak from pan and allow it to rest for 5 minutes on a plate. Using a sharp chefs knife, cut the steak in half, then slice the steak at a 45 degree angle against the grain into 1/8″ thick slices. Add this to the bowl with the dressing then add the fennel and chives. Toss to coat and serve immediately.