Compound (Butter) Interest
There are so many points of debate within the world of steak cookery and consumption, it's hard to pick one topic to focus on. Everyone has an opinion on what makes a great steak eating experience. Some people are purists, wanting nothing more than the taste of the beef, while others take the creative route, marinating, crusting, saucing, or otherwise embellishing the meat for added flair.The method one chooses for actually cooking the meat is another great area for discussion, with outdoor grilling or indoor cast iron searing heading up the opposing camps.
As for me, I'm a steak eater that swears loyalty to both sides; sometimes all I want is a plain, perfectly charred piece of meat, while other times I like to get busy with a pre-cooking marinade and a savory sauce for serving. Most of the time I find myself outside grilling the steaks (over charcoal, never gas!), but there are occasions when my screaming hot cast iron skillet has turned out some wonderfully crusty chops, too.
Something that I believe almost everyone can agree on, however, is the fact that a little butter melting on top of a perfectly cooked steak is an indisputably glorious sight to behold. At Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago, where I'm a chef instructor, we teach our students right from the first day of beef cookery how to make an array of different compound butters (beurre compose in French) to top off grilled and sauteed meats, poultry, and fish fillets. It's quite possibly one of the simplest and most user-friendly sauce options out there. Any ingredients you happen to have on hand, chop them up small, fold them into some room temperature butter, season with salt and pepper, and voila!… an almost instant sauce. Some obvious ingredient options might include things like fresh herbs, grainy mustard, anchovies, garlic, shallots, roasted peppers, citrus zest, strong cheeses, spices, fresh cracked pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, or capers.The possibilities are endless, but one general rule I try to have my students stick to is to use no more than three main flavoring ingredients. Any more and the focus gets lost in too much complexity.
Here's one of my favorites; for four good size steaks, cut one stick of unsalted butter into pats and allow to come to room temperature in a mixing bowl. Season lightly with salt and fresh cracked black pepper, then crumble in a handful of you favorite blue cheese (Maytag goat blue from Iowa is always a winner), and a tablespoon or so of minced chives. Mix well, roll it into a log in a piece of plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm. As soon as your meat comes off the heat for its resting period, slice the butter into disks and place a few on top of each steak. Enjoy!