Next - avoid this sentence if you have high blood pressure - he applies a large palmful of kosher salt to each side of each steak. As he salts, Schatzker talks about evolution.
"Omega-3 fatty acids make up 13 per cent of the human brain," he says. "In fact, there are theories that suggest that human intelligence began when we started to eat oysters on the coast of Africa." He laid out the bare bones of the book's central argument about the human brain's craving for fat, and to his theory about why human beings have always hunted the fattest animals in a herd, unlike lesser primates that opportunistically eat skinny animals that have died.
"The very interesting thing about human beings from an evolutionary point of view is that if we eat meat that's too lean, it'll kill us." Schatzker believes the human longing for tasty beef is an evolutionary advantage, because deliciousness means survival and smartness. Handy theory! He's not intellectually macho like too many barbecue writers, but Schatzker's no vegan: He all but implies vegan mothers are endangering the future mental capacity of their offspring. It will be interesting to witness the public smackdowns sure to happen once the anti-meat crowd read Steak. Schatzker, whose grandfather was shot by the Nazis, enjoys making the point that Hitler was a vegetarian.
We pad across Fleurance's hide to the patio. "I wasn't even sure that Thornbury [Ontario]grass was good enough," Schatzker says as he lays the steaks on a hot gas barbecue for 10 minutes. ("Gas isn't as bad as the Argentines say.") Grass-feeding is by no means a sure thing, as the quality of grass-fed beef can be affected even by the time of day a steer grazes. Yield and consistency (the virtues of corn-fed beef) are tricky. Schatzker has eaten way more bad grass-fed than good.
But the good stuff is really good. "I've ruined steak for my father," he allows. "He goes to a steak house now, and I say how was the steak, and he says, terrible."
The Idaho rib-eye is too rare for Laura, and goes back on the grill for two minutes more. When Schatzker met her, she was a vegetarian. "Everybody thinks that the secret to steak is in the cooking," Schatzker says. "It's not. It's in the steak." Back at the table he carves half-inch slices of steak for each of us.
We are to begin, Schatzker says - he's a slight control freak with his meat, and anxious about details - with the commodity steak, move on to the black wagyu, and finish with his Idaho grass-fed beauties.
I admit to liking steak in any form. I have and will eat occasionally at McDonald's, with pleasure. Even the butcher shop steak seems delicious - at first. The scent of flamed beef and the foretaste of fat make my mouth water - at first. But the taste in my mouth lasts only a matter of seconds, hardly beyond the first "chew". (Chews are a matter of some discussion in Steak.) Then it goes flat.
The black Wagyu is like the cosmos exploding by comparison: juicier, richer, altogether more indulgent. It is like eating some kind of gloriously rare thing. I actually feel guilty. There is also more middle, more amplitude, to the trajectory of the steak's taste, and the taste sustains for five and more chews. It feels rich - in fact, almost too rich, loaded as it is with fat. I have five slices of the wagyu, and that is all I can manage. It's not that it isn't good: It is too good, and akin to candy.
Frankly, I think the Idaho grasser will be a letdown. The wagyu, however rich, was as good a steak as I have ever eaten. But the grass fed rib-eye is a revelation. I realize that is the sort of statement that makes people think food writers are wankers. But, baby, it is true. The Idaho steak has the middle, the robustness of the wagyu, but without the fattiness; it also tastes, unmistakably, like beef. It shouts, but it also lasts, like an interesting lover. It is like being inside a cave of beef taste. The complexity of the grass fed steak becomes greater, not less, with each chew: I think I detect a lemon-grass flavour in the middle of what is otherwise a meaty, even nutty taste. It is - forgive me again - steaky. I have five more slices of grass-fed Idaho beef, and two more of the butcher steak, just to make sure I wasn't tasting things, and then two more pieces of Idaho. Then I think I had better stop.
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