Please can I have my Steak well done?
As Nigerians the concept of overcooking is alien to us. If anything it is the rule of the day. Cook it till it dies, then till it dies some more! While I can agree that even some foreigners can’t take some certain degrees of ‘undercooking’, like medium-rare meat because of the sight of blood, at the same time it’s a small percentage and we are all human at the end of the day.
However, when are we going to be just a little bit more open-minded? When are we even largely going to start to try? Like I always say, we choose what we want from ‘Oyibo’. We like the dollars, if they dash us. We like the clothes, smartphones, slangs, social media apps; technology in general, but the minute you serve the average Nigerian a medium steak what do you get? “e never done”!
At Chef Fregz we have a few dishes on our menu that showcase cooking levels of medium to medium-well on our meats and one fish in particular. For our Cured Salmon and Rib Eye Steaks, I usually tell my clients that I won’t be cooking any of the above to be well done. It’s usually accompanied by screams of “Ah! It has to be done o! The people that are coming may not understand it o! I can’t eat half-done o! God forbid!”. Oh well, I smile and convince them they should try it and, honestly, nine out of 10 exclaim how good it was; that they did not except it to taste so good!
So, my reaction to them is usually “so you see” with a low-key judgemental look. I usually want to add “but did you die though,” but let’s just say I love to keep a polite and great client relationship.
You may ask, what is my rationale behind cooking my meats and fish “half done”? First it would be the cut of meat and type of fish. Cuts of meat like filet, rib eye, and sirloin steaks are to be enjoyed tenderly. If you cook them to the mix they become tough and chewy. The fibres become dried out and you have chewy steak that is void of any juiciness whatsoever. Now fish, I usually only do this for salmon. Why? Because it’s a very oily fish and overcooking it tends to make it too flaky. And once it’s like this, it starts to taste like cardboard. Note, however, that I only do this for fresh salmon, and not the frozen variety. I don’t even touch frozen salmon.
At Chef Fregz we also make something called a cure seasoning. This is a salt, sugar and spice mix we sprinkle quite liberally on the fleshy side of the fish and leave aside for between 30 minutes to an hour. What this does is that it drains out the water, so that when we cook skin side down, it leaves the middle just warm enough. The result is a moist fish that isn’t reminiscent of stale bread.
Ok, before I start to sound like I undercook everything and an advocate for food poisoning. You are not going to undercook a tough cut of meat meant for stewing like shank, ‘tozo’ or cow thigh. No way! The muscles there are tougher so cooking them for a long time would break down their fibres. And since it cooks in stew or sauce it would remain moist. For regular white fish I recommend cooking it to “a point”, which is French for on point. Also, I suggest you fry just to the point of opaqueness in the middle so you have really succulent fish and not dried out ‘kilishi’.
Cooking seafood like prawns and lobsters should not be medium-well or anything less as you have to cook these quite well because they can be very delicate and could poison you. However, remember cooking it on point is vital here. Over-cooking in the name of eliminating your chances of suffering from food poisoning will only result in chalky prawns and disappearing lobsters. You want the prawns to not only be juicy and very succulent but also cooked thoroughly. For example, when I make my signature seafood okro, the prawns go into the bubbling crayfish, dried fish and pepper broth. Once they turn a little orange, I add the okro and mix, and take off the heat before allowing the residual heat to gently cook the okro, so even when we cool down and freeze the batch we can’t eat at that moment, warming it in the future, you’re sure you are not getting rubbery or chalky prawns.
So, the essence of this article is truly to encourage us Nigerians to try something new. It won’t kill you I promise. But do note that all the ingredients I handle this way are handled with serious care and are very fresh and high quality ingredients.
For meat make sure it doesn’t have any smell, which is usually a sign that rot has set in or is about to. It should be nice and red or, if aged, it should read so and still not smell funky.
For fish, these are fresh salmon that are brought in weekly and doesn’t have any fishy smell. The skin still has a nice sea slime to it and hasn’t been frozen but has been in a cold room that doesn’t’ freeze.
For fresh fish that you buy in the marketplace, please make sure you go to a market that sells fresh fish, and not ‘cold room ice fish’. God no! I’m talking about Apapa Fish Market, Law School Fish Market. In addition, most supermarkets these days are showing off a line of fresh fish.
Fish at its freshest should be a bright and almost transparent white, with fresh bloodlines running through. You should be able to run your fingers though it and put it to your nose and smell nothing. If it smells ‘fishy’ then it isn’t fresh. The same applies for other seafood such as prawns, calamari, lobsters, and so on. From Bayelsa, to the ports of Apapa, you would be shocked at the array of fresh sea life brought in by fishermen. Even tuna is available! Let’s not ruin these fresh ingredients with our flames and staying stuck with traditions that are robbing us of enjoyable meal experiences.
So please the next time you cook, try to apply the right cooking method to your steak, fish and seafood. Go to that reputable restaurant and start with a medium-well steak. Just try. You will not what? Die!