Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Steak and onions

Steak is arguably one of the classless dishes: a luxury for all. I think of Shirley Valentine ("We always have steak on Thursdays") feeding her husband's dinner to the neighbour's dog: "You're a bloodhound. You need meat."

I used to read the Dandy comic avidly and one of my favourite strips was called "Bertie Buncle and his Chemical uncle". One story involved the uncle creating in a test tube something that has a strong aroma of steak and onions. Bertie "borrows" the test tube and releases the aroma in class at school. The teacher gets more and more hungry and in the end yells "Class dismissed! We're all starving!" and rushes for the tuckshop, gown and mortarboard flapping. Although I read the story in the nineteen eighties, schools in comics remained old-fashioned with teachers brandishing canes.

Earlier than the Dandy was Enid Blyton and one of her "Five Findouters and Dog" stories has a character appropriately named Fatty arriving home for the school holidays to learn that lunch is to be steak and onions. Although generous, Fatty is not prepared to share his lunch with the four other "Findouters" and heads straight for the kitchen to eat half cooked onion straight from the frying pan.

In my exoerience, steak is rarely worth eating in a pub. I once ordered one and asked for it to be cooked rare. The reply I received was hardly reassuring. The man behind the bar said doubtfully, "I'll see if we've got any rare steaks".

On the other hand, the Americans have no difficulty with the concept of cooking steak to the customer's liking. I happened to be at Boston station at lunchtime and saw a fast-food joint that does "New York Steak" for under $5. Promisingly, I was asked how I'd like it done. "Rare", I said, and indeed it was: wrapped in silver foil, slices of delicious steak in a granary bap with herb butter and salad. Delectable. But it never works when you try to repeat the perfect meal. When I returned on another day for another, it was not quite as rare and delicious as before.

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