On the Conversion of Grass and Sunlight; or, Round Steak in a World Gone Mad


Rock Island, IL

That the world’s gone mad may be deduced from a recent college football catastrophe in Nebraska, where, quite obviously, secret underground field-shortening machines were used to shorten whichever end of the field a certain team in green and white was nobly and lawfully defending.

The growing madness may also be deduced from the cheating ways of the wretched and hateful National League and its recent World Series heist. You may be sure no team from Detroit would have suffered willingly such blatant rule-bending behavior as scoring more runs than an American League counterpart.

And if I leave aside glaring evidence to the contrary, such as the hopeful promise of a shorter N[ot] B[asketball] A[nymore] season, I mean only to suggest that, notwithstanding such small islands of sanity in the greater sea of lunacy, the overwhelming tendency of the world is toward anarchy and ruin.

Soon perfectly sane men, men of impeccable tastes and reasonable sports loyalties, will begin to prefer vodka to gin, and then what will become of us—to say nothing of the noble and divinely-inspired martini?

But a local cattle man who actually lets his grass-eating beasts outdoors to feed on the grass they were made to feed on has recently slaughtered another of them, and now that a local locker not much bigger than a milking stall has hung, carved up, packaged, and frozen all the beast’s edible guts, I’m fully reconciled to the growing madness.

For I’ve paid my processing fee and carted my portion of the beast home. My freezers are loaded with converted grass and sunlight: ribs and rumps and rib eyes, steaks and stewing meats and the miracle of ground beef, fundamental ingredient of the olive burger, the burger above all burgers. All of it awaits my deliberate prep and careful undercooking. Thanks to highly complex processes both natural and cultural, an animal with four stomachs is on its way to mine.

To eat is human; to feed me bovine.

Take the “problem” of round steak. Tough as old leather and not very attractive. Gnawgahyde, I call it.

But there’s no need to waste it when you can waist it. This is real lips-to-hips cuisine, plenty good for weekdays not set aside for commemorating betrayals or crucifixions.

Season the round steak according to your tastes (blackened is good; Cajun is good), roll it in flower, seer it quickly in a pan, and then put it on the stovetop in chopped onions awash in a forty-ounce can of cheap beer or malt liquor, covered. You know you’ve always wanted to buy a big can of Colt 45 anyway, so do it. Buy two, in fact, and put one in a brown paper bag. Sip from it as you walk home from your local Discount Liquor & Lotto.

Make sure the heat is low. Simmer the round steak slowly for a couple of hours but be sure to add about six wheel-barrows full of chopped garlic half-way through.

Serve your round-steak-in-beer with mashed potatoes to which, in the mashing, you’ve added not plain milk, and not heavy whipping cream, but buttermilk. Don’t forget you’ve got garlic chives still growing out back, even at this late date. Chop some up and sprinkle them atop each serving. Hear your youngest say disapprovingly, “hey, what’s this green stuff?” and then pick it off piece by piece in that finicky and exceedingly annoying way of his. But rejoice at his moxy and exchange lascivious glances with the missus, because that’s what got you in this attitudinal mess in the first place.

What? You don’t want to be seen buying a forty-ounce can of cheap beer or malt liquor? You’re a beer snob (and, no doubt, a fan of the wretched and hateful National League to boot)?

Not to worry. After someone has given you the clubbing you deserve, defrost your round steak, salt the bejesus out of it, sprinkle it with dried oregano, drizzle some olive oil over it, and let it sit covered in the fridge over night.

Next afternoon, maybe at about five, pull it out, put a little Neil Young on the hi-fi, pour yourself one of your boutique beers—or, if the clubbing taught you anything, a bourbon—and cut the fat off the dead piece of cow. Toss the fat into a pan lightly oiled on medium heat and release some of that beautiful sizzling fat.

Start some water for the angel-hair pasta.

Once you’ve collected a fair amount of the beaded fatty wonder, the arterial impedimentia, remove the chunks of fat, take them out back, and give them a fling. A critter will bless you later on. Let the pan cool a little while you cut the meat into strips no wider than a half-inch. Then cut the strips cross-wise a couple of times. You’ve got not cubes but short strips now. That’s what you want. Into the pan drizzle some olive oil and then toss in a half-stick of butter, bearing in mind that you hydrate meat not with liquids but with fats. The round-steak-in-beer was good, but you were tenderizing the gnawgahyde, not making it juicier. Tonight your approach is a little different.

Tell the kids to stop fighting or else. Observe how they ignore you. Toast yourself: Head Chef and Resident Irrelevant.

Lo! The missus appears in that pair of jeans you haven’t seen since last winter! She’s clearly pre-occupied with something having to do with the kids’ homework (Monstrous Intrusion). Make a pass at her and watch her roll her eyes as she walks out of the room mumbling something to herself. No harm in thinking that the way she ignores you can mean only one thing. That’s what she’s thinking.

Obviously it’s not quite time to heat your meat, but you can get the butter melting if you want to. So leave off what you were about to say to those splendid head-turning back pockets, turn the burner to low, and then pull out a sauce pan. But first: another hit of bourbon (or, if you’re a slow learner, the boutique beer). Ah, there is a God (or not)!

Into the sauce pan goes a pint of heavy whipping cream and at least a tablespoon of nutmeg. Crushed red pepper too. The other half-stick of butter wouldn’t be unwelcome in the pan. Bring it slowly to a boil, turn it down a little, and let it thicken. Stir. Sip. Sing along. You’re searchin’ for a heart of gold—or, having already found one, a way to turn the round steak to good account.

As the sauce thickens and the water for the pasta comes to a boil, it’s time to get serious about the timing. You’ve probably already made a salad from the late fall greens out back—something else for the green-averse youngster to object to (little monster will probably develop an affection for such offensive combinations as maize and blue)—and so you’re into the home-stretch here. Into the pan goes the meat. You move it about with a wooden spatula until it begins to brown on the outside, at which time you’ve got to put the angel-hair pasta in. Six minutes to Charlie, as they used to say at the 4077.

Sample a piece of the buttery meat. If it’s red in the middle, you don’t want it over the heat much longer. Take it off soon, a minute ago if possible, and put it in a covered serving dish. It’s still going to cook a little, and you don’t want it cooking much more. God didn’t put grass-eating cattle on this earth so man could kill, carve up, and cook the flavor out of the poor ugly beasts. Onto the table it goes, mooing and chewing its cud the while. It’s plenty done.

Into the strainer goes the pasta, then into a bowl. Over the pasta goes the lovely nutmeggy cream sauce. Mix it all together and cover it. Grated asiago cheese stands by. Everyone’s going to get a pile of pasta topped generously with small pieces of perfectly undercooked round steak sprinkled with grated cheese.

This ain’t Chateaubriand with béarnaise or a wine-and-shallot sauce, but you’ve turned the round steak to good account. All you need is a fairly assertive red wine to make you forget what more wasteful (and waistful) beefeaters are having. That and another roll of the eyes from you-know-who.

Meanwhile, out in the freezer, converted grass and sunlight rest poised and cold and ready.

And you still get to clean up! Clear the kitchen, pour yourself a snifter of brandy, and crank up a requiem. Make it Brahms, not Britten—in honor of your having avoided boiled beef.

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