I like barbecues. I wish I had a barbecue at home, maybe one out in the backyard, or on the balcony. I don’t have a backyard though. Or a balcony. Well, I kinda have a balcony, but once you open the front fly screen you’re off the balcony and onto the stairs leading up to the front door. So sadly no barbecue on the balcony or in the backyard.
The neighbours have no backyard either. But they’ve got a balcony though, and a barbecue on it. When they’re out there cooking steaks I sometimes sit on the stairs and look up at them cooking for an hour or two. They don’t mind. They just think to themselves “hey, there’s the neighbour sitting on the stairs looking up at us cooking on the barbie”. Then they smile and go back to flipping meat. They don’t mind when I yell out it’s time to turn the steaks over. They just think “hey, there’s the neighbour telling us to turn the steaks over”. Then they smile and turn the steaks over. It doesn’t bother them, and I reckon soon they’ll invite me up to share a steak with them. It’s early though in the whole neighbour relationship; I’ve only been here a year. But it’ll come. In the meantime I just sit on the stairs and watch them cook steaks, occasionally telling them to turn the heat down, I think I can smell something burning. They just smile at me and turn the heat down. They’re good neighbours. They don’t mind.
If I did have a balcony or a backyard, I’d get a barbecue and cook some steaks with a grilled corn salad and some steamed potatoes. The steaks are really secondary to what is an amazing salad, one made from grilled corn, coriander, peppers and red onions. Deceptively simplistic, but by adding some seasoning and a good vinaigrette, it transforms into a fresh, vibrant, and truly satisfying dish. I reckon the neighbours will like it, when they eventually invite me up.
It was during a particularly cold and wet evening, walking the streets of Melbourne looking for some dinner, that I first came across this salad. My ex and I used to play this all the time; walking the streets, looking for some dinner, the ‘Let’s Just Go For A Walk And Grab Some Dinner’ game. It started in Napier, evolved in Wellington, took a side-turn in Coffs Harbour, before hitting its stride in Melbourne.
The rules were fairly short and simple. You had to walk a long way; going up and down a hill to the other side of town scored you extra bonus points. More points awarded still if you hadn’t had breakfast or lunch before starting the walk. And best to remember the destination was not nearly as exciting as the journey. Conversations during the walk generally followed these lines:
“What about this place?” – “No”.
“This place looks nice …?” – “No”.
“Look at this, steak and potato gratin …?”
. . .
. . .
Because this was the other exciting part of the game: you never knew what magical combination of menu, decor, lighting, or alignment of the moons relative to earth would decide where dinner was to take place. It was simply the first rule that was important; you had to walk a long way.
So of course Melbourne, with its massive urban sprawl, was perhaps best suited to this game. And what fun we had, sometimes walking around for two or more hours before backtracking to where we began and eating at the restaurant I first suggested but no I guess I didn’t really want pizza again and yes I think we’ll get into that flash restaurant on the other side of town with no reservation, and yes, I understand you’re fully booked but we don’t really want to sit at the bar and wait, we think there’s another place just around the corner but no, it’s not open tonight, so let’s try that little place we walked past an hour ago, but – OH MY GOD I JUST FELL OVER I’M SO FAINT CAN WE PLEASE JUST EAT SOMETHING FOR THE LOVE OF GOD I’M STARVING AND ABOUT TO EAT OUT OF A GODDAM TRASHCAN!!!
Her: “What about that place round the corner from where we live”.
Her: “I spose I could eat some pizza.”
Me: (deep breath) “Sure, sounds good.”
It was a fun game, and we were really good at it.
But so often it was actually worth it. We loved dining out. In Napier, Pacifica was a revelation, clean, crisp linen with a refined, exciting menu, and the very first place we dined together at.
Dining in Wellington, at Citron I reveled in breaking down the officious waiter by inquiring what the mango ‘slasa’ was (a spelling error he informed me, while also noting that in the three weeks it had been there, I was only the third person to ask about it). The pea ravioli at Capitol on Majoribanks Street was our go-to dish when the walking became too much. A ham, cheese and onion toasted sandwich, washed down with piping hot filtered coffee at three in the morning from Kenny’s Cafe was a personal favourite. It was hard to forget the pork and cabbage dish at a small restaurant off Courtney Place that the waiter dropped on the table, ricocheting off the adjacent one, before half ended up in her handbag on the floor, waiting to be discovered two days later. Simply grilled fish and chips at Martin Bosley’s; slow cooked beef cheeks with cauliflower puree at Logan Brown; tuna sashimi at Matterhorn; the potato, caper and anchovy pancake from Ambeli, always with a welcome smile from Shae; a chicken broth dish at Satay Kingdom we had the first night we moved to Wellington.
Moving to Coffs Harbour in Australia, we almost took up residence at Fiasco’s, devouring pigeon dishes, aged Parmesan with honey, singing at the solo guitarist from the bar, drowning in Negronis.
In Brisbane, at e’cco, laughing at my brother devouring lamb sweet breads before telling him what they actually were, him casting the plate aside instantly, bottom lip firmly out.
In Melbourne, at Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons, we fought over their miniscule balls of chocolate served with the chocolate pots; out on the balcony at Cookie, dining without her while she was at work, a crime not soon forgotten. Our anniversary dinner at Vue de Monde: The Gastronome Tasting Menu, foolishly matched to wine; twenty courses later having been hell-bent on getting my moneys worth, literally falling down the stairs on the way out, the helpful staff’s outstretched arms saving me from too much embarrassment. The trademark smoked tomato sorbet at Movida Acqui; the charcuterie plate from Match Bar & Grill; a chocolate tart at Cumulus Inc (washed down with PX of course), and Wagyu strips cooked on our own coal burner at the table from a small restaurant in Chinatown, so memorable for the fact it was our first meal in Melbourne with a full paycheck in both our back pockets.
So sometimes the walk was all worth it; it just always took a while to get there.
So, during that cold and wet Melbourne evening, after the requisite hour or so of walking, we reached Bar Lourinhã, right at the top of Little Collins street. Ravenous, we ordered far too many tapas plates, but it was the grilled corn salad that stood out, and had me coming back again a number of times. It was so disarmingly simple; grilled corn, coriander, well seasoned and perfectly dressed in a lemon vinaigrette, with small perfectly cooked potatoes hiding at the bottom. It’s just some grilled corn, but why does it taste so damn good? Simplicity I think, which I find is always the answer to such tasty dishes. Treading a fine line in over-complicating things, I always serve this salad with a nicely cooked steak, it seems to make sense, but of course, on its own it’s almost perfect.
Steak with Grilled Corn Salad & Steamed Potatoes
(A small disclaimer first: sadly, as you may be aware, I do not own a barbecue. Corn on a hot pan inside for me I’m afraid. If you have a barbecue, I think it’s important you grill the corn on it; I hate to say this out loud but ‘Grilled Corn Salad from the Barbecue’ sounds way cooler than ‘Pan Seared Corn Salad’. If you do go the barbecue way, I couldn’t recommend a better way than to follow this technique from Rufus’ Food and Spirit Guide. Not only is it a super cool way of cooking corn, he also has a section on The Breakfast Martini, and I can’t help but respect anyone who slugs back a Breakfast Martini and lives to tell the tale. The only suggestion I’d make if following his technique is to flavour your butter with smoked paprika and cumin; otherwise get those coals burning …)
- Steak (grain-fed, pasture-fed, dry-aged, T-bone, eye fillet … it’s your steak, get one you like)
- Corn on the Cob (I really want to be the host on television who gets to say “next, you need to de-cob your corn” …)
- Potatoes (for steaming. Not sure what variety to recommend here. Me? I kinda just grab the washed ones from the supermarket. Somewhere, in some part of the world, a Potato Purist just died a little inside …)
- Red Onion
- Fresh Coriander
- Smoked Paprika
- Cumin Seeds
- Good Quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
First … A Bit of Mise En Place (“Everything in place”):
Here’s the beauty of this recipe: As far as cooking goes, in the time it takes to steam the potatoes, you should be ready to serve. But you need to get a bit of prep out of the way first. So, in no particular order, and depending on planetary alignments, here’s how I go about it.
- The Steak(s):
Get these out of the fridge if they’re not already. Remember it’s best to have them up to room temperature before cooking. I season both sides rather liberally with salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and some cumin seeds I’ve toasted off in a pan then ground down. You’ll need to set a teaspoon or so aside of the ground cumin for later. Then coat them in a small amount of olive oil and set aside.
- The Spuds:
I always go two medium sized potatoes per person. If you need more carbs serve up more, but four is just outrageous. Peel the potatoes then cover them in some cold water, ready to be steamed later on. Now’s probably a good time to get the steamer pot on the stove, heating up.
- The Corn Salad:
(Due to the sad lack of a barbecue in the household) I peel the corn, get rid of the annoying silk pieces, cut both ends off and then cut in half. From here I stand them up, and get on to de-cobbing (“next, de-cob your corn”). Try avoid cutting too close to the middle of the cob; those little bits become rather hard and unpalatable later on when eating. Set it aside when done.
Next cut the capsicum in half (use enough capsicums you think you need, I use one), get rid of the seeds and white pithy bits, then cut into a design of your choosing. I like to show off and take ten minutes julienning them with one hand whilst the other is juggling the onion. My brother is quite impressed. He doesn’t need to say it, I just know.
Next you need to peel the onion, cut in half, then into small slices lengthwise.
- About those onions … You may find, after all the struggle and effort you’ve put into getting this dish perfectly cooked, that the salad is simply over-powered by the taste of raw, hot red onions. Should you find yourself in this predicament, might I suggest you first peel then slice the onions, place in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Leave for five minutes, drain, and then place back in the bowl, this time with some ice-cubes and cold water. Leave for another five minutes, drain, pat dry, and you’re ready to rock. Just make sure the onions are sliced first before the boiling water treatment: slicing onions releases the sulphur compounds inside that cause the heat and make you cry like a baby. Ten minutes or more of work to get rid of the heat may sound excessive, but hey, at least I’m giving you options …
Set these aside with the capsicums when done. Now it’s time to get cooking.
Next … Setting the Stove Alight:
Right, three elements, two pans, one steamer, all on high.
Place the potatoes in the steamer with the lid on, and you should be able to forget about them for the next 15 minutes.
In the first pan, with a bit of olive oil floating around, start searing you steaks. How long it takes is up to you, but please, for all that is sacred in this world, no well-done beef. Please. Once you’ve cooked the steaks to your liking, rest them; at least half as long as it took to cook. Then add five minutes. Pour yourself another glass while you’re at it; this is thirsty work.
In the second pan, with a bit of olive oil and a small knob of butter, wait for some smoke, then pour the corn kernels in and relish the sweet aroma of popcorn. The idea here is to go for a fake grilled/barbecue effect without burning; lots of flipping and stirring for about five minutes. Then add to a bowl with your red onions and peppers.
Turn off the smoke alarm, if you haven’t already. Pour another glass; slosh some on the ground for any corn lost to incineration.
There, before you know it, all the cooking for this meal is done. How cool’s that?
Finally … The Finishing Touches:
Roughly chop the coriander (I use heaps) then add to the red onions, peppers and corn. Season with salt and pepper, a good dash of olive oil, a small squeeze of lemon juice at first, and roughly half a teaspoon of cumin and smoked paprika each. Mix it all about then taste. Make sure it’s zinging from the lemon juice, your tongue is salivating from the salt, listen for the smoky/jazzy tune in the background from the cumin and smoked paprika, and the olive oil should be tying it all together, keeping it tight. Adjust, taste, re-adjust. Then add a bit more salt.
That’s all there is to it. Steaks should be well rested, the potatoes cooked through, and the salad perfectly seasoned and balanced. At this point I plate up then sit on the stairs outside, hoping the neighbours might walk past and catch a glimpse of what they’re missing out on. That invite’s coming, I just know it.
I like this dish. Every time I cook it, I’m reminded that sometimes, even if you have to walk a ways, there’s always something worthwhile at the end. Hope you enjoy it.