A for Angus, B for Barzona: An Ode to Beef


A for Angus, B for Barzona: An Ode to Beef

Illustration: Akshita Monga

I’m waiting for my steak chilli burger to arrive as I bang out these words. The menu clearly stated that steak meant buffalo. Buffalo. Buff-fucking-alo.

It’s at times like these that I miss the cow. I miss the fatty, rich, sometimes unctuous, flavour-laden gifts that that animal bears. It isn’t as if there is a shortage of the animal. The ungulate seems to be everywhere these days – capturing our national imagination like none other before it. It is at the centre of controversies in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal as the keepers of our conscience try to dictate what we can and cannot eat.

Sometimes I lie awake at night to go through my fondest beefy memories. My first brown, crusty medium-rare steak, caramelised on the outside blushing pink on the inside. Standing in the kitchen with my late grandmother, figuring out the intricacies of a proper Goan beef roast. The succulent, artery-clogging greasiness of bade ka paaya or beef trotters at a dinky hole-in-the-wall in Bhendi Bazaar. The velvety, silken smooth sexiness of my very first beef-marrow crème brûlée.

When all this makes me too hungry, I recite my cow alphabet. A for Angus, B for Barzona, C for Charolais, D for Devon. Reciting my alphabet soothes me to sleep.

During my chef days, I’ve tasted some fine A5 Wagyu and some really good USDA Prime Grade 1, stuff that’s never been available in India. But even without having the fancy cuts at my disposal, beef has saved me several times – right from a seared and rested medium-rare steak to some cote de boeuf cooked low and slow in an oven and thrown on a plate with some fries. There’s nothing that I’ve done with beef that hasn’t given my diners and me absolute joy.

Those days are sadly behind us.

Go out and score some beef, it’s illegal so you’ll need to find a dealer and be real careful about it.

My buffalo burger has arrived. My sadness knows no bounds. As I get down to eating this miserable excuse of a meal, let me leave you a recipe that has been the source of great happiness.

Lives At Steak

Step 1: Go out and score some beef, it’s illegal so you’ll need to find a dealer and be real careful about it. Give him the signal and get about 200 gm of tenderloin or undercut per portion. Have the dealer trim off most of the fat and other craggy bits and cut it into steaks. “Bad Boys” by Inner Circle (the theme from Cops) would make a perfect soundtrack to your score.

Step 2: Head home, check to see that no saffron-clad nut job or khaki-clad pandu followed you. Lock your doors. If the meat is dirty, give it a rinse. Now place those chunks on a cutting board or plate, flatten them slightly, and sprinkle liberally with rock salt and fresh cracked black pepper on both sides. (Fresh cracked pepper is not Keya and not the other junk you buy at Nature’s Basket.) Grab a heavy-bottomed frying pan and preheat the oven.

Step 3: In this heavy-bottomed pan, put in about three tablespoons of butter on medium-high heat (don’t replace the butter with Sunflower oil). Wait for it to go nice and foamy and a little brown, but don’t burn it. Ignore the annoying girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse to shut up about the quantity of butter. Once it stops foaming and smells a bit nutty, gently put in the beef, two steaks at a time, along with half a head of smashed garlic and some fresh thyme.

Step 4: The meat should sizzle, and don’t, I mean DO NOT fuck with it. Let it go. All the while keep spooning the melted butter onto the steak. It takes practice, but do this and you’re on your way to a culinary epiphany. After about three minutes, there should be a nice brown crust that forms on the steak. Now gently flip it and do the same stuff to the other side. Once that is done, slide it into the oven for 8-10 minutes. If you don’t have an oven, continue cooking in the pan and flip it twice more allowing three minutes on either side.

Step 5: Take it out of the oven/pan onto a clean plate, not the one you used earlier to salt the meat. Cover with foil and let it rest for five minutes. This is important. Now mix up a salad and apologise to the person you were earlier ignoring.

The Final Step: Take off the silver foil, put it on a nice-ish plate with the salad next to it, and spoon some of the liquid from the pan over the meat. Sit back and enjoy.

As is protocol, with any in-house culinary endeavours, you might feel compelled to Instagram this. Word of caution: Don’t. There’s a lot at steak when it comes to eating beef.