It’s summer and the craving for steak has never been higher. All my fellow carnivorous foodies know a quality steak can’t be the main attraction without a side dish to compliment it.
For many of us, steaks aren’t a Monday to Sunday kind of meal, so when you make them - whether you pan fry, grill, reverse sear, slow cook or coal-roast - you have to diversify with the perfect side dish.
I sat down with two of Johannesburg’s top chefs, David Higgs, cookbook author, My Kitchen Rules presenter, and chef and co-owner of fine dining restaurants, Marble and Saint, and an advocate for true provenance, Chef James Diack, chef and owner of Il Contadino, La Stalla, Douglas and Hale, Coobs and The National. They had plenty of ideas for a steak-filled summer but these were a few of my favourites.
Diack believes you can never go wrong with hand-cut chips with homemade mayo. “Potatoes are one of the most versatile vegetables there are. They taste scrumptious prepared just about any way you choose. Potatoes and steak are a match made in heaven because of their versatility; they can be mashed or whipped, and served with or without gravy,” says Diack. You can even opt for organic potatoes and a vegan mayo in the name of true provenance.
According to Diack, a good steak also goes down well with wilted baby spinach. Add garlic for more dynamism. You can even take it a step further by taking this simple yet flavoursome meal, add Kalamata olives and red onion for a Mediterranean-inspired side dish.
“In my experience, a rocket salad with Parmesan and truffle dressing will always pair well with a quality steak. Add freshly squeezed lemon juice, Dijon mustard, ground black pepper, extra-virgin oil, almonds and raisins,” says Diack.
David Higgs takes a different approach; he believes a side dish is there to enhance the flavours in the steak itself, instead of stealing the steak’s shine. His first choice is chimichurri. “Authentic Chimichurri from Uruguay and Argentina is the best accompaniment to any steak,” says Higgs. Chimichurri is a loose oil-based condiment used to accompany meats. The sauce doubles as a marinade and an accompaniment to all cuts of beef.
An unsalted butter-basted steak is also a winner. “Informally, we call this dish "steak in a pan with butter" after a scene in an early Mad Men episode, even though we never saw Betty cook the dish. The method actually comes from Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse; the basting creates an amazing crust and the frequent flipping ensures that the steak cooks evenly. Don't worry about a large amount of butter - almost all of it stays behind in the pan,” says Higgs.
Garlic is highly nutritious and has very few calories, which makes it a great option as a side to a steak. “Steaks are a great way to celebrate a special occasion, but this steak and roasted garlic butter combo gis so good, you'll end up making it normal weeknights too."