Cooking with Fire
Maitre d’hotel butter was one of the few compositions from the professional French chef’s repertoire simple enough to cross the line into American home cooking. A century and a half ago, it was the go-to accompaniment for tender grilled beefsteak, and it’s still fabulous today.
Period recommendations were to cut steaks a minimum of 3/4 of an inch thick, or up to twice as thick if preferred. Nineteenth-century cooks did not share the modern love for (some might say obsession with) grill marks on food, and did their best to avoid them. They might encase lamb chops in paper, or turn a filet mignon every ten seconds in an effort to keep the meat from getting those telltale lines. Although I don’t particularly care about grill marks, I am otherwise a product of my own times, and I do like a good sear on meat. My drill is to set it on a clean, super-hot grill and not touch it until turning in 4 or 5 minutes, and then, after a similar interval on the B-side, to remove it to a hot platter for a brief rest before serving.
Naturally, you needn’t have a cookstove to make this; any sort of grill or gridiron over hardwood coals will do.
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Let the beef come to room temperature while you cultivate a bed of very hot coals, and then preheat a clean grill over it.
Mash the butter in a small bowl with the lemon juice, shallot, parsley, and plenty of salt and pepper to taste.
Salt and pepper the steaks all over. Place on the very hot grill of your woodstove (or any very hot grill), and cook to desired doneness, turning once with tongs. (Feel free to experiment with the every-ten-seconds technique if you have filets.) Let rest on a hot platter for 3 to 5 minutes. Spread with the compound but-
ter, and serve. If you have a porterhouse, carve so that each diner receives some each of the loin and tenderloin.