We went out last night for a bit of grub and a few pints, and we ended up in Bella Italia, the delightful Italian establishment on Limerick’s Thomas St.
I’ve always liked this place. It’s low-key and attentive at the same time. It’s not too expensive, and the grub is good. As someone who cooks a lot, I like to get good grub and I like to have it served well. There’s nothing more annoying than a restaurant that fetishises itself, but Bella Italia is far from that sort of place. They’re friendly and they’re considerate. All good.
I’d never tried the steak on a stone before, to my shame. I didn’t even know how it worked, but it’s this: – you get a seared steak delivered to your table, sitting on a roasting-hot stone and then you slice off strips which you lay on the stone and cook to your personal preference. It works. This is delicious.
But of course, I couldn’t be happy with that, and in my discomfiture, I was backed up by my daughter. You see, here’s the problem. Even though you can slice strips off the main lump of steak, it continues to sit on the stone, cooking away, which you might not necessarily want. The daughter’s solution was to request a side plate, but I can’t leave these things alone, so I got thinking. What are the essential elements of this process?
Well, obviously, it’s necessary to have a delicious steak or three. We need to have good company. We need a nice bottle of wine.
If you’re going to do this at home, you need to complete the research. On a practical level, we need to examine the physics of this thing. The stone needs to stay hot enough to cook every last strip of steak , no matter how lazy or drunk you happen to be, within reason. Therefore it needs sufficient thermal mass. How do you figure this out? It isn’t easy.
As it happened, I had one of those slabs of marble for serving hot dishes, heated by two or three candles, and I was always sceptical, though I never got a chance to try it out. The thing was only about 20 mm thick, which was fine for having a candle warm it up, but nowhere near enough to retain heat. One way or another, now we have the opportunity, so tonight I stuck it in the oven and turned the temperature up to the max, and I left it there till the oven light went out. Roasting hot.
It’s ok, but I don’t like it. The little strips of beef cooked fine on the hot stone surface, but it cooled down too quickly and that’s my point made.
This is a very nice, sociable way to share food, but based on ad-hoc experiments, I think you probably need a stone about 50mm thick, or as we used to say in the old days, two inches. Furthermore, you need a tiny trivet to keep the meat up from the stone so that it doesn’t continue to cook beyond your personal personal preference while you enjoy the conversation, which is the main point of sharing a meal after all.