I admit it, I am a stupidly huge fan of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series. For those not several books deep already, The Dresden Files is about a modern day wizard named Harry who operates a private investigator-type business in Chicago. Harry Dresden does not as much solve mysteries as he falls, stumbles, and breaks through them with style. Armed with magic, creativity of a looney toon, and snark in spades, he acts as the link between the human and supernatural world, sometimes as a blessing and a bane to both.
In the never-ending battles between warlocks and wizards, winter and summer court faeries, and the vampires among everyone, it is good to know there is somewhere that anyone of the above can get a decent drink in peace. Enter McAnally’s Pub, a bar and grill that not only caters to residents of Chicago’s supernatural community, but acts an official neutral territory for members of their “Accorded Nations”, so to speak. Dresden describes the place in Small Favor as having “thirteen tables in the room, and thirteen wooden pillars, each extensively carved with scenes mostly out of Old World fairy tales. The bar is crooked and has thirteen stools, and thirteen ceiling fans whir lazily overhead. The setup of the entire place is designed to diffuse and refract random magical energies, the kind that often gather around practitioners of magic when they’re grumpy or out of sorts. It offers a measure of protection from accumulated negative energies, enough to make sure that annoying or depressing “vibes,” for lack of a more precise term, don’t adversely affect the moods and attitudes of the pub’s clientele.”
Mac, the owner of the pub, is a bit of a wizard himself (although not literally) with cooking and brewing. His homebrewed beer, in many varieties and yet always packaged with unmarked brown bottles, is nothing but magical. Dresden describes him as a “master beeromancer” and his beer as “microbrewed liquid nirvana”. Most are dark, rich ales full of flavor and best served room temperature. On the gastronomic side, his specialties are steak and steak sandwiches. So for today’s inspired recipe, I’m going to create a steak sandwich worth serving at Mac’s.
Putting this recipe together was a little more difficult than I was anticipating. Since I moved outside Atlanta’s perimeter last year, the grocery stores have been sorely lacking in selection. Ideally, I would have liked to use hanger steak. If you’ve never had it, it’s the cut of meat that hangs from the diaphragm of a steer. It has a dark, almost game-like flavor, and melts like butter on the tongue when marinated and cooked rare. Unfortunately I live in Georgia, and the butchers (not Jim) at three different grocery stores told me that it’s only a Northeast and Western cut. Skirt steak, however, has a similar flavor, but it is a bit tougher cut of meat and it’s necessary to marinate it at least 24 hours to get the proper tenderness. Since I figure Mac is a bit of an old fashioned chef, I am cooking this on a cast iron griddle (though I’m sure he makes accommodations for his iron-sensitive fae and changeling customers).
The next tough step was finding a beer to marinate the meat in. After searching all three stores and growing increasingly frustrated with Atlanta’s obsession with IPA’s, I finally decided on using Goose Island’s Honkers Ale. This beer is an English Style Bitter Ale made by a brewery in Chicago. I’ve always been more a fan of ales, stouts, and Belgian beers. Why anyone would want to drink beer that taste like stewed and chilled skunk stink is beyond me. Of course, if you can’t find Honkers Ale, I would recommend you try using rich Belgian-style beers like Gulden Draak or Piraat (since there is a fan-theory that Mac used to be one of the Grigori, the angelic choir who taught monks how to brew beer), a scotch ale like Innis and Gunn, or even a nut ale or a oatmeal stout. I’d even recommend mixing beers until you get the flavor that best reminds you of the subject material.
So here it is, my friends, my interpretation of Mac’s Steak Sandwich: Ale and Herb-Marinated Skirt Steak on Sourdough with Asiago, Mushrooms and Caramelized Shallots.
Steak Sandwich á la McAnally
Equipment: Cast iron griddle, 8-10 inch saute pan, stove top, toaster oven or oven.
- Large loaf of sourdough or rustic bread
- 1 lb skirt steak
- 1/4 cup fresh rosemary, loosely packed
- 3-5 sprigs worth fresh thyme leaves
- 2 sage leaves, chiffonade
- 12 oz stout or brown ale
- 1/8 cup olive oil
- 1 Tbs minced garlic
- 2 shallots
- 4-6 white mushrooms
- asiago cheese
- black pepper
- cooking spray
- unsalted butter
- The day before you plan on cooking, put together the marinade in a ziploc bag – garlic, rosemary, sage, thyme, olive oil, and beer. Swish the contents of the bag until mixed before adding the skirt steak. Seal bag and marinate in fridge overnight.
- Take marinade bag out of fridge at least one hour before cooking to allow it to come to room temperature. In the meantime, peel and finely dice shallots, slice enough bread for 2-4 sandwiches, slice mushrooms.
- Start heating cast iron griddle and pan on high heat. Set the vent hood fan on high (you might even may want to crack the nearest window). Spray the skillet with cooking spray and add 1 tablespoon of butter to the pan.
- When the butter melts, add the shallots to the pan and allow to cook. Remove steak from marinade, do not discard the bag yet. Season both sides of the steak with black pepper and a generous amount of salt.
- When the griddle is hot, place the steak on it with a pair of tongs. Pour a big splash of marinade over the shallots, add the mushrooms to the pan and stir. Flip the steak when it has browned with a little char.
- Cook steak to rare or medium rare doneness. Remove from the griddle and allow to rest for at least 15 minutes on a cutting board.
- When most of the liquid has cooked off of the shallots (they will start smelling sweet and fragrant), remove pan from heat and set aside.
- Lightly toast the bread in the toaster or toasted oven, or cook on both sides on the still hot griddle. Distribute shallot and mushroom mixture on one half of each sandwich.
- Slice asiago cheese and melt on top of the other sandwich halves under a low broil in the oven or toaster oven.
- Slice steak on the grain, and layer however much you like on the shallot and mushroom sides. You will most likely have leftovers.
- Top with asiago halves and serve.