Satirist Dorothy Parker and “Joy of Cooking” author Irma Rombauer are both credited with the culinary quip that defines “eternity” as the perceived time it takes just two people to eat a whole ham down to the bone (historians can’t agree on who said it first). It’s highly unlikely that either of these ladies could have predicted just how apropos that sentiment would be circa 2020, as COVID-19 cautions are cutting Christmas dinner guest lists to include only those who share a home.

The Virginia-based Smithfield Packing Company, one of the largest pork companies in the world, says its cured country ham (typically weighing between 13 and 16 pounds) will feed 30 people, while its sweet city hams (typically 18 to 21 pounds) will feed 36. I know my family of four eaters would not be happy having ham for nine straight meals regardless of how creative a cook I am.

For this year’s holiday meal, then, I may take my Christmas ham money and splurge on a thick, local beef steak from a farmer who raises their cattle on pasture. I regularly purchase grass-fed ground beef for burgers from local beef farmers because it sustains them and the practices they employ to help reduce my meat-eating habits’ overall environmental impact. Purchasing local beef cuts down on the miles my food travels from the farm to my fork and signals my support for regenerative agricultural techniques that can help pull carbon out of the atmosphere to curtail global warming. Steaks cook more quickly, and if you top a hot one with a pat of porcini mushroom and herb compound butter, the flavored fat melds with the meat juices for an effortless sauce of sorts. The curtailed prep time lets this cook enjoy more family time by the fire.

A T-bone steak, left, and a porterhouse – the two celebratory bone-in cuts most often offered by local beef farmers. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The two celebratory bone-in cuts most often offered by local beef farmers (either sold online for farm pick-up or at socially distanced farmers markets) are T-bone and Porterhouse steaks. Sometimes, you can find a farmer like Old Crow Ranch in Durham or butchers that specialize in local meats like Maine MEat in Kittery, L & P Bisson and Sons Meat Market in Topsham, Farmer’s Gate Market in Wales, or Riverside Butcher Company that offer a cut called a cowboy ribeye steak (think a single slice of restaurant prime rib) on the bone, as well. Meat on the bone is more flavorful, and using the bones to make broth is an easy sustainable eating practice to have in your culinary repertoire. If you prefer your steak off the bone, boneless ribeyes and sirloin strip steaks are also offered by most local farmers who sell beef by the cut as opposed to by the side.

Both T-bone and a Porterhouse come from the short loin, the primal cut of the beef that sits between the ribs (where the ribeye is cut from) and the round, where tougher cuts of meat are found in the hind quarter of the animal. Both also have a “T” shaped bone with meat on both sides of it. The difference lies in the size of the pieces of meat on either side of said bone. Porterhouse steaks are cut from the rear end of the short loin and thus include more tenderloin steak, along with (on the other side of the bone) a larger strip steak. T-bone steaks are cut closer to the front and contain a smaller section of tenderloin. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Institutional Meat Purchase Specifications state that the tenderloin of a porterhouse must be at least 1.25 inches thick at its widest, while that of a T-bone must be at least 0.5 inches. The Porterhouse is the best bet for my family, as two of us prefer the filet and two prefer the strip, so four of us are satisfied with just two steaks that don’t take an eternity to eat – but still tastes like heaven.

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, recipe developer and tester, and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at [email protected]

Columnist Christine Burns Rudalevige rolls the compound butter into a log before refrigerating it. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Pan-seared Porterhouse with Porcini and Herb Butter
For a shortcut for this recipe, combine a teaspoon of Gryffon Ridge Wild Porcini Salt and a teaspoon of dried thyme with a stick of butter (4 ounces). The longer this butter sits, the better so that the dried ingredients have time to make their mark.

Serves 4

FOR THE COMPOUND BUTTER:

½ -ounce dried porcini mushrooms
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1 teaspoon minced parsley

FOR THE STEAK:

2 (1½-pound) Porterhouse steaks, brought to room temperature
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 sprigs fresh thyme

To make the butter, combine half the dried porcini mushrooms with 1 cup boiling water. Let sit until the mushrooms soften, about 15 minutes. Remove mushrooms and press into a towel to squeeze out excess liquid. Roughly chop reconstituted mushrooms and set aside. Save the mushroom broth to use in soup.

Rudalevige blends the compound butter in a Mexican molcajete. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Add remaining dry mushrooms to a food processor and pulse them into a powder. Add butter, salt, thyme, parsley and chopped reconstituted mushrooms. Pulse until well blended. Transfer compound butter to a piece of parchment, roll it into a log shape, wrap the paper around the butter log, and twist the ends to seal the bundle. Place in the refrigerate for 1 hour to 2 days.

When you are ready to cook the steak, preheat oven to 475 degrees.

Liberally season both sides of the steaks with salt and pepper and set aside to rest.

Place a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and butter. When the butter has melted, place steaks in the skillet. Cook the steaks for 4 minutes, without touching. Flip the steaks. Remove pan from the heat, add garlic and thyme and slide pan carefully into the oven. Bake about 5 minutes, then check doneness with a meat thermometer. I like my steak medium rare, so I pull them from the oven once an instant read thermometer stuck into the thickest part of the steaks reads 125 degrees.

Add a pat or 2 of the compound butter to the pan and let them melt into the pan juices. Spoon the buttery juices over the steaks and let them rest for 5-10 minutes.

Remove the two sections of meat from the bone and slice them thinly, topped with pan juices and thin slices of compound butter.


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