Confession: I'm not good at making gravy. I haven't tried it all that much and have only about a 50% success rate. Why I opted to attempt a recipe with gravy for the first entry I can't say. I wanted to try something I didn't remember having and that wouldn't take too long. As excited as I was to get started, it's difficult to plan ahead when instructions are unclear or ar incomplete. This is going to be a running trend.
Thankfully I can sort of estimate how long it takes to sear a 1/4" piece of meat; I know potatoes will turn brown if they're grated too far in advance; if potatoes are grated and onions are sliced, carrots meant to be cooked at the same time ought to be sliced small-ish. I've grilled meat and made simple pan sauces before and I've made casseroles to be baked with seared meat on top. But I've never made this sort of thing on a stove top.
Do you know what a "blade steak" is? I sure didn't. Luckily I have a great local supermarket with knowledgeable and helpful butchers. Me: "Do you know what a pork blade steak is?" Butcher: "I'd better." Laughs all around instantly calmed my first fear surrounding this recipe. It turns out a Pork Blade Steak is sliced from Pork Butt. He said its usually quite thin (which made sense since the recipe calls for 1/4") and cooks quickly. He said he'd just grilled some the night before. Luckily it happened to be on sale that week. Bonus!
Problem number one (not knowing what a blade steak is) was solved pretty smoothly. Problem number two I would have to figure out on my own. Take a look at the instructions, after searing the steaks and removing them from the pan, "add the onions, potatoes, and carrots." Whataminute. Carrots? There are no carrots listed in the ingredients. Gulp. I estimated the volume of the sliced onions and the shredded potatoes and then sliced some carrots in about 1/2-2/3 the volume of each of those piles. I was really winging it at this point. I assumed I didn't want the carrots shredded small like the potatoes because I thought they'd cook too quickly and fall apart. I sliced them kind of chunky but in a way I didn't think Noni would've done it. It felt like the right thing to do though.
By the time to start cooking rolled around I was pretty confident I could make something edible out of the recipe and ingredients. I was so confident I suggested my husband, Jeff, invite his parents over for dinner. It was a weekend, I hadn't seen them in a while, and I knew I'd have plenty of food. Plenty of food unless I messed up in grand fashion, in which case we could just have takeout. Low stakes, no pun intended.
My in-laws are wonderfully easy-going people and they were game for the experiment. I started by prepping the carrots and onions. I washed the potatoes. Next I started searing the steaks. Uh-oh, another problem. The ingredients list "oil." The instructions never mention oil but say to sear the steaks in shortening. I assumed oil/shortening were being interchanged (probably both subbing for lard once used for this purpose). I used a little vegetable oil. It worked fine. My biggest pan held only one steak at a time so I put each finished one on a plate, tented it, and held it in a barely warm oven.
About the time my last steak went in the pan I started grating the potatoes with a box grater. I'm still not sure this was the best approach. Getting out the food processor for only two potatoes seemed excessive. Grating them by hand was only a little frantic as things on the stove were coming together but had I done it any sooner they would've turned brown. They did turn a little browner than I was hoping. I don't know what would happen if I grated them in advance, held them in water and spun them with the salad spinner when needed. I assume they would still be holding too much water. I don't know what I'll do if I attempt to make this dish again.
Into the pan went the broth (minus the 1/4 C. the ingredients say to set aside). I scraped the bits of steak off the bottom of the pan. Then added the onions, carrots (shrug), and potatoes. Gave it a stir, added the basil, and covered the pan. I probably should have turned the heat down more at this point. 45-60 minutes is a long time to cook these vegetables. I did turn it down a bit but not much lower than medium. I decided to give it 10 minutes to cook and sat down to visit with my in-laws
After 10 minutes I took a look and it wasn't pretty. Since I hadn't turned the heat down much there was a glob of potatoes/onions stuck to the bottom of the pan. More precisely the onions had melted into the potatoes and it was like a pan of hash browns speckled with carrots. I checked to be sure the bottom of the glob wasn't actually burned and was relieved to see it had merely formed a crust. Phew.
Hoping all was not lost I turned the pan heat way down & re-read the instructions. What's that? Take a look at that bit in the middle, "... cover and simmer 45 - 60 minutes, or until meat & vegetables are tender. Remove meat & vegetables ..." Remove meat? When was I supposed to put the meat back IN the pan? It's still tented in a warm oven. Of course I'd only browned each of the steaks. They were thin but they'd need more cooking. I put them back in the pan, along with the juices on the platter. I covered the pan & gave it another 10 minutes.
After the second 10 minutes I found the pan was probably cooking at a good temperature (the stuff stuck to the bottom was still not burned) and the steaks still looked moist. They looked done cooking though and I was worried they'd dry out so I buried them under the potatoes and carrots. I was 20 minutes in to this process & the instructions said to keep cooking for 45-60 minutes. I was confident the steak was cooked and the vegetables were more a pile of mush than recognizable food items so it was safe to say they were done, too.
Back on the platter went the steaks. Since I'd covered them with the vegetables they were a little messy. I topped them with the vegetable mush and it was time to make the gravy. If I hadn't been making this for The Red Box project I would've served the food like that without attempting to make gravy. It was indistinguishable from gravy as it was. Plus there weren't any juices in the pan, there weren't any yummy bits of steak left stuck to the bottom of the pan because they'd become incorporated into the vegetables. But I pressed on.
Let's take one more look at the instructions. "Combine flour and ____." That blank bit is indecipherable. Since there was no other mention of the 1/4 cup reserved broth I assumed it was to be mixed with the flour for the gravy. That's what I did. I did end up with a little gravy but it was pretty messy since there were so many bits of vegetables still left in the pan.
Since our dining table is really small I decided to serve up the plates in the kitchen. The steaks were really big and we all agreed 1/2 steak each to begin would be plenty. Onto each plate went 1/2 steak and a spoonful of vegetables. I left out the parsley entirely. It would've added some green but it didn't seem necessary. I served it with Mexican Spoon Bread, also from The Red Box. I'll be writing about that dish in a future post.
Savory Pork Steak looked nearly inedible but everyone went back for seconds. It was really delicious. There was still a whole steak left. We had plenty of food for a whole meal after work the next day.
Savory Pork Steak
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 can beef broth
4 pork blade steaks, cut 1/4 inch thick
2 medium onion, sliced
2 medium potatoes, grated
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 tablespoons flour
Snipped parsley (opt)
In skillet brown steaks on both sides in shortening. Pour off drippings. Season with salt & pepper. Reserve 1/4 cup broth. Pour remaining broth in skillet add onions, potatoes, and carrots. Sprinkle with basil, cover and simmer 45 - 60 minutes, or until meat & vegetables are tender. Remove meat & vegetables to warm serving platter to make gravy. Measure pan juices. Add water to make 1 cup. Combine flour and ____ Add to juices in pan. When thick pour over meat & vegetables.