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Chi Spacca Pepper Steak

Nancy Silverton

Lesson time 24 min

Join Nancy with Chi Spacca’s executive chef, Ryan, as they both share the techniques, secrets, and inspiration behind their dramatic and famous Chi Spacca Pepper Steak: a special pepper-crusted steak served with bacon and charred scallions.

Students give this lesson an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

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– We’ve talked about the stress in a kitchen, stress in running a restaurant. There’s a lot of moving parts. So what’s the key? How do you lessen that stress? You lessen that stress with really creating a restaurant family that you can depend on. I’m sure that you have seen how many people I have that help me so that I can do what I do . I don’t do it by myself, believe me. So I’m obviously not in my home kitchen. We are in the kitchen of Chi Spacca. One of my three restaurants and I’m here with Ryan DeNicola. Ryan is the chef at Chi Spacca. We cook together, we wrote a book together, we argue together, we travel together. But today, Ryan and I are gonna show you how to make really one of my favorite dishes at Chi Spacca, which is the pepper steak. A lot of the meats that we do here tend to be a larger format and they tend to be served alongside or on the bone. And so, when two people come in for dinner, sometimes it’s difficult to choose a meat because the portion size can be oftentimes large. So I’ve made it a point to nag Ryan to add simpler meats or smaller portion meats that two people or a single diner can enjoy by themselves and this is an example of one. Today we’re gonna use our wood burning grill because most of the food that comes out of Spacca either is roasted in our oven or off of our wood burning grill. All right, where do we start Ryan? – So start by charring the scallions. – [Nancy] Do you mean all these? – [Ryan] Yeah, yeah we need quite a bit. – [Nancy] So you’re gonna chop them up. – [Ryan] We’re gonna chop ’em pretty decently sized pieces. – [Nancy] But it’s a pretty rough chop. – Very rough chop. You have to keep it whole because otherwise it’s gonna fall through the grate of the basket. – How come you cut them and char them rather than char them and cut them. – We get more of that smoky flavor more char on it from putting in the basket and cutting like this. Otherwise they kind of almost start to wilt and as they grill and it doesn’t quite get that nice char on it. – [Nancy] Are you gonna toss them in a bowl with olive oil? – Yep. – All right. – You want any salt? – Yes. – I’m gonna grab some Maldon while we’re at it too. Do you trust me? – Yes, with this, yes. – [Nancy] Okay. – [Ryan] Put a little olive oil. – [Nancy] Good? – Yeah, pass me the tongs. – Yeah. Here you go. – And then here we got a grill basket. This is one of the keys to cooking vegetables on the grill is using a grill basket. – And they sell it as a grill basket or do you just improvise? – No, this is sold as a grill basket, these days you can get a bunch of them. The key is to get a kind of a wire fine mesh one, a lot of them aren’t quite that fine. We’re gonna grill it and kinda shake it around so that, actually a nice little bit of flame. – You need a lot of cracked black pepper You wanna do that while I chop my parsley? – Yep. – Or while I chop your parsley since this is your lesson. – All right, while Nancy chops the parsley, I’ll show you the way we do our black pepper here at Spacca. So, I got a flat bottom pan and spread the pepper in a single layer on cutting board, and big cutting board is key. Just use all your force to crush it down. The key is with this, you could use a spice grinder or blender but then you can’t guarantee it’s not gonna be finely ground- – Yeah, I – – So by the time it cooks, to grind with a spice grinder or blender is gonna be completely pureed and it’ll end up making a paste on the steak itself which is my nightmare. – I really don’t like when the cooks use a spice grinder to grind pepper when we want it to be coarse, which is most of the time. Now, if it’s a fine grind of pepper, a spice grinder is okay. – But I know you well, I don’t think I’ve ever used fine pepper grind for you. – Or white pepper. – Yeah . That’s all the parsley? – Yeah. – Can I- and just chopped rough like that, right? – Yeah, that’s fine. – Can I put it right in the bowl? – Yeah absolutely. If you see, this is like very kinda coarsely ground pepper. Big chunks of it and it makes it so that when you put on the grill, it actually toasts on the steak itself. Half is going on the steak and half is gonna go into the sauce as well. – [Nancy] How are the onions? – [Ryan] Perfect. – [Nancy] So what are you doing? You’re just grilling them till– – Just there’s nice char. – Charred, soft right? – A little bit softer yeah. Do you want to chop some garlic for me. Oh you already got them. – [Nancy] So not too hot of a grill right now right? – [Ryan] No, right now it’s– – [Nancy] Start it on the lower grill. – Onions are nice and charred. We’re gonna take them out of the basket and put them right in the same bowl that Nancy was using for the parsley. – [Nancy] Ryan can I just add this garlic? – Yeah. – [Nancy] Is that a good amount? – Yeah, it’s perfect. Next we’re gonna cook the bacon for the bacon and scallion toppings for the steak. We want a big chunk of bacon come lardons because we wanna be able to keep the actual meatiness of the bacon itself. So you want to have the bacon be cooked as large as possible so that when you chop it up, it still has substance. Whereas if you take the thinly sliced bacon you get at the store, it’ll just kinda disintegrate. You won’t have that meatiness. We’re gonna saute it in a saute pan. Just big chunks of smoked bacon. You can also do this in the oven but just for ease, if you’re in a home, sauteing in a saute pan is easy too. – And this is a applewood smoked bacon. You don’t wanna necessarily buy the pre-sliced bacon that comes in packages ’cause it’s ordinarily not thick enough, right? – If possible. – Every once in a while I’ve seen at certain specialty stores like extra thick bacon that is sliced but other than that, go to the deli counter right, and – Ask him for slab. – Ask him for slab. – Ask for slab bacon. Cut a – Half an inch? – Half an inch thick? – Yeah, half an inch thick. But also if you think about it, it’s kind of a take on like almost a baked potato, scallion, bacon, chives. Like it has all that kind of that flavor you get from that and all that comes together in a really nice like beautiful topping for the steak itself. – Good. Do they not take the- – Skin off? – Yeah. – I never do . – We’re just gonna try to render out most of the fat. Get a little caramelization on the outside of it to make sure that it’s not chewy in the middle and so really looking for just a little bit of golden brown on the outside, which we’re almost there. Probably about seven to ten minutes. – All of my cooks will all attest to the fact that I am not a crisp bacon person at all. I do not like my bacon crisp. But I like it cooked but I still like it, chewy but not burnt and in this case, we’re cooking the bacon lardons. – Yeah. – So they are chewy, not burnt. – That chewy fat is one of the biggest reasons you use the slab bacon because with the thin slices, you can’t get that chewy fat it’s almost impossible. – When you overcook bacon, I think you cook out the flavor and you render all of that fat out of it. – Bacon is pork belly which is mostly fat and so the beauty in it is the fat itself and that’s why they cure it for a while with sugar and salt and then smoke it over applewood to get all that flavor in there. I mean, fat absorbs all that smoke flavor and so when you burn it or when you cook it crisp, you’re just getting rid of all that. Whereas when you have these beautiful big chunks of fat, it’s like, you gotta take advantage of those. We are almost done here. – I think that’s good. – This is good, yeah this is really nice. – ‘Cause it’s gonna continue cooking a little bit in the pan. – We’re gonna put the bacon on the cutting board and we’re gonna pour the rendered fat into the bowl itself. – So you are adding the bacon fat rather than an oil. – If your bacon doesn’t render out enough, you can use olive oil. – But this is gonna this gonna have much more flavor. – We’re gonna pour that bacon fat in there and it’s cooled down so it’s not too hot. Do you wanna use a spatula? – Yeah. – [Ryan] See, that kinda helps bind the entire thing. – Yeah. No, it’s a great flavor already. All right, chop it up. – I’m gonna chop up the bacon. – Let’s go. – Not too much because you still want substantial pieces of bacon. You still want these nice big chunks. – [Nancy] Right but if you had started with the bacon already cut, very small. – It would be crispy just like we were talking about we don’t want. – Thank you very much. – All right, so just a rough chop. I’m gonna take this and pour it into the bowl. – Great, do I get pepper? – Yep. Get half of this. – I don’t remember, did I salt this? No? – No. – But the bacon has quite a bit of salt. – Okay, all right I’ll be careful. Wow, that’s a lot of pepper. – Yep, it’s a pepper steak. – Oh, a little bit of lemon. – Yeah, and lemon too. – Like half a? – Yeah half a lemon. Do you want to try this to make sure it’s- – Of course I do. Ah, I’ll use my fingers. – Okay, perfect . – Oh, I love the lemon. – Right? – But I still think that needs a little salt. – Yep, I agree. – Kosher? – Yeah, kosher salt. – I think I need to try it again. Wow, that’s peppery. Are you using all that pepper? – For the pepper steak itself. I mean, we’ll see, we’re not sure yet. We’ll see in a second. – Right. – Speaking of, we gotta season the steak. – Oh okay, let me go grab them. These steaks have been sitting out for? – [Ryan] 20 or 30 minutes or so. – Just to come up a little bit up to temp. – Yep, all meat should be cooked from room temperature. You cook a cold steak, the middle is gonna cook a lot slower than if it were warm. If it’s room temperature, it’ll come to temp a lot more evenly and a lot quicker as well. And so, we’re gonna season with a little bit of olive oil just to cover, just to kinda help everything stick to it. – Both sides? – Yep, yeah. – It’s ready to go. – It’ll be cold in the middle that which is definitely most important to do when you cook my steak because my steak needs to be super rare, right? – Yeah, exactly, exactly. – But like for instance, braising a short rib, it doesn’t really matter if it’s room temperature or not. – [Ryan] I’m sure you’re cooking all the way through. – Yeah, exactly. Okay, salt? – Yep, salt. – How heavily do you, I mean I know how I do. – I do a little bit less just because this is salty itself. – You know what you salt it because when we do our ribeye over at the Osteria, it’s much heavier than ours. – And then lots of black pepper. – That I can help. – So this is a New York. These are cut into small eight ounce New Yorks. New York is from the loin. Really what we like about it is it has a nice chew to it. Ribeye is much fattier but a New York has a nice amount of marbling in the middle of it but then also has more of a chew to it and that’s really what we like about it. We’ve done this with several different steaks. You can do New York, you can do filet. We actually at the restaurant often do it with ribeye cap. So which is the very top of the ribeye, so you can do this with anything, New York is very available and it’s easy to find in stores and I really like to chew to it. So, oftentimes I tell my cooks to cover the whole steak with pepper, so you can’t even see the steak but that’s only because I know that half it’s gonna fall off. We actually use our grill very differently here at Chi Spacca. We have a direct side and an indirect side. The left side of our grill is loaded with wood. The right side is kinda used for indirect cooking ’cause we do large cuts of meat. But you can see the fire coming through on the grill itself. That’s a really nice side – On that side not on this side? – Yeah, on the left side, it’s about 800 degrees or so but we also using wood fires, it’s a little stronger. But when we’re doing a thin cut like this, we wanna be as hot as possible because we wanna get that sear on the outside, get that char, without having the inside cook too much. So if it’s a lower temperature by the time you get that sear, the inside’s gonna be overdone. So we wanna to get this as hot as possible so we can get a nice sear on it and then be able to get that sear on both sides without the inside being overcooked to that point. But that’s also why we really like using wood fire. I mean, all of Nancy’s restaurants, well yeah, every restaurant is wood fire. I mean you have to. – Ready? – Yup. – So now we’re gonna sear the steaks or grill the steaks, directly over the fire. – Not touching? – Not touching. – [Nancy] So you wanna leave space in between the steaks? – [Ryan] Absolutely. And if you see them start to flare up like this, it’s not something you want. So I’m gonna move them a little bit just to control the amount of fire they’re getting. – [Nancy] And that’s from the oil? – Yep, that’s from the oil. The idea of grilling or barbecuing is that all the grease from whatever you’re grilling is going down and hitting the wood or the source of fire and then pushing heat back up to it, so you don’t really want the grease to be burning it, you want the wood to be burning to do it. If you put them together, if you have them like too close together, there’s gonna be no room between it for it to actually have air to breathe, ’cause the fire needs air to breathe. So if it doesn’t do that, it’ll start to basically heat up the liquid in the meat itself and it’ll start to steam and you won’t get a char like you can see this right here has a beautiful char on the outside of it and you can even feel the crust, but if you have them right next to each other, it won’t do that, it’ll steam. The fire is really hot and it’s a fatty steak so I’m just trying to make sure that they don’t get too much flame itself. – We have heat, just like we have in a stove, but we have no knobs. It presents a problem. So you have to use the flames of a fire, just like you would use a stove, turning the flame down, in this case moving it to a slightly cooler spot. But you have to use your what, your intuition. – Senses, yeah. – And your senses, right? And so we’re moving around that area but I think Ryan will agree with me what you wanna do is you want to make sure it’s cooked evenly on both sides. I know that when I grill, I tend not to keep going back and forth on each side but sometimes you have to. – Well, these steaks are so thin and it’s such a hot grill, you all saw it only took a minute or two to sear them. But knowing the zones your grill is one of most important parts because if you know your zones even though this is wood fire, we can control it. You control it by knowing which sides hotter so I know the bottom down here is not quite as hot. So I start up here probably get a nice sear, and I move them to the bottom to make sure that they kind of cook evenly. – But not over here at the coolest part of the grill. – But at this point I am gonna start moving them over there. – [Nancy] Okay. – [Ryan] Then I’m looking for the char cause I know that it’s such a thin piece of meat, not so thin but it’s a thinner piece of meat that I’m not as much worried about the cook on the inside. I wanna get the char and then I’ll leave it to the side and let it kinda rest for a while. – What I’m looking for is the give on it. Now this is something that’s hard to put into words. It only comes through the amount of steaks you overcooked- Or undercooked – To realize what that feel is. People sometimes equate a rare steak with this part, right? – Yeah. – So when you touch that fleshy part of what the fatty part next to your thumb, I don’t even know what that thing is called. But whatever that thing is called that feeling, for a rare steak, you should feel here and right now, it’s a little flabbier than it should be. But, and I think this is something that’s really important. I think that there’s a lot of cooks out there that feel that it’s cheating, if they use an instant read. So this is an instant read thermometer and if you come and eat at Spacca and you sit in the counter and you’re really able to see all the cooks cook, you will not see a piece of meat coming off the grill or out of the oven without us taking a temp first. – Our steaks are too expensive to take a risk on. So I mean when we’re doing three fingers thick steaks, those are essentially roasts. No master chef or anybody can claim that they can temp a roast with their fingers, you know what I mean, that doesn’t work. So honestly, my cooks they pull off their steaks to check them and they’re almost always right. They almost always pull them off at the correct time. But I wanna make sure that because people are paying $200 plus for their steak. So first, I don’t want my cooks to mess it up ’cause it’s expensive to mess up. And two I don’t wanna charge a guest for something that’s not perfect, so that’s why we use a thermometer. – Now, in the case of these New Yorks for the pepper steak, we don’t want them rare, we want the mid rare correct? – Yes. – Our temperatures are a little bit different than, well, “a little bit,” a lot different than what most people do. – Why don’t you take the temp of both because look at that. – Yeah we do that thin one too yep. So I’m looking for about 110, 115 because I know it’s gonna rest to around 125. So right now this is 110, so it’s like perfect. So I’m gonna take it off and let it rest. The thin ones are really hard because they’re already hotter inside. – [Nancy] About 110, 115. – Yeah, so these steaks you see need to rest off the grill for about five minutes, then we’re gonna slice them up and serve them with the topping. – Why do we rest our meats before we slice them? – So the simple answer is you’re really allowing all the meat fibers to relax, which allows the juices in the meat to disperse. I like to compare it to a towel. When it’s hot, all those fibers are wound up real tight and if you cut into that, it just releases all the juices right away and so what you end up getting is this steak where it’s really rare in the middle and the outside has what I call the gray area of death, where you get a steak and it’s rare in the middle, but the outside is completely gray and well done. We’re trying to get the most evenly cooked piece of meat possible so if you allow the meat to relax, and those juices to disperse, you’ll have a medium rare steak the entire way through. – I’m gonna grab the platter. Is that too big? – No that’s perfect. – Okay, I’m just gonna put a little bit of this just on the bottom of the plate so that person that gets that last slice of steak can just scoop up the rest of that topping. – And I’m going to slice the steaks and there’s a little bit of though that goes into it when you slice the steak. Now that it’s rested, you can see there’s very little juice that comes off of it, ’cause all of it is in the meat itself, there’s little grains that run certain ways in the steak. You see it’s running this way, right now. So we’re gonna slice against it. Now I can do like kind of a diagonal, just to make it look like nice pieces of meat and you can see how beautiful this is cooked. – [Nancy] And no juices are coming out. – [Ryan] Yeah, exactly. – Doesn’t mean it’s dry. – Nope. – It means that they are redistributed. – Yeah. – [Nancy] Since each piece of meat has like its own unique shape. Let’s not try to put it together in a line, let’s kinda just do sections. – [Ryan] So again, you can see these grains running in the meat, so we’re gonna slice against it. – Oh, I’m having this one. I’m not gonna plate this as if this was one giant piece of meat that we just sliced and we would lay out. In this case since each one has its own shape, it’ll look awkward together. So I’m just sort of randomly placing each piece on the platter in it’s sliced form. – [Ryan] To show off the shape, you’re trying to show off the shape. This is making me hungry. Right, there? – Right here just coming out. oh wow, perfect. And you know what’s great about this I have to say, I know that when I have people over, everybody has a different temp that they want their steak cooked at. So this is perfect, right? Mine is gonna be right here. My friend Margy, she’ll be here. My daughter over here, oh no, she doesn’t eat meat anymore, her husband over here. Okay, so I’m gonna- I’m just gonna pile it. I love plenty but I still like to see the meat below, agreed? – Yeah all of your plates always have layers but you can always see everything below it. Nancy always tells me not to be cheap, And you’re not, no. – [Ryan] To put plenty on . – It’s perfect. I’m gonna spoon some around. – Yep. Next what? Chives? – Chives and pepper, either way. – Great and then more pepper? Not at all, I’m not adding anymore. – Just a little bit more, just a little bit more. – [Nancy] That’s pepper, great. – That’s it. – Excellent.

About the Instructor

James Beard Award-winning chef, best-selling cookbook author, and the restaurateur behind Michelin-starred Mozza, Nancy Silverton takes viewers on a journey from her home in Panicale, Italy, to her home in Los Angeles. Viewers learn a range of Nancy’s renowned dishes, including her signature Caesar Salad, Chi Spacca Pepper Steak, 10+ vegetarian dishes, Mom’s Apple Pie, and more.

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