I recently had the opportunity to attend the “Visit Omaha Steak Lover’s Virtual Media Tour” with fellow International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) members. This informative webinar was sponsored by Omaha Steaks and hosted by Tracie McPherson, director of communications for Visit Omaha (the Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau). Three highly regarded local chefs shared their tips and techniques on how to cook the perfect steak – using steaks from the venerable Omaha Steaks brand.
Visit Omaha introduced us to a city with charm, vibrancy, and a colorful history. Did you know Nebraska's capital boasts North America’s largest indoor rainforest, complete with waterfalls and small apes called gibbons? Or that the Desert Dome (13 stories tall) is the world’s largest indoor living desert? There's also an active visual and musical arts community here..
Furthermore, through the years Omaha has made a name for itself in food history. It’s the birthplace of the Reuben sandwich (invented at the Blackstone Hotel by Reuben Kulakovsky), Butter Brickle ice cream; the first cake mix on the market, Duncan Hines; and the TV dinner (Swanson).
Not a lot of Americans know all that, but what many do recognize is a brand that takes its name from the city itself: juicy, succulent Omaha Steaks. The backstory is that from 1955 to 1973 was the USA’s largest livestock and meatpacking center. It all began in 1862, when several local businessmen were convinced by a Wyoming rancher to create a stockyard as a feed station for western cattle before they headed east to Chicago. That was also the year Congress passed the Pacific Railroad Act, signed by President Lincoln, which provided funds to build railroads from the Missouri River to the Pacific, enabling Omaha to became a railway hub. Near the end of the 1890s, father and son J.J. and B.A. Simon immigrated to Omaha from Latvia. A few years later, in 1917, they opened a butcher shop which eventually became Omaha Steaks International. They expanded to mail order in the 1950s, and as child I remember my mother would fill out the Omaha Steaks mail order form - and by the end of the week, I knew we’d be having a fantastic steak dinner. Omaha Steaks is currently operated by the fifth generation of the Simon family.
Chef Nick Strawhecker (left), an Omaha native, is the chef/owner of Dante Pizzeria , located in the historic Old Market area. This downtown neighborhood, with its original turn-of-the century cobblestone streets, has an abundance of restaurants, upscale shops and galleries, and an energetic art-and-music scene. Dante is one of only a few wood-fired Neapolitan pizza restaurants in the country certified by the Italian government. A graduate of Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, he completed a Master Chef’s program at the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners and continued his training in Tuscany. Chef Strawhecker’s restaurant is a100-percent scratch kitchen with a menu that specializes in local, seasonal ingredients. And here's Nick's recipe for an Omaha Steak 20-ounce bone-in ribeye:
Remove steak from the refrigerator about two hours before cooking (tempering the meat to absolute room temperature will allow the steak to cook evenly). Although in his demonstration Chef Strawhecker heated the cast-iron pan in the restaurant’s wood-fire oven, home cooks should place their cast iron pan in a 450-degree oven, and when sufficiently hot add about one tablespoon of olive oil. and swirl the pan to coat it with the oil.
Season one side of the steak with cracked pepper and salt (Diamond Crystal, if possible; Nick likes the texture of Diamond Crystal and the crust it makes on the steak). Place the steak seasoned side down into pan, then season the top side with salt and pepper. Place it back in oven and cook for 4½ minutes (for a one- to1¼-inch steak). Turn the steak over and cook for another minute and 15 seconds. Remove pan from oven and add a pat of butter, minced garlic, and a sprig of rosemary. Use a large spoon to sashay the butter over the steak, basting for about a minute (this imparts more flavor and adds a nice color to the meat). The internal temperature should be 125 degrees for medium rare. Let the steak rest at least 10 minutes (or up to an hour), and cut across the grain. Chef Strawhecker likes to make steak sandwiches with Tigelle, a pressed flat bread, and serves them with a variety of condiments: gorgonzola, chili aioli, mustard, artichokes, pickled ramps, dill, radish, or whatever you have in your refrigerator
Chef Jake Newton is the head chef of V. Mertz, a fine-dining restaurant established more than 40 years ago in the Old Market District. He is a graduate of Johnson & Wales in Colorado and worked in many of Europe’s haute cuisine restaurants before returning to his hometown of Omaha. Chef Newton’s culinary philosophy is to create food employing a unique perspective.Here's his Omaha Steak: Boneless Ribeye:
Start by patting the steak dry (eliminating excess moisture on the meat, along with a liberal sprinkling of salt and cracked pepper, caramelizes the steak’s exterior). Chef Newton's next key tip is to make sure your cast iron pan is extremely hot – don’t be afraid of heat. Add one to two tablespoons of canola oil, which has a higher smoke point than olive oil (press down on it steak when adding it to the pan to make sure all surfaces make contact with the hot pan. Cook for about one minute. After a minute, the meat causes the temperature of the pan to decrease, so if you are cooking on a grill or electric stove, you will need to move the pan to a higher temperature heat source, either another part of grill of another burner. If you are using a gas stove, just turn up the heat (maintaining high heat will contribute to a better crust). Cook for another two minutes and flip steak to other side. Sear another minute. Take the steak out of the pan and place on a plate to rest for about five minutes, allowing the meat’s exterior temperature to be less than the internal temperature.This will create a light pink to pink or pink/red uniform color when its finished in the oven. While steak is resting, place the cast-iron skillet in a 450-degree oven. After five to seven minutes, return steak to the pan and cook in oven until desired temperature – 115 degrees for rare, 120 for medium rare (for the latter it will take about five minutes in the oven). Remove steak to a plate for a final rest - about 15 minutes for a 1-inch steak. Cut across the grain. To create straight professional slices, make single strokes, using the entire length of a long knife – avoid using a sawing action.
Chef Colin Duggan, along with his wife Jessica, named their restaurant Kitchen Table because “the most important things happen in life happen around the kitchen table.” After culinary positions in San Francisco, they returned to their native Omaha to open a restaurant embracing the farm-to-table movement, using local, organic, and seasonal ingredients with a menu changing daily. They strive to offer the antitheses of a "no substitutions” menu. As Chef Duggan says, “If we are able, we will absolutely accommodate every dietary need.” I understand their snack mix of popcorn, bacon, and candied nuts is highly addictive.
Omaha Steak: Teres Major/Petite Tender. I was not been familiar with this cut of meat, also called a shoulder tender and similar to a filet mignon in tenderness, but less lean, imparting a richer flavor, for less cost. They are often listed on menus as petite tender medallions. If possible, salt and trim the steak (remove the silverskin/tendon) 12 hours before cooking. Remove steak from fridge and bring to room temperature. Place a can of beer, a large pat of butter, and some herbs in a skillet. Add silverskin and heat until reduced. Meanwhile, sear steak (on both sides) in hot cast iron pan with some virgin olive oil. When steak is cooked to preferred doneness, remove and rest. Cut meat across grain, placing pressure only on the front forward stroke of knife. On the backside of the knife you’re just resetting the blade. Chef Duggan prepared three steak dishes: steak, eggs, and asparagus topped with the beer reduction sauce for breakfast; steak (seasoned with KT house spices (fennel, coriander seeds, paprika, salt and pepper) salad with lettuce and pickled vegetables, served with house-made green goddess vinaigrette for lunch; and steak seasoned with KT jerk-spices, served with sliced tomatoes marinated in garlic and olive oil for dinner.
I was impressed that all three chefs mentioned Omaha Steaks generous philanthropy and support for the Omaha community. Each of the participants in this webinar received a gift certificate from Omaha Steaks to use the chefs’ tips to cook our own steaks to perfection. Omaha Steaks arrive frozen and are delivered in a cooler for maximum freshness. I will be reporting on my steak adventure in the near future. To order Omaha Steaks, go to their website: OmahaSteaks.com/shop/