In honor of Kelsey's birthday and in celebration of Annika's visit, we decided to take a "Beef Appreciation Class" at the Local Grill, one of the best steakhouses in the world.
The Local Grill's collection of cow-themed art is rather impressive.
Our evening began in the wine room, where we met our friends (from left) Fi, Liz, Bruce, [Kelsey], Annika, Charné, Andrew, and Ross. The big door at the back goes into the Local Grill's showcase kitchen and beef aging room, and that's where we headed after we limbered up with a few beers and appetizers.
Okay, Beef Appreciation 101. Laid out on the table from left to right are the tools of the modern beef appreciator: some special biltong (more on that later), various incredibly sharp knives, a salt pig, a little bit of "liberal lettuce", sausage stuffer, whiskey, white wine, peat moss, and a himalayan salt block.
A tour of the aging room. Primal cuts (e.g., the entire sirloin) are aged here for up to 100 days in one of two ways. Wet-aged cuts are vacuum-packed and steep in their own juices, and dry-aged cuts are simply hung from a hook and allowed to develop what is known as a "patina," or a hard coating that prevents further water loss.
Here we are feeling up wet-aged sirloin. In Kelsey and Andrew's hand is a grain-fed cut from Chalmar Farms (just outside of Johannesburg), and in Liz's hand is a free-range cut from Greenfields. The two cuts differ strikingly in their degree of marbling and amount of beefy flavor.
Here, our instructor Popi shows us the finer points of the "patina" on the surface of a dry-aged T-bone.
Time to taste. This is a piece of Wagyu biltong, worth about R1000 per kilogram. Notice the incredible amount of intramuscular fat. Apparently Wagyu cattle in Japan are hand-fed and massaged as they grow to improve marbling, but Popi told us that South Africans don't go in for the massaging nonsense. It didn't seem to matter - this is seriously the best biltong we have ever tasted.
Our next task was to shave some thin slices of raw beef for a carpaccio taste-off. It turns out that it's nearly impossible to slice raw beef evenly and thinly....
But the secret is to pound the crappy little pieces you've managed to scrape off until they're thin and beautiful. Our group was evenly split on the preferred carpaccio cut - filet was incredibly tender but lacked beefy flavor, while rump was a bit tough but had a pronounced beefiness.
Next lesson: basting versus dry rub. Ross is not impressed.
The dry rub consists of some dry hot peppers, various spices and herbs and a little salt, which is rubbed on the meat and then topped with tons of melted butter. The basting is a thin barbecue sauce spread on the steak, similar to what you'd get at Applebees or Spur.
The winner, hands-down, was the dry rubbed steak.
Popi explains why the basting isn't effective - it prevents browning and hides the great steak flavor.
Our next lesson was how to grill on huge salt blocks. These start off very pink and beautiful, but months of use on the grill makes them look like marble. Thirty minutes of preheating allows you to grill directly on top of them, and imparts a wonderful seasoning to the steak. If you haven't tried this cooking technique, go out and do so at once.
Extra credit! Extra credit!
From left: two filets, rump, and sirloin in various stages of production. Along the back are dry rub, lemons (surprisingly good on steak), and arugula.
Unbelievably, our class also included a full main course afterwards. To order steaks at Local Grill, you must first consult the "aging board," which lets you know which cuts have been tenderizing longest.
We opted for the dry-aged T-bone, aged for 49 days. Incredible.
Kelsey's review speaks for itself.