When I left home at 17, my father gave me some good advice. ‘When you’re feeling melancholy,’ he said, ‘play a hard game of squash, eat a steak, and go to bed. You’ll be right as rain in the morning.’
I adopted his advice to much success; and years later, when I read The Worried Well, the Quarterly Essay by Gail Bell, found it largely vindicated. Bell is a pharmacist and writer who is concerned by the explosion in antidepressant usage in Australia. While there is no doubt in her mind that there are some people who need medication in order to cope, she raises good questions about why depression is now so common, why talk and other therapies are so rarely employed, and why traditional remedies for melancholy have all but disappeared.
She closes the essay with a cure for melancholy from a medieval text: a meal with friends eaten al fresco, with borage flowers floating in wine, followed by a long restorative sleep. Good digestion also played a part in the remedy.
I am someone who has repeatedly been offered the diagnosis of depression and, had I gone with it, I am sure a prescription for antidepressants would have followed. Each time, however, I resisted the diagnosis, believing instead that I was experiencing sadness, a natural consequence of a lifetime of moving cities, the deaths of many loved ones including the very slow and cruel death of my mother, and general growing pains.
Instead, I have managed my melancholia using my father’s method and found that exercise, red meat and a good sleep were about all I needed to feel that life is tolerable. And so, although I was mostly vegetarian for many years, there were always times when a good steak was indicated.
All this comes to mind because, over the last few months, three different people have asked me how to cook a steak. It is so simple that I feel a bit silly for posting instructions; and it will be, shock horror, the first time red meat has featured on this blog. However, I always said this blog was about uncomplicated home cooking, so I will bow to popular demand.
The thyme sauce is an optional addition. It’s absolutely delicious, and I love to make it; but I also find a steak served with a bright green mixed salad, the bloody juices drizzled over the leaves, can be enormously satisfying in its simplicity.
Personally, I like my steaks disgustingly bloody, a bit of caveman raw meat on the plate, but I will give the times for a longer cooking if you prefer to eat your food like a civilized being.
Steak with Thyme Sauce
When the pan is smoking hot, massage your steak with a drop of olive oil and place it on the cooking surface. Do not move it, but leave it to cook on one side for the allotted time (below); then turn it and leave it to cook on the other side. Remove it to a plate or wooden board, cover it with a sheet of tinfoil and leave it to rest as specified.
Rare: 2 minutes a side, then rest for 6 minutes
Meanwhile, make the thyme sauce. (If you are not making the sauce, the steak must still rest; it is part of the cooking process.) Pound the thyme with the salt in a mortar. Once it has formed a thick green paste, slowly drizzle in the lemon juice then the olive oil, whisking away. You will end up with a thin green gloop.
Serve the steak drizzled with green gloop and a spicy green salad dressed with lemon juice and olive oil; think rocket and/or watercress. Delicious.
I buy meat direct from a farm less than 100 miles from my home; if you are inclined to do the same, have a quick search on the internet. There are a few options, and you should be able to find a balance between how you want your beef to be raised versus what you’re prepared to pay. Heavy marble mortars and pestles are readily available at Asian food stores. I use the steak times from Tamasin's Kitchen Bible (out of print); and the thyme sauce is tweaked from a recipe in The River Cafe Cookbook. The Worried Well (QE18) should be available from here. Which reminds me, do you have my copy? It’s gone walkies.
(Backyard: thyme, salad, lemon. Wimmera: olive oil, salt. Gippsland: steak.)