Readers of Cook's Country magazine - especially those in the St. Louis area - might be surprised when they open the August/September issue. One of the featured "country" recipes is our very own, quite citified dish: the pork steak.
"The goal of Cook's Country has been evolving," said senior editor Jeremy Sauer. "We've begun to take a more regional spin. It's not just country cooking anymore - it's also what people are cooking across the country."
Sauer said that regional barbecue styles have been an especially popular feature. The entire staff of the Boston-based magazine is encouraged to pitch stories about regional specialties, frequently drawing on experiences from their hometowns.
And that's where Meghan Erwin entered the picture. Erwin, 29, was born and raised in Glendale and got a degree in journalism from the University of Kansas. (Since this is a pork-steak story, we felt compelled to ask her the "St. Louis question," the answer to which is St. Joseph's Academy.)
Erwin worked in Kansas City for a while, then returned to St. Louis to work as an event planner for Tiffany & Co. at Plaza Frontenac.
"But going to cooking school was always in the back of my mind," Erwin said.
She enrolled in the culinary arts program at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park and earned an associate's degree. Along the way she parlayed her event-planning experience into a job as special projects manager for Larry Forgione, the nationally renowned chef who had opened his restaurant An American Place in St. Louis in 2004.
"He was the one who mentioned America's Test Kitchen," the place where all the recipes are perfected for Cook's Country and Cook's Illustrated magazines. "He told me, 'You need to call Chris.'"
"Chris" was Christopher Kimball, founder and editor of Cook's Country and Cook's Illustrated and a friend of Forgione's.
"I decided I was just going to go ahead and do it, so I called him directly," Erwin said. "He put me in touch with the head of the Test Kitchen, and about two years ago I interned there without pay for three months. Then I ended up getting hired full-time."
Erwin's current title is assistant test cook, and she pitched the pork-steak idea along with other St. Louis-area specialties. She then became the point person for the article, ultimately earning herself a byline.
"We found that some people had taken considerable liberties with the original," said editor Sauer. "We found recipes that used curry rubs and served them with chutney on the side."
Erwin convinced her fellow testers of the blasphemy of such approaches and even had her mother ship in bottles of Maull's barbecue sauce to illustrate a more authentic technique. Because the cut for a pork steak is rarely found outside of St. Louis, the staff also came up with a technique for cutting pork steaks from a whole boneless Boston butt roast.
"We ended up testing eight or 10 recipes," Sauer said. "It seemed like there were two primary approaches: grill them and baste them to death while they grill, or grill them and then simmer them in sauce on the grill."
The latter approach won out as the chosen recipe, although it of course generated controversy back in Erwin's home town.
"I almost immediately received mail from a gentleman who wasn't at all happy with my recipe," Erwin said.
And if a pork-steak recipe can cause dissent, the next St. Louis idiosyncracy is sure to engender even more heated discussion.
Erwin and the Test Kitchen have just finished a recipe for St. Louis-style pizza, scheduled to be published early next year.
ST. LOUIS BBQ PORK STEAKS > AMERICA’S TEST KITCHEN
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1 1/2 cups ketchup
2 cups light-bodied American beer
1/4 cup A.1. steak sauce
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
6 to 8 pork steaks
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat grill. For a gas grill, heat all burners on high, covered, for 15 minutes. For a charcoal grill, prepare grill for direct cooking with enough coals to cover the full circumference of the grill.
2. Whisk together ketchup, beer, A.1., brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire, garlic powder, hot sauce and liquid smoke in a large bowl. Transfer to a large, disposable aluminum pan.
3. Season pork steaks with pepper to taste. Grill until well-browned, 5 to 7 minutes per side. Transfer steaks to pan with sauce, cover with foil, and place pan on grill. Turn all burners to low (or close vents on charcoal grill). Cook, covered, until steaks are tender and sauce is slightly thickened, about 90 minutes. (Check the sauce after it has been on the grill for about an hour; if it looks thick and dry, add water.)
4. Using pot holders, remove pan from grill. Turn all burners to high, or if using a charcoal grill, refresh the coals with charcoal lit to temperature in a chimney lighter. Remove pork steaks from pan and place directly on grill. Cook until slightly charred around the edges, 2 to 4 minutes per side. Skim fat from sauce; serve sauce with steaks.
Per serving (based on 8): 488 calories; 22g fat (41 percent calories from fat); 8g saturated fat; 160mg cholesterol; 47g protein; 22g carbohydrate; 18g sugar; no fiber; 810mg sodium; 77mg calcium; 820mg potassium.
Adapted from a recipe in the August/September 2009 issue of "Cook's Country" magazine.