A juicy top sirloin— paired with seasonal salads— is the perfect fare for a casual summer meal
There are few things I enjoy more than spending a long summer evening sharing a meal with friends on a breezy porch or around a picnic table. In planning the menu for a night like this, I keep in mind that I’ll want to be outside lazing about as much as my guests, so I plan on lighting up the grill, and I try to avoid too much last-minute fussing.
A large sirloin steak is ideal for a casual summer dinner. It’s affordable and tasty, and because of its Flintstonian proportions, you can serve six people with it. To go with the sirloin, I make a couple of simple salads full of seasonal ingredients—tomatoes, greens, and bell peppers—and a creamy dessert that shows off ripe seasonal fruit.
Season the steak ahead and surround it with good, fresh vegetables I’ve learned that a key step to giving a steak great flavor is seasoning it ahead of time—in fact, a good 24 hours in advance. I season it generously, too—about 1-1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt for a 3-pound steak. While this technique counters the salt-at-the-last-minute theory that many of us have learned, it does amazing things for the savor of the meat, trust me.
Instead of messing around with tricky sauces for the steak, I make a compote of shallots braised in red wine. It’s a great complement to the steak and can be made up to a week in advance.
Next, I think about what’s good at the farmstand at the moment, since the better the produce, the less work is required of the cook. The grilled bread salad I’ve included here makes the most of ripe tomatoes and sharp salad greens, and grilling the bread is in keeping with the outdoor feel of the menu. The colorful bell pepper salad is a flexible dish. You can roast the peppers a few days ahead if you like, and then just bring them to room temperature and drizzle them with a simple red-wine vinaigrette right before your guests arrive.
For dessert, I make my own version of zabaglione (pro-nounced zah-bahl-YOH-nay), an Italian mousse-like custartd, and spoon it over ripe berries or peaches. Although it isn’t traditional, I add a bit of gelatin to the custard so that I can make it a day in advance. If your schedule allows you to make the zabaglione within a few hours of your party, skip the gelatin.
Buying a top sirloin Selecting the right cut of meat for this meal requires some care since sirloin is a very general label that refers to a range of different steaks. The best part of the sirloin is the top sirloin, also called top butt, center-cut sirloin, or hip sirloin. Steer away from cuts labeled bottom sirloin or bottom butt. Be sure to buy a steak that’s at least 1-1/2 inches thick—any thinner and it will grill too quickly and become dry and overdone. Also be sure to get choice grade (or prime, if you’re feeling flush) and not select. I find that certified Black Angus or other speciality brands can be another assurance of good-quality meat.
Thin slices or smaller steaks When it comes to carving the steak, there are two options, and I choose one or the other depending on my mood and the crowd. Sometimes it’s nice to serve everyone his or her own piece of steak—just be sure to set the table with good steak knives. Other times, I’ll carve the entire steak into thin slices. This tends to work best if you’re serving buffet style or if you have a mix of light and big eaters. Also, since top sirloin is a meaty and flavorful cut, but not quite as tender as some steaks, slicing it thinly is a good option.