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Grill a Great Steak for a Crowd

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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.

Menu Timeline

A few days before:

  • Braise the shallots.
  • Roast and peel the peppers.

The night before:

  • Salt the steak.
  • Make the zabaglione.

An hour before serving:

  • Let the peppers come to room temperature and dress them.
  • Let the braised shallots come to room temperature.
  • Slice the bread for the salad.
  • Make the tomatoscallion mixture for the bread salad.
  • Slice the fruit and crush the cookies for dessert.

Half an hour before serving:

  • Grill the steak and the bread.
  • Let the steak rest while you assemble the bread salad.

Shopping List

Meat, Eggs & Poultry:

  • 2-1/2-to 3-pound top sirloin steak, 1-1/2 to 2 inches thick
  • 4 large eggs

Fresh Produce:

  • 4-5 cups fresh summer fruit (peaches, necatrines, berries, etc)
  • 1 pound juicy ripe tomatoes
  • 4 scallions
  • 1 pound of shallots
  • 2 cups spicy greens such as arugula, mizuna, or baby mustard greens
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 2 yellow bell peppers
  • 1 small bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parlsey
  • 1 large bunch fresh basil
  • 1 lemon

Other Groceries:

  • 1 bottle of Cognac (need 2 Tbs.)
  • 1 bottle amaretto or brandy (need 1 Tbs.)
  • 1 loaf (at least 10-12 ounces) day-old crusty country bread, not sourdough
  • 1 container of pine nuts
  • 1 bottle of capers
  • 1 bottle of Riesling
  • 1 package unflavored powdered gelatin
  • 1 carton whipping cream
  • 1 package almond macaroons or biscotti (or Amaretti di Saronno cookies)

Pantry Staples:

  • Kosher salt black pepper
  • 1 head garlic
  • at least 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 3 tsp. red wine vinegar
  • 3 Tbs. dry vermouth
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine such as Syrah or Zinfandel
  • 1/4-1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander

The Menu

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