Classics stick around for good reason, and Marion Cunningham's retro "Theater Steak" is proof that a one-dish dinner can be downright delicious.
While it's easy to turn to Pinterest for new recipes these days, I think the best ideas still come from the classics. When I'm in need of dinner inspiration I prefer to head back in time — past the cookbooks from the latest celebrity chef or hot new food blogger and straight to the ones that have withstood the test of time.
Despite the constant bombardment of fancy new flavors and gourmet ingredients, I still believe that simplicity really does win out. Another cook who felt this way was legendary cookbook author and home cook Marion Cunningham. If you've made her famous yeasted waffles than you know what I mean — her use of restraint is why her recipes have remained dog-eared and splattered by countless loyal followers throughout the years.
As I was paging through The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook recently, a recipe titled Theater Steak immediately caught my eye. It was by Cunningham and its concept was simple: a one-dish steak dinner that, according to her, ensured a theater-goer made his curtain call on time. While I am never one to turn down a filet and mushrooms, it was the buttery nest of toasted bread, sopping in pan juices, that finally lured me in.
Once in the kitchen a part of me felt driven to make little tweaks and changes like I so often do. But I refrained. I chose to trust instead. And with that trust came the true reward: the gentle reminder that more does not always mean better, and that, yes, less really is often more.
Theater Steak with Mushrooms, Onions & Grilled Bread
Adapted from The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook
2 tablespoons neutral cooking oil, such as canola or safflower
2 (8-ounce) beef filets, preferably 1 1/2-inches thick, at room temperature
1/4 cup chicken stock or white wine
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 pound mixed mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 large onion, sliced into half moons
4 thick slices good-quality bread (I used a French loaf)
1 cup spicy greens, such as arugula or watercress
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a baking sheet with foil and set aside.
Heat two tablespoons of oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high to high heat. Pat the filets very dry and season the side facing up generously with salt and pepper. When the oil is shimmering, place the filets, seasoned side down, in the skillet. Season the top with additional salt and pepper.
Cook the steaks without disturbing until a deep golden brown crust has formed, 3 to 5 minutes. Flip the steaks and allow to cook for another minute or so. Place the steaks on the baking sheet (they should still be on the rare side, about 120°F on an instant read thermometer) and transfer to the oven.
Return the skillet to high heat. Add the stock or wine and swirl to remove any caramelized bits from the bottom of the pan. Lower heat to medium and add 2 tablespoons butter. Add the mushrooms and onions and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook the mushroom mixture, stirring frequently, until tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Remove steaks from the oven and check their temperature: if they have reached 130°F remove them from the baking sheet and set aside to rest; if not, return them, along with the mushroom mixture, to the oven.
Melt the remaining two tablespoons butter in the skillet. Add the bread and cook until toasted and golden brown on each side. Remove the steaks and mushroom mixture from the oven. Place about 1/4 cup greens over each piece of bread, followed by 1/4 of the mushroom mixture. Thinly slice the steaks lengthwise and arrange over the bread; pour any juices from the cutting board over the top.
Although I usually prefer a fattier cut, such as a rib-eye, a filet really is the best choice for this recipe — its mild buttery taste will not be overwhelmed by the other flavors.