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02 August 2011

How do you like your steak?

One thing my years of watching Come Dine With Me has taught me is that there is a whole semiotics wrapped up in the question of how one likes a steak.

It's clear from the shows that men feel a kind of pressure to say they want their steak almost raw. They say stupid things like "Wipe its arse and put it on the plate". Raw meat: rrrrahhh! I think if a man were to ask for his steak well-done, he'd be pitied so openly by the other guests, he'd have to at least apologise. And would probably cry in the back of the taxi going home, to an accompaniment of Dave Lamb's finest sarcasm.

Women are allowed to ask for a well-done steak. But not if they portray themselves as hard-headed no-nonsense businesswomen (and there seem to be a lot of them on CDWM) - the kind of women who proudly say other women don't like them. For them it's essential they have the steak "blue", or rare at most. More "traditional" women can assert their femininity by asking that it's cooked until it looks as little like fresh meat as possible. They don't win any prestige for their choice, of course.

I'm suggesting that the choice of how a lot of people like their steak has little to do with how it tastes, and I know that people will dispute that. But I like the tang of blood, they'll say occasionally. More likely they'll refer to the juices. I'm not sure that's much different. Eating blood has a semi-magical significance you don't need to be Claude Lévi-Strauss (or, come to that, Roland Gift) to understand.

Frankly, I don't know. My difficulty is that if someone were to ask me How do you like your steak? I wouldn't know what to say. Not that I'm a vegetarian, but I have very rarely eaten steak. When I was growing up, people used to have special steak-knives. I think they were diamond-tipped, because the assumption was that any steak a poor person could afford would be tough. I seem to remember that eating a steak was hard work; not worth the effort.

Later, in my "vegetarian hell" years, four of us were cycling in France. We'd camped about 20 miles outside Paris and the only restaurant we could find agreed to stay open later than usual for us, but all they could offer was steak-frites. Hunger got the better of us, and we all enjoyed the meal, and I'm sure it was very good, but it didn't excite me. There's something about a slab of meat that's just too much for me. Again, it's not the taste that puts me off, but the symbolism: it's carnivorism at its most naked. I've just added the picture to this entry. It's not making my mouth water; it looks more like a challenge than a treat.

But tell me, readers: do you like a juicy steak? What am I missing out on?

1 comment :

Hungry Ted said...

Enjoyable post. Funnily enough, my taste on steak changed when I was in a small restaurant in Looe, Cornwall, some years back. I asked for my steak to be well done (after all, that's how I 'thought' I liked it) and the waitress turned on her heals quite happily. After about 5 mins the chef came - quite literally - storming out of his kitchen and flatly refused to cook it that way. He looked genuinely quite cross! Rather than taking offence (and leave, as I'm certain some would have) I simply asked him to cook it how he felt it should be cooked.

I suppose he done it rare-to-cooked: there was still plenty of blood and the centre was raw, but it was heavily seared on the outside. It was delicious! Come the end of the meal the chef actually apologised for his 'passion' and thanked me for 'giving it a go'. I've never looked back.