Our Orkney food blogger Rosemary Moon has been taste-testing the finest local steak and cheese to create the perfect Valentine's Day meal.
One of the entrants in the first Orkney MasterChef competition that I attended cooked a kind of carpetbagger steak. A thick rump streak split and filled with a generous wedge of Orkney Cheddar before being pan-fried. The judges went quite weak at the knees when tasting, but I wondered if it was rather over-complicating the flavour of the dish.
Now I know just how wrong I was.
Farmers in Orkney are blessed with species-rich maritime pastures - even those in the middle of West Mainland are hardly far from the sea. The abundant salty pastures provide fabulous outside grazing in the summer months for cows and sheep and silage for the cows in the winter months indoors.
If you’ve been in either a culinary profession or farming, or simply love your food, you only have to look at Orcadian fields in the summer to know that our meat will taste fantastic, and the same applies to all the cheeses made on the islands too. Eat Orkney meat or cheese and you are literally eating our landscape and view.
There is no doubt that a juicy steak is a treat and the relative simplicity of cooking this meal makes it ideal for a romantic Valentines supper at home. If you don’t cook steaks very often your butcher will have lots of tips for you and we are so lucky to have real butchers’ shops in Orkney where advice on cuts and their correct cooking is always available. I laughed - and was grateful - when I found a cookery leaflet tucked into my bag with my steaks!
Inspired by that Orkney MasterChef, I wanted to include cheese in my dish. I opted for a lighter flavour with a fresh cheese but you can use our delicious medium Cheddar if you wish. And you really do need Orkney butter and cream for the whole incredible taste sensation, even if other butters and creams are available! I served our feast with clapshot, Orkney’s famous mix of tatties and neeps (swede) mashed together, carrots and leeks.
Toss your carrots in butter and orange juice or maple syrup if you wish, but there’s no need as the steak is so full of flavour. I kept the clapshot warm in a very low oven while cooking the steaks and steamed the leeks over the carrots while the steaks were resting and I was making the sauce.
The original carpetbagger steaks were filled with oysters, to make a small steak more filling, when oysters were plentiful and cheap. We now have an oyster farm on Westray and very delicious the oysters are. There aren’t quite enough just yet to be putting them into a carpetbagger steak, but maybe one day. And that really will be a Valentine’s Day dinner.
A Valentines steak, Orkney-style
Ingredients (serves two)
- 2 cloves garlic
- Small bunch of coriander or parsley
- 2 x Orkney fillet steaks, 200-250g each
- Olive oil
- 2 small slices of bread
- 2 slices of medium Orkney Cheddar to fit the toast, or 30-50g fresh Orkney cheese, e.g., Grimbister or Burnside, crumbled
- Large knob of Orkney butter
- Chilli - fresh chilli, seeded and finely chopped, a pinch of chilli flakes or Pul Biber OR 1 tsp crushed black or green peppercorns
- 150ml Orkney double cream
- Finely grate or chop the garlic onto a plate - I like to do mine on a Microplane grater. Keep 2 of the very best top leaves of the coriander or parsley for garnish and then finely chop the rest. Use the stalks which have loads of flavour as well as the leaves. Keep the herbs and garlic separate.
- Heat a non-stick frying pan over a medium high heat. If you hold the palm of your hand flat about 10cm above the pan it should feel evenly hot when the pan is ready. Lightly brush the top surface of each steak with olive oil and cook for 4 minutes on the oiled side on the same level of heat. Brush the sides of the steaks which are now uppermost in the pan with a little more oil.
- Turn the steaks and cook for 1 minute then reduce the heat slightly and cook a further 3 minutes. Lift the steaks out of the pan, wrap them together in a piece of foil and leave for 10 minutes to rest.
- Toast the bread then remove the crusts. If you have a large loaf, you might get the two croutes or toasts from the one slice.
- In the pan in which you cooked the steaks, heat 2 tsps olive oil and the butter, add the garlic and cook until the butter has melted, then add the chilli or peppercorns and the cream. Add half the chopped coriander and warm over a medium heat.
- Start assembling your steak. Place a piece of toast on each plate and top it with your chosen cheese. Arrange your selection of cooked veg on the plates - clapshot, carrots and leeks are great seasonal Orkney choices. Carefully unwrap the steaks pouring the meat juices into the sauce in the frying pan and add the remaining chopped coriander. Place the steaks on top of the cheesy toasts. Stir the sauce which should now be bubbling gently, season with salt and pepper then spoon over the meat. Garnish with the reserved herbs and serve.
These timings gave 2 medium rare steaks. Smaller steaks will cook more quickly.
Rosemary Moon ‘retired’ to Orkney after a long association with the salmon industry in the islands. The author of 19 cookery books and countless more recipes, including writing for Waitrose and Lakeland, she has brought journalists and food writers to Orkney in the past to show off our diverse and delicious food and drink. After several holidays here Rosemary and her husband Nick have settled in South Ronaldsay but, once a cookery writer always a cookery writer, Rosemary is finding it impossible to stop jotting down the new recipes that she is creating with the island produce.