Chasen’s Restaurant in West Hollywood was a hangout of the old guard of Hollywood. Frank Capra helped Dave Chasen get his start in 1936, and based on his chili and ribs recipes Chasen managed to grow his humble restaurant into a venerable institution that fed nearly every major star for decades, hosting Oscar parties and becoming a second home to such stars as Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Gleason, and Alfred Hitchcock.
Reading this celebrity lineup, you’d think the food would be overly-fancy, archly-presented European-style fare. You’d be wrong. Chasen’s chili was simple and unadorned. The salads were well-prepared but hardly known for their complexity. The very basic cheese toast was one of the revered dishes. The off-menu Hobo Steak, which I feature here, is a fascinating dish in its very process, and yet the end result is no more than slices of meat on toast. But wow! What great meat on toast!
|What hobo wouldn’t love twice-cooked New York Strip over toast?|
This recipe is available on the internet in a few slightly different variations. In general the recipes are a bit hard to fathom. Basically you’ll need:
one three-inch thick prime New York strip steak
very thin beef fat
approximately one cup of kosher salt
sourdough bread, cut into rectangles about 1.5 inches x 2.5 inches
|Try to use the best meat you can, always. It helps to become friends with your butcher.|
Beef fat? Yup, beef fat. Ask your butcher or meat counter guy (at better markets) and they’ll be able to get it for you, most likely for free. You’ll need to talk to your butcher anyway since 3-inch thick steaks are always going to be a special order. I suggest you get prime instead of choice, when choosing your beef, but prime will always be much pricier so buy what you can handle.
You want to take that beef fat and cut it into wide strips about three inches wide. Wrap it around the sides of the big steak and secure it with two pieces of butcher twine, tied tight, as pictured above.
Now position your oven rack about six inches below the broiler flame (or heating element, if it’s electric). Set broiler to high.
Mix the kosher salt with two or three tablespoons of water to create a moist paste. It should have the consistency of wet sand at the beach. Layer this salt paste over the top of the steak and place the steak into a skillet.
|The kosher salt creates a shield that protects the meat from over-cooking for the first phase.|
Broil the steak for eight minutes. Carefully remove the salt crust with a spatula (which should come off in one nice piece) and flip the steak. Replace the salt on top and broil the second side for eight minutes.
Remove from the oven and discard the salt. Rest the steak for ten minutes. Reserve some of the rendered beef fat from the skillet, about 1/4 cup let’s say.
In the meantime, brush your sourdough with melted butter on top and bottom. Toast under the broiler for about a minute per side, watching carefully so it’s nicely browned but not burnt.
|Cut your sourdough toast into little rectangles about 1.5 X 2.5 inches. Brush with melted butter.|
Cut the butcher twine with scissors and peel off the fat. Discard fat and string. Trim off any other fat or gristle from the steak. Cut slices about 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch thick. If you prefer it rare, cut it thicker!
In a large saute pan heat two tablespoons of butter and one tablespoon of the reserved beef fat. Heat over medium-high heat until the butter starts to brown. Saute the slices of beef until lightly browned on both sides, about one minute a side for rare-to-medium-rare.
Place toast on a plate. Top each slice of toast with a slice of cooked meat. Spoon some of the melted fats from the pan and drizzle over the top. Garnish with minced chives.
|Cut 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch slices from the roasted NY.|
This is a dish from another time. Today eating this dish would be considered an arterial hazard. I wouldn’t eat it every day, or even every month. But occasionally? Sure.
Maybe every once in a while, invite a friend over and speculate what Joan Crawford or Richard Burton might have eaten on a quiet night in Hollywood. Drink a martini, make this dish, and try to imagine a time when stars would gather to eat bland chili and fatty meats. A time before cholesterol.