Apparently the world will be ending on the 21st. It’s not a dead cert by any means, but it’s probably worth eating steak for dinner with someone you adore, just in case.
The last time the world almost ended, a few years ago, my husband was indirectly involved.
It was when the particle accelerator at CERN was switched on. The idea was that particles would be shot around a ring the size of half a dozen sports tracks, then they would hit each other and scientists would study the things that exploded out of this collision. The only downside was, nobody could say for absolutely certain that the collision wouldn’t create a black hole that might eat everything around it, including, ultimately, the whole world.
Jon (who is a physicist) was asked by our friends for reassurance.
“The world will not end” he said. “Mathematically speaking there’s a vanishingly small chance that the world will end.”
“Vanishingly small? That’s not No Chance!”
“Well, it really is, the chance that the world will end is so close to zero that we can really call it zero.”
“But it’s not actually zero, in fact?! So the world Might end?”
“No. The world’s not going to end.”
It’s just that the more times he said it, the less reassuring it sounded.
So we had a (last) supper party and I asked every guest what they would like their last meal to be, and that’s what I cooked. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
We sat down to a smorgasboard of bacon crisps, roasted peanuts, smoked salmon on latkes, watermelon, roast chicken, boiled egg and toast soldiers, pasta with fresh pesto, steak and spinach, Campbell’s tomato soup, bacon sandwiches, chocolate bread pudding, Pavlova with passion fruit, brownies, and Toblerone, washed down with champagne.
The world did not end. It was a relief.
Sometimes, out of morbid curiosity I suppose, I look at the Florida death row website, which lists prisoners’ last meals. These must cost under $40 and be available locally. And, if you eat your last meal then get reprieved, you don’t get another one. The requests have a ring of tragedy about them; all fried chicken, milkshakes, cheeseburgers, chicken tacos, vanilla cokes – kid food. But lest you start to feel the tragedy too deeply, the website also lists the punished crimes along with the menus. It’s a disquieting read all round really.
And so, onto what may well be our last meal together if the guys on the subway waving banners are to be believed – and, frankly, when has going with the opinion of random poster-wavers on the subway ever not worked out?
What do I choose?
Steak and spinach and a glass or two of a good red wine, at home with Jon.
Steak with bearnaise sauce (serves 2)
We’re going for fancy steak here – filet mignon – after all, what with the world coming to an end, expense doesn’t seem like it ought to be a top priority. And should the world not end for some reason, this is a seriously elegant treaty steak, ready for romance.2 8–10 oz fillet mignon steaks 1 tbsp light olive oil Salt and pepper 2 tbsp butter
- Preheat the oven to 400 and put a cast iron pan on the heat to get screamingly hot (5 mins). If you don’t have a cast iron pan, heat up a frying pan
- Rub the steaks with oil, then season well – at least a tsp of salt per steak
- Sear the steaks for 2 mins on every side – this should take about 10 mins
- Top each steak with a tbsp of butter then put the whole pan into the oven (or transfer to a baking tray that’s been heating up in the oven if you’re using a frying pan with a plastic handle)
- Turn the oven down to 300 and cook the steaks. Check with a thermometer after 5 mins and then again at 2 minute increments (unless you know you like your steak medium to well, in which case, leave it for ten mins.) Rare steak is 120f, medium is 125f
- Take the steak out of the oven, tip onto a board, then cover with foil. Rest for 10 mins at room temp for the juices to go back into the meat
Now’s a good time to make the sauce:
Yes, this is one of those supposedly tricky butter sauces. It’s a classic and there’s a technique to it, but it’s not actually tricky to make and people will love you for it. It’s made in four stages; 1 – make a reduction so that you have a strong flavor base. 2 – whisk in egg yolks while the bowl is over a pan of steaming water. 3 – whisk in lots of butter. 4 – add fresh tarragon.3 tbsp white wine vinegar 3 tbsp white wine or champagne 3 shallots 2 tbsp tarragon 6 peppercorns 3 eggs 6oz (175g) unsalted butter
- Put a pan of water on the heat to start coming up to a simmer
- Now for the reduction; dice the shallots and 1 tbsp of the tarragon and put in a small pan along with the the vinegar, wine and peppercorns. Boil this until you have a 1tbsp of liquid
- Sieve this into a bowl and put the bowl on top of a pan of simmering water
- Separate the yolks from the eggs and whisk them into the reduction until they are light and fluffy. They should leave a slight trail from the whisk
- Cut up the butter into cubes and whisk in, one cube at a time at first, then a few at a time as the sauce thickens. This takes a few minutes
- Take the bowl off the pan of simmering water and add the rest of the chopped tarragon. Season gently and serve over the steak
Add some crusty bread and a green salad or some green beans and you have a feast