Thursday, September 07, 2006

Fred's Steak

My impression upon seeing Fred's Steak for the first time was, "Wow, that looks pretty disgusting." How on Earth could a black slab of beef that looks more like a lump of coal than a piece of meat be at all appetizing or even non-toxic for that matter? However, my opinion completely changed after taking my first bite.

Fred's Steak was invented about 40 years ago by a South Bay butcher named (not surprisingly) Fred, who created a special marinade for his sirloin roasts. In the ensuing years, the secret recipe made its way up the Peninsula, and today, Fred's Steak can be found at Schaub's Meat, Fish, and Poultry Market in the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto. Surrounded by bright red and pink cuts of beef and pork, Fred's Steak sticks out like a blackened sore thumb in the refrigerated display cases at Schaub's.

Before cooking, Fred's Steak looks like a wet lump of charcoal. After roasting in the oven, it looks like a hot, crusty lump of charcoal. But it is this crust, formed by the secret marinade as the roast cooks, that is the magic of Fred's Steak. The crust seals in the juices, preventing the savory flavor from escaping. The crust itself lends the right amount of seasoning and a hint of sweetness that complements the hearty taste of the beef itself. The result is a heavenly, full-flavored piece of beef, both tender and succulent.

(Incidentally, I've often wondered about what goes into the secret recipe. I would guess that the sweetness comes from molasses. I thought that the black color might come from ground black sesame seed, but judging from a Google search of several attempts to reverse-engineer the recipe, I think that I must be wrong. People seem to think that coffee is a component of the recipe. Interesting...)

The store recommends that you roast the beef at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes per pound for medium rare doneness. I suggest that you throw away your timer and pick up a digital oven thermometer instead, like the one that I have. I never roast meats by time any more; I always go by temperature. Set the alarm to go off at 122 degrees F. With carryover, you'll end up with a perfect, medium rare Fred's Steak.

If you've never tasted Fred's Steak, I recommend that you give it a try, despite its unappetizing appearence. I'd be willing to bet that you'll have a different impression, as I did, after taking your first bite.

12 comments:

Dan Bodenheimer said...

One of the reversed-engineered recipies mentioned in this article is at http://en.wikibooks.org/ and it does in fact contain coffee! I have eaten quite a few pounds of Fred's, and I always though it was soy sauce that turned it black...

Loren said...

Hi Dan,

Thanks for the tip. I actually saw that knock-off recipe a while back. Have you tried out that recipe yourself?

The last time that I was at Draeger's Market in San Mateo, I noticed they had a similar-looking hunk of meat called "Frank's Steak". They listed the ingredients in the marinade. I was in a hurry so I didn't get a chance to take down the list, but I will try to do so the next time that I'm over in that direction.

VisualVotary said...

I'm a California native, but have lived in Texas for 14 years and still dream about Fred's steak! I'm going to try the recipe that's floating around as the knock-off, I'm sure it'll be great even if it isn't exactly what I remember...

Paul N Christina said...

We just returned from a family visit to Palo Alto and tried this delectable meat for the first time. For those who "love their meat" this is like meat heroine! I went to my local Ralph's today and joy there was tri-tip on sale, I've pulled a couple of the faux-Fred recipes of the web and am going to give it a shot. It will not be Fred's but I don't think we cam wait for another trip up...

Loren said...

Paul,

I would definitely like to hear how the faux Fred steaks turn out. Good luck!

Diego said...

I am going on a limb...a limb from a tree in fred's backyard. the key to the marinade is not coffee, or molasses...but the all elusive Squid Ink...SQUID INK folks...salty, briny, BLACK...sssshhhhh:-)

Loren said...

Diego,

If it is squid ink, they must go through a lot of that. You would think that somebody would have noticed that a small butcher shop is cornering the market on squid ink :)

Anonymous said...

Had Fred's steak last week & tried this recipe. It's close. The dark brown sugar is the key.
5 tablespoons kosher salt
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon pulverized crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons pimenton (Smoked Spanish Paprika)
2 teaspoon garlic powder
Rub & put in Ziploc baggie 1 - 3 days, the longer the blacker, the sugar caramelizes and makes a crust on the steak.

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Stevenneatsquiche said...

I loved it. My wife found the steak through some fellow workers. The steak worked well with my side salad, garlic mashed potatoes, and nice bottle of barbera.
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Loren said...

Hi Steven,

One of my co-workers recently discovered it as well. It's been a while since I last had Fred's Steak, so it might be time to pay a visit to Schaub's again.

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