There’s something magic about steak sides. Just a few lettuce leaves and a swipe of mustard can turn a hunk of seared meat into a square meal. Steak School spoke to five chefs who cook everything from Italian to Peruvian cuisine and asked them to share what they like to serve with steak. From classic pairings to intriguing matches, read below and try something new next time you fire up the grill.
The Glenelg Public House, Gold Coast
Aaron Smith, Chef and Owner
Almost as passionate about great steak sides as he is about incredible steak, Aaron Smith is head chef and owner of popular Gold Coast steak restaurant, The Glenelg Public House.
“[Steak sides is] an endless conversation. Everything goes well with steak,” he laughs.
Truffled mushroom gnocchi
Smith gathers morel, chanterelle and pierre du month mushrooms, mixes them through a truffled cream with gnocchi and pan fries the whole lot for a bit of crunch. It’s usually served as a vegetarian main, but Smith isn’t shy to serve this as a side to steak (if you ask nicely).
Mixed leaf salad
You want crunchy, crisp leaves – so fresh is definitely best here. Smith hand picks fresh leaves daily and serves this salad with a honey mustard dressing. Really light. Really fresh. Really simple. “When you go for your fatty, more charred marbled steaks that’s a great accompaniment,” he explains.
“We’ve got four different types of potato on the menu,” Smith says, and Paris mash is one of them. He doesn’t quite go the equal weights potato and butter philosophy, but it’s a damn rich potato mash. Don’t skimp on the butter.
Broccoli’s sexier relative broccolini gets a squeeze of lemon juice and splash of olive oil. It’s pan roasted with baby spinach. Simple, healthy, tasty.
Hand-cut thrice-cooked dirty fries
“We buy our own dirty potatoes in, wash them ourselves, put them through a chipper,” Smith says. The chefs then wash them three times (it helps remove the starch and improves the crunch). Then they cook them three times, the last time just before serving. Sprinkle with a rosemary salt.
OTTO Brisbane, Brisbane
Will Cowper, Head Chef
Head chef William Cowper is the brains behind Brisbane’s two-hatted Italian restaurant, OTTO Brisbane. The Sydney transplant likes to keep things simple when it comes to cooking.
Taking influence from the southern regions of Italy, Cowper cooks with fresh seasonal ingredients. “My favourite way to cook steak is over coals and wood. The flavour of the steak is so much better,” he says.
Insalata di Rucola
Rocket and radicchio, meet nectarine, parmesan and crunchy hazelnuts. This salad combines bitter greens with sweet summer fruit, nuts for crunch and parmesan for depth. Cowper says it goes really well steak because the sweetness of the nectarines contrasts the fattiness of the steak.
“This simple salad is something that goes with anything and is so quick and easy to put together,” Cowper says. With simple things, quality counts more than ever – so be sure to choose red, fragrant tomatoes, good buffalo mozzarella, freshly pick you basil and use extra virgin olive oil to season.
Roast pumpkin in a pine nut burnt butter
Cowper roasts huge chunks of pumpkin as the base, dressing them up with a tasty mix of sage and burnt butter, the sweetness of muscatels, crunch of pine nuts and parmesan.
Blanched beans. Easy right? Cowper’s power trick comes down to using a confit garlic butter and crunchy flaked almonds to finish.
Gabriel Escalante-Gafau, Chef and Owner
This Peruvian-born chef is passionate about feeding people interesting and humble food. At his venue in Milton, Brisbane, the chef draws on the unique street food flavours of his childhood and travels through South America. Once a month Mongrel has a South American barbecue day, where salty picanha steak is paired with various sides, all cooked on the grill.
For Escalante-Gafau, simplicity is key. “My meat just goes with rock salt, confit garlic and oil. That’s it,” he says. “There’s no big marinades. There are no big flavours. Just the beef and things that are going to enhance the flavour of it, instead of masquerading them.”
Corn and broccolini
Photos above and in header by Vivid Visual Co
Soften butter, mix it with chopped yellow Peruvian chilli and brush it all over the vegetables before throwing them on the barbecue. Ideally use a charcoal grill for that distinctive flavour, but gas burners will work perfectly too. “I try to do my barbecues very heavy on the vegetable side of things,” he says.
“The marinade really sticks to them so you get this really bright, kind of orange potatoes, which go really really well with the beef,” Escalante-Gafau says. He uses the same marinade on his street food cow-heart skewers at Mongrel. Simply pre-boil the potatoes then marinate them while they’re still hot. Throw them on a hot barbecue for a few minutes before serving.
Seek out top quality Argentinian-style raw chorizo, slice it lengthways and throw it on the barbecue. It’s a mix of pork and beef together – fatty but meaty and not at all spicy. You can source this raw chorizo from the Bodegas Brothers in Sydney. Pennisi Cuisine in Brisbane stocks it.
Marinated, grilled eggplant
It’s all about quick grilling on the barbecue and prep beforehand. Marinate discs of eggplant in orange juice, mustard, confit garlic, oregano and that yellow Peruvian chilli for six hours before grilling. Cook it on the cooler side of the fire.
The definition of a “classic” chimichurri seems to vary with the days of the week this take on the Argentinian staple is relatively restrained. It’s heavy on the parsley, with a little coriander, olive oil, spring onion, garlic, salt, vinegar. Rest overnight. “Everything is chopped very finely and then just mixed together. You want to leave it overnight and the flavour becomes a bit more intense,” he says.
Once you’ve tried grilled leeks you won’t look back. Just cut them lengthways down the centre, drizzle with oil, salt and pepper. Throw on the grill and burn the outside. When they’re done just peel back a layer or two and serve.
Ever grilled wedges of pumpkin? Coat them in a garlic and thyme oil, par cook in an oven and finish on the barbecue. Escalente-Gafau suggest to burn them a little, and finish with a drizzle of fire-roasted capsicums.
E’cco Bistro, Brisbane
Philip Johnson, Chef and Restaurateur
Philip Johnson is back in the kitchen at his classic Brisbane restaurant, e’cco bistro. The smart casual diner has been turning over tables since 1995 and just celebrated its first birthday at its new home in Newstead. Cookbook author and well-known name, Johnson shares a couple of favourite sides he likes to pair with steak.
Johnson says the smokey flavour of this side goes well with any meat, but especially those that have been char-grilled. Finish the potatoes with a sweet and creamy blue cheese and truffles.
“My ethos is to do as little as possible to good produce – and that’s exactly what makes this a perfect side for any meat dish,” Johnson says. Choose whatever greens are in season, garnish with lightly toasted hazelnuts and finish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
It’s worth dining at e’cco just for this side. Johnson pairs the earthy vegetable with sweet golden raisins and a caper and anchovy custard. “The caper and anchovy custard blends the flavours together as a sort of salted binding with a hint of crunch from the almond.”
Radicchio & endive salad
“The blue cheese, walnut and orange vinaigrette is a simple dressing that bursts with contrasting flavours to mask the bitterness of the raw salad,” Johnson says. Arrange the radicchio and endive in a large bowl, top with a quality blue cheese, toasted walnuts a light orange vinaigrette to cut through the richness of red meat.
The Cut, Florence, Italy
Lorenzo Andreazza, Owner
“In Italy, you know, we do very simple things. We try to focus on the quality,” says Lorenzo Andreazza, owner of The Cut steak restaurant in Florence. The menu at his steakhouse features five different varieties of cow, with different cuts served simply.
“Traditionally we serve [steak] in Tuscany with white beans or roasted, diced potatoes.”
Choosing the best quality potatoes is the most important thing, says Lorenzo. At The Cut they rest the potatoes in water overnight so that they lose the starch. Then dice them and pop them in the oven with olive oil, a few garlic cloves, sage and rosemary.
Simply boil them, then add salt and olive oil. For a small twist on traditional, add a little rosemary.
As with most Italian cooking, the trick with cooking amazing spinach is all in the olive oil. Boil the spinach for just a few minutes, then salt and add a little olive oil – nothing else. In Tuscany most families have trees and produce their own oil. With that in mind, find yourself a quality drop.
Frigitello (Italian pepper)
“My favourite is a vegetable called frigitello. It’s a strange type of pepper that is halfway between a chilli and a pepper, but it is sweet,” Lorenzo says. He salts them with a little olive oil and say they have a good texture like a pepper, but are easy to digest and very light. Check your local fruit store or deli.
Tomatoes on the grill
It could be the holiday glow, but maybe tomatoes in Tuscany actually do taste better. Find ripe, in season, red and fragrant tomatoes on the vine – and pop those on the grill with your steak and peppers.