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Jun 24, 2014
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WINE WITH…Steak with “The Best Sauce in the World”

Much has been written lately about the savory East-meets-West amalgam of soy sauce and butter, which was described as a “sublime combination” by Sam Sifton in the New York Times. Wolfgang Puck and Roy Choi are among those who champion this particular pairing of creamy and pungent tastes, but it is famed chef/restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten who really brought it to the forefront of gastronomic attention. In fact, we read some time ago that Vongerichten’s favorite sauce is a mixture butter, soy sauce, Tabasco, ketchup, vinegar, and lime juice. He called this Thai inspired combo “the best sauce in the world” and said it is particularly good on grouper. We decided to try it ourselves one evening despite the fact that we had no other information than what the basic ingredients were. Everything else was a question: How much butter and soy sauce? Wine vinegar or balsamic? Since we seemed to be out of Tabasco, would it be okay to substitute cayenne? Should we cook the sauce, or marinate the grouper in it? For that matter we had a steak in the fridge; would it work instead of the fish?

And so we forged ahead, inventing as we went along. The result: Yes, this is indeed one of the best sauces anywhere. Rich, complex and savory, packed with umami and balanced sweetness, acidity and spice, it would probably be delicious on anything, from pork to green beans.

Steak with “The Best Sauce in the World”

Serves four

2-4 rib-eye steaks, two to three pounds total
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons softened good-quality unsalted butter plus 1 tablespoon
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup dry red wine
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

An hour or so ahead of time, salt and pepper both sides of the steak and refrigerate it until ready to cook. In a small bowl blend together the butter, soy sauce, ketchup, vinegar and cayenne. The mixture does not have to be perfectly smooth and amalgamated as it will all fuse together in the cooking.

About 10 minutes before cooking, heat a sturdy skillet (we used cast iron) until it just begins to smoke. Add the olive oil and extra tablespoon of butter to the pan and quickly add the steaks, working in batches if necessary. Sear on both sides, turning them occasionally, until done to your likeness (about 5 minutes total for medium rare depending on thickness of the meat).

Remove the steaks to a serving dish and wipe the skillet out with a paper towel. Reheat the pan and add the red wine. Over high heat, boil the wine down, stirring constantly, until it is reduced to about half. Lower the heat to medium, and stir in the butter/soy mixture. As soon as the sauce is bubbly and thoroughly incorporated, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the lime juice. Spoon the sauce over the steaks and serve immediately.


* * *

Clearly a red wine dish, we found that the rich sauce and chewy steak can hold up to plenty of tannin in the wine you choose, so full-bodied rather than lighter, more delicate reds work best with it. No one grape variety stood out in our tastings, though wines made with both Cabernet and Shiraz/ Syrah performed especially well. The sauce is itself so multi-faceted that extremely complex wines run the risk of getting lost when paired with it. Look instead for wines with forward, direct flavors and, above all, good balance.


Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

Clos du Val, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

$38

An old-fashioned Napa Cab, meaning a wine with less flash and dazzle than some, but better harmony and expression than most, this wine matched the steak and sauce perfectly in term of intensity and power. Everything complemented everything else, with no element of the pairing proving dominant.

Marqués del Campo, Ribera del Duero (Spain) Tempranillo

2010

(Imported by USA West)

$17

A straightforward, almost blunt Tempranillo, with earthy undertones augmenting more forceful dark cherry scented fruit. The wine is very nicely balanced, with a core of acidity that prevents it from becoming flabby, and firm tannins in the finish.

Morgan, Santa Lucia Highlands (California) Syrah “Double L Vineyard” 2011

$42

A lovely Syrah that shows plenty of red and black fruit flavor with more than a dash of pepper and dried herbs to provide intrigue. Those non-fruit flavors gave both it and the dish added depth when they were paired together.

Pic & Chapoutier, Crozes-Hermitage (France) 2010

(Imported by Nice Legs, LLC)

$20

The lightest wine we are recommending, this medium-weight beauty excited us for much the same reason as the Morgan Syrah—the extra depth of flavor it gave to the dish and the dish gave to it. Being lighter, however, the harmony was not quite as obvious, though the wine was every bit as delicious.

Wild Oats, Central Ranges (Australia) Shiraz 2011

(Imported by Pacific Highway Wines & Spirits)

$15

A pretty Aussie Shiraz, full of sweet, seductive fruit flavors that, unlike the Syrah-based wines from France and California, had the effect of lightening the dish. This may be a stylistic winemaking difference or the result of very different growing conditions, but no matter the cause, the end result was a quite distinctive pairing.