No-cook week

Just a good piece of steak, barbecued to perfection.
Just a good piece of steak, barbecued to perfection. Photo: David Reist

It's crazy how busy life is. It's a Friday morning at the end of a particularly hectic week when we're packing multiple lunch bags - who has the apple or the banana, the Nutri-Grain bar or the yoghurt top? And we are checking for traces of nuts.

One parent is heading off for the weekend and one child is off to a sleepover party, starting with a laser game after sports training. There's packing for two evening games of basketball, one in Tuggers, the other in Belconnen, and all the time trying to work on a new look - you know, that half-shaved, permanent three-day growth that is popular among movie stars, footy players and criminals, that slightly dishevelled look that takes an hour a day to maintain? What's more, deep breath, there's a particularly aggressive goose that is seriously looking at being unceremoniously beheaded.

On top of all this, at 7.30am, having already been up for two hours, out come those three words that make you curl into a ball and sob: ''It's Book Week.''

Nooo! So you need a costume for the parade? Yes. And you didn't think to mention this at the shops yesterday when we were getting the gift and the bottle of gin?

Clearly not. So we are left with the desperation of trying to pull together a book character in five minutes. What is Book Week anyway? We never had this. Our quivering teachers would never give us another potential weapon in the form of a hardcover book to use against them. They were very happy just to let us sit there carving band names into our school desks and thought they were doing a stellar job if we spelt AC/DC right.

So our choices are few. Where is MacGyver when you need him?

I just want a good piece of steak, barbecued to perfection, grilled onions, a decent sauce and a bottle of something red and alcoholic.

Old pair of glasses, lenses removed, frames bent into circles with pliers, a bed sheet made into a scarf: Harry Potter.

Jack Sparrow (I know it's not a book but, hell, they can't tell any more, call it Treasure Island): tear up a bed sheet to make a bandanna, use a permanent marker to tattoo an anchor - don't worry about toxins - and make an eye patch from a broken wooden spoon, and - look to the goose - would it make a reasonable parrot?

Gandalf: make a goose-feather beard and a cape from a torn bed sheet. Is there anything you can't use a sheet for?


Later I sit, low, in the car, watching the miserable sight of my son walking off to school looking like a homeless person with a seriously bad beard who has been rummaging around in someone's bedroom. Next to him is a kid whose parents have re-created - with an impressive degree of accuracy - a costume from Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. Who the hell has the time for that?

It's just crazy trying to keep up with this every single week. You know the time between the last coffee and the first cocktail will be very brief today.

If the school gave out report cards for this activity, I'd get a solid C, with the comments: ''Well done Bryan, for finally finishing a topic. We love your energy and imagination but remember the importance of planning.''

Each week you are running this relentless parental marathon, only to recover on Sunday - if you are lucky - then start again.

The last thing you feel like doing is elaborate cooking using the arsenal of equipment I've collected: pressure cookers, sous-vide circulators, Thermomixes, dehydrators and thermowhips et al.

I just want a good piece of steak, barbecued to perfection, grilled onions, a decent sauce and a bottle of something red and alcoholic.

The trick to a good red-wine sauce is to use as little liquid as possible to extract the flavour from the bones, plenty of onion and herbs, red wine and tomato passata. Long, low-temperature cooking also makes for a clear, bright stock.

I'll use chuck bones and oxtail - 50-50 gives you a good amount of meat, collagen and surface area to caramelise. I usually prefer a cut of steak that requires long cooking but today all I need is a decent rib steak, scotch fillet well marbled and a good inch thick.

Have it at room temperature before cooking and use a good pinch or three of sea salt.

Onions have an affinity with barbecued steak, giving a rich sweetness, but avoid the burnt look you get from onions at so many sausage sizzles. They need a good two hours of slow cooking with butter and salt.

A neat trick I've been playing around with is the use of smoke in the onions. They seem to suck it up and once done they keep well. Buy some hickory smoking beads (Butts 'N' Brew has a good range but barbecue sellers should have them too). Spread the cooked onions in a thin layer on a fine mesh - I use one of those splatter guards for frying pans. Place on the top shelf of a cold oven (you're using the oven just because you can close it). Heat the smoke beads in a heavy frying pan, covered, until they start to smoulder and give off a good amount of smoke. Quickly place the pan under the onions in the oven and close the door. Leave for 10 to 15 minutes until all the smoke has dissipated. Now you have some really good smoked onions that go beautifully with steak.

Cook the steak to your liking, wrap in foil for at least 10 minutes in a warm place and serve with the onions, the jus and whatever vegetables make sense (hint, chips). Finally, crack the lid on a claret or something rich and tannic.

>>  Bryan Martin is winemaker at Ravensworth and Clonakilla,

Red wine jus

2kg chuck bones

2kg oxtail

olive oil


2 large onions, sliced

2 carrots, chopped roughly

1 bottle red wine

1 tin peeled tomatoes

100g field mushrooms

2 cloves garlic

1 bay leaf

6-8 sprigs thyme

½ bunch parsley

12 peppercorns

Set the oven to 220C. Rub the bones and oxtail with oil and salt. Bake until they are well caramelised, turning often. Lower the heat to 90C. Saute the onions on the stovetop in any drippings from the meat - don't worry about the amount of fat; it will all solidify and be removed later. Add the carrots and cook until the onion is well wilted and starting to brown. Add the wine and tomatoes and cook until the liquid is reduced by half. Back in the roasting tray, add the mushrooms, garlic, herbs and spices with everything else. Add enough water to just cover and bring to a simmer, cover with foil and bake for 12 hours at 90C. Strain through a very fine mesh or cheesecloth. On the stovetop, reduce the liquid to about 300 millilitres. It won't need seasoning. Cool quickly and chill. Remove any fat when cold and use as needed.