At Steak: Food for Thought

Some like it raw, some like it rare. Some cook it to medium while others prefer it well done. But we all love steak.

Derived from the Old Norse word steik, this meat dish is usually a juicy slab of beef, cut perpendicular to the muscle fibers. Meat is what man has primarily looked to for proteins, and all of the essential amino acids. In most cases it has also been a good source of zinc, vitamin B12, selenium, phosphorus, niacin, vitamin B6, iron and riboflavin.

A popular dish with meat lovers, steak can be served grilled or pan-fried. Almost all are served with special sauces that differ from region to region and taste to taste. Tender cuts from the loin and rib are cooked quickly, usually through dry heat.

While these are served whole, the less tender cuts from the chunk or round are cooked with moist heat, sometimes even being mechanically tenderised. Temperature is the most important ingredient of the steak. A slight change in temperature changes the very nature of the meal and each appetite appreciates a different sort of steak.

The raw steak, for example, is the uncooked form mostly used in dishes like steak tartare, carpaccio, and mostly African cuisine. Blue rare, or very rare, is cooked very quickly; the outside is seared, but the inside is usually cool and barely cooked. The steak will be red on the inside and barely warmed. People sometimes call it 'blood rare', 'Black and Blue' or 'Pittsburgh Rare.'

Rare, on the other hand, is gray-brown on the outside, and the middle of the steak is red and slightly warm. The medium rare steak will have a fully red, warm centre. Unless specified otherwise, upscale steakhouses will generally cook to at least this level.

Next comes medium, where the middle of the steak is hot and red with pink surrounding the centre. The outside is gray-brown.

Another way to cook steak is to medium well, where the meat is light pink surrounding the centre. In well done steak the meat is gray-brown throughout and slightly charred.

Whatever the case maybe, a sign of privilege and wealth comes with serving of the steak. Since beef prices are above average, steak is something not so common among the masses. In which case, a lot of other meats have come to take its place. Though chicken is often available on the menu, it is the fish steak that takes variety to a whole new level.

Fish fillets are usually cut parallel to the backbone. But if cut perpendicular, then you have a fish steak. The tricky bit is for the steak to hold itself together during cooking. Hence the flesh should be firm – which means that only fish like salmon, swordfish, halibut, turbot, tuna and mahi mahi can be made into proper fish steaks.

The larger fish make boneless steaks; smaller fish (such as salmon) make steaks which include skin, meat, a section of backbone, and rib bones. Smaller fish such as mackerel are sometimes cut into similar portions for curing, but these are usually not called 'steak'. Fish steaks are usually grilled, baked, or pan-fried (with or without being breaded or battered).

There are lots of side dishes to go with steaks. Baked vegetables are the most common partners of the dish, whereas baked potatoes being the most popular amongst these. In modern times, we have seen the partnership of steak and fries come through as well.

So the next time you fancy some steak, you have a huge variety of meat, be it beef, fish or chicken and plenty of veggies to choose from but just make sure there is plenty of everything and don’t forget the sauce!

Elements: A second opinion

Before we begin, let’s get one thing clear. This is a very challenging album musically — both for the performer and the listener. Abbas describes Elements in his own words on his website, “The album represents a turning point in my compositional style. It displays a transition from straight jazz to modal jazz and eventually to jazz fusion with North Indian classical music.” He goes on to add, “Many different genres of music can be heard here reflecting the varied influences of my life. All the compositions are based on classical Indian parent scales (called thaats).”

The first track, Contemplation, is a sort of prologue to the album. A preface set in kalyan thaat (one of the seven modes of raga), the track beckons the listener and is soft on the ears. It is reminiscent of composers who flex their musical prowess before starting on a musical journey.

Jhoom Dewane is the track chosen for the first video. Once you’ve listened to the first few seconds, you’ll know the mood of the album. A musical blend of two worlds — Arabic music and classical Indian music — the track cycles through different stages of life, death and ultimately rebirth. The video for the track is especially interesting as it is an animated story comprising digitally painted photographs and the video captures not only the essence of the song but also adds to the story.

In Sajan Bana things take a lighter turn (probably the only upbeat track on the album) and Irfan’s vocals truly shine through. He’s not that famous yet but his flare fits in fine with the theme of the album. At times the tone and beat of the track is similar to that of a Dave Matthew’s Band number, but once you listen to it all the way through a deep sense of serenity envelopes you. The process whereby two interacting oscillating systems attain synchronisation is called Entrainment. It’s also the name of the fourth track on the album, and is quite apt for the album because it seeks to unite various different modes of music together. Abbas refers to this as his homage to the music of qawwali. The vocals indeed resonate throughout the song, echoing with the sentiments of qawwali, but they don’t match the same epic proportions like say Ghulam Fareed or Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Seek Peace is an interesting track because it features two narratives whereas the female vocals get monotonous after a while. It is Abbas’ musical narrative that carries the piece through.

Mahiya is definitely more rock than the rest of the tracks. There are moments when you can hear Abbas channeling his rock past through each tone. Unlike the previous track, Irfan doesn’t quite deliver which undermines the track definitely.

Seven Heavens though epically named is anything but. It can be epic once it’s played live as most jazz, fusion or instrumental music is. But on the record, and prerecorded in a studio, it is at best the most mediocre track on the album. This one is best experienced live.

Abbas starts Heaven and Earth with the simplest of motifs. Along with Mahiya, this track is quite rocky in an almost Floydesque way. Abbas’ solo lingers on as his journey into the album and his music continues.

The title track Elements is a pleasant cacophony of sound, music and genres. It’s short and sweet, leaving the listener satisfied. Turn Inward, though introverted, is quite expressive in terms of its motif. But it is quite a conceptual track considering it uses a synth drum machine rather than an actual drum kit. Another such track, The Inner Sanctum, continues from where the previous one left off.

Atonement expresses the finality of the album’s theme. It culminates the journey that Abbas began abd the expressions and motifs indicate that he has come full circle.

All in all, Elements is a good album. How does it differ from old school Fuzon and/or the Mekaal Hasan Band? Drastically, as previously it had been the fusion of two genres. Here Abbas fuses three, sometimes four — rock, classical guitar, classical Indian and jazz music. To achieve harmony amongst all these tracks is quite a feat. But this isn’t an album that would be appreciated by the masses, and although even Abbas admits that he’s no Atif Aslam or Ali Azmat, he does believe in the power of music and its ability to enthrall listeners. Only time will tell.