Jordan grew up eating mushrooms alongside steak because that’s what his mother always cooked. Scents are powerful agents of memory, so for him the smell of sautéing mushrooms with garlic, butter, salt, and a generous dusting of cracked black pepper is almost inseparable from that of steak. Where did this great pairing come from? His mother says that she does it because her mother did. So where did Grandma get this technique? “It’s probably from France,” Jordan’s mom says. “She took a lot from French cooking.” Indeed, Julia Child has a recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking for sauté de boeuf à la parisienne that pairs steak and mushrooms. It calls for whipping cream, Madeira, and beef stock. This dish is infinitely more simple.
Mushrooms are almost a meat substitute. Just like a steak, they brown when they are cooked, lose some water, and develop a dense, savory texture. They’re also chock-full of umami, which make them an excellent complement to steak. The mushrooms’ function is the opposite of the role of an acidic salad. Instead of acting as a counterpoint, they enhance the steak by doubling down on richness and umami while also adding an earthy flavor.
- Put the butter and the garlic in a cold sauté pan and turn on the heat to medium. Starting off this way allows the garlic to relax and steam a little as the butter releases moisture, keeping the garlic from browning too quickly. As the butter melts, drizzle in the oil. When the butter has melted and mixed with the oil and the garlic is beginning to crackle, add the mushrooms and toss or stir to coat them with the fat. Add the thyme sprigs, turn down the heat to medium-low, and gently sauté the mushrooms until they’ve reduced by one-third to one-half, about 10 minutes.
- Season to taste with salt and with several generous twists of the pepper mill, then remove the long thyme stems and sprinkle with the parsley. Serve a spoonful of mushrooms on top of or just alongside each steak.