Contrary to cookbook presciption, Matias Garrotxetagi smears his chuletas in a healthy, copious layer of coarse salt on one side, then tempers the unsalted side slowly as he, without any hint of qualm or apprehension, places them in contact with the live wood fire. He is not afraid of a flare up and lets the flames embrace the chops. This is critical for the formation of the crust. The chops stay longer over lower heat, unlike the standard 800-900° steakhouse style of searing preferred in a certain Brooklyn staple.
In time, this technique that the patriarch uses at his steak house in little-visited Tolosa, Guipazcoa, has become religion. It is endorsed strongly by his son Iñaki who mans the grill nightly; and by its results: very juicy chops, crunchy crust, and a tender and hot interior. In this house, the standard is the “chuleton de buey,” cuts from the large ribs of old cows aged not longer than 25 days. Our waiter said, “we do not only know the farmers, we know the animals.”
It is the only thing on the menu, and it will be served a smidge above rare. (“y cuyo punto jamás lo determinan a capricho los clientes, sino el maestro asador.”) They are cooked with a thick strip of fat on them which are trimmed off when the chop is carved on the butcher block. The butcher block itself is a thing of beauty (see below). The trimmed off fat is used to strategically cause the flare ups at specific areas of the grill. The salt is scraped off but it has left its mark.
We have it with jumbo white asparagus served with a gobsmacking béarnaise, the hearts of a local lettuce sprinkled on top with black salt ash, and the Robin to the Batman, roasted piquillo peppers that arrived piping hot on a flat ceramic plate. The cheapest wine on the menu is a Chivite, (20$) so we pick it. And boy…
Casa Julian is simple cooking, and Don Matias keeps it real.