[Sca-cooks] OOP: Query on Steak Smothered In Onions...

Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius adamantius.magister at verizon.net
Fri Aug 25 06:29:42 PDT 2006

Hullo, the list!

I'm not sure if we talked about this before, and I don't think it's  
necessarily the kind of thing that would find its way into the  
Florilegium, so here's what I'm wondering about...

I'm interested in the sorta-kinda-archetypal dish of steak smothered  
in onions, and any relationship it may or may not have to other  
smothered dishes, such as chicken (which I gather is somewhat similar  
to some people's concept of a fricassee), and pork chops (which  
appear to be a basic braise).

 From what I'm seeing, the "steak smothered in onions" thing seems to  
have reached its height in the US in the 1940's and '50's, but as far  
as I can tell it's mostly a presentation/method of service, and not a  
specific cooking method, at least by that time: the steak gets  
smothered on the plate, not in the pan.

I believe I've seen references to SSIO as a Depression-era truck stop  
lunch-counter type of item, cooked on a griddle alongside such  
yummies as the world-famous Hamburger Steak Sandwich (for which  
latter some early recipes exist indicating that the beef is neither  
ground nor chopped, but repeatedly pounded). The steak would be a  
cheap cut, possibly pounded, seared until brown and then finished  
among a pile of fried/sauteed onions on the cool spot at the rear of  
the griddle, similar (I think) to the modern Midwestern "pepper  
steak" (which is neither the Cantonese dish nor tournedos au poivre).

I believe Andy Smith (not the late SCAdian duke, the food historian  
with the tomato fixation) sent me an e-mail which included a  
nineteenth-century recipe for smothered steaks which featured onions,  
and ISTR it was pretty similar to a smothered pork chop recipe, but I  
now can't locate the message.

I was just wondering if anyone had actually eaten this, possibly as a  
child, and whether it was cooked in combination or assembled on the  
plate. It seems to be one of those things that has become a sort of  
cultural icon, but which few of us have probably eaten within the  
past year. You'd have to be certifiably insane to cheerfully spend an  
evening setting up side-by-side taste tests on things like this,  
wouldn't you?

BTW, when I did the taste test, the winner for sheer essential-ness  
was the very lightly floured, pounded piece of boneless chuck, more  
or less country-fried and then left to macerate in a mound of very  
soft, almost conserved, sauteed onions in an iron pan over a low  
flame for 20-30 minutes.


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