HIGHLAND CATTLE // the local food report

Photo Credit Seawind Meadows

Let's be honest. I am not the meat cooker in the family. No. I do not grill. I rarely sear. I sometimes saut√© ground beef. And about twice a year, I cook a slow roast. For some reason that I think involves screwing up an otherwise expensive and amazing dinner, I am terrified of pulling any cut out of the freezer that involves the word "sear." 

I know you're supposed to rely on your hand. My friend Kevin showed me once how you press on your palm and it tells you when your steak is done. Thumb and index finger touching, feel your palm. If the steak feels this way, it's rare! Pinky to thumb? Well done! I totally get it. And I am totally still scared.

I set out today to conquer that fear. I spent a long time talking with a cattle farmer from Dennis the other day, Laura McDowell-May of Seawind Meadows Farm. We talked a lot about the breed—Highland cattle, originally from Scotland—and also about how she likes to eat their meat. She talked about rib-eye. She reminded me just how wonderful a steak can be. 

When I got home I pulled a rib steak out of the freezer from an animal we split with friends last year and started reading up. The book I like is called The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook by Shannon Hayes. It has all kinds of recipes specifically for pasture-raised meats, which in general tend to be leaner than conventionally-raised meats. They often require lower heats and longer cooking times. 

Her instructions for the steak were spot on. Mine wasn't quite as thick as she requested, so I lowered the cooking times. But I wanted it rare, and when my thumb and index finger touched, it felt just right. So I turned off the heat, let it rest, and added a pat of butter on top. It was sublime.


This is about as simple as it gets. Shannon's original recipe uses the grill, but given the weather recently, I adapted it to the stove. Besides regular rib steaks, other cuts that would work include T-bone, porterhouse, New York strip, top blade, or rib eye. Please note that the cooking times and temps are meant for meat from a grass fed and grass finished animal. 

2 rib steaks roughly 1-1 and 1/2 inches thick 
coarse sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
1 tablespoon butter

Sprinkle the steaks liberally with sea salt and pepper. Bring them up to room temperature—this takes 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the time of year and temperature of your house. When they're ready, warm up a cast iron skillet on very high heat.

Grease the pan with the 1 tablespoon butter. Lay the steaks in the hot pan and sear until well-browned, about 2-3 minutes depending on the thickness of your meat. Flip the steaks, sear another minute, and turn off the heat. The residual heat from the pan will finish the job. If you want to check the temperature you can stick a meat thermometer into the side of the steak, but don't jab it into the top. Rare is 120 degrees F, medium is 135. I really wouldn't go past that. Let the steaks rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. A pat of butter on top doesn't hurt.


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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.