Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Friday, February 6, 2015

Contractually Obligatory Friday Filler Post

Shorter Megan McArdle: Paying someone to cook your steak is a waste of money. You are much better off spending hundreds of dollars on equipment to cook it yourself, using the most complicated method possible.


The problem with ordering steak out is that the chef doesn't do much to it. It's expensive, but it's expensive because the raw ingredient -- which is to say, steak -- is expensive. At most places, all the chef does is season a pre-cut hunk of meat, expose it to heat for a little while, and maybe plop some butter on top to make it taste extra-succulent. You can do all these things at home. It takes little skill, and it creates almost no mess. In other words, you aren't getting much added benefit from going to the restaurant. So don't pay someone else premium prices for minimal work; make them spend hours prepping and cooking you that wild boar ragu. 
If you want a dry-aged steak, you can do it at home with a mini-fridge in the basement or garage. Dying for a fancy bearnaise sauce? You can make it in the blender. If you're having trouble getting the meat cooked exactly to a turn, buy a sous vide setup, which is so foolproof that you literally cannot screw up the cooking; no matter the thickness of the steak, it will turn out absolutely perfect, every time. All in, the entire kit -- sous vide, mini fridge, blender, vacuum sealer, and a hibachi or cast-iron frying pan to put a sear on -- will set you back less than $500 new, which is to say, less than a couple of steak dinners for four. And you can probably slash that by at least half by shopping garage sales. Then get some good steaks -- by mail order if your local grocery store is truly abysmal -- and have yourself that celebratory steak feast. Total active time spent cooking should be well under half an hour. And if you don't want to do the dishes, you can use fancy paper plates. 
Yes, investing in such a setup will cost you more than a single steak at a restaurant. But then it will keep generating delicious dry-aged steaks for years. Those are years that you will be able to spend eating restaurant food that actually would be difficult, or annoying, to replicate at home, while also enjoying a great steak from time to time. Or if your idea of a great meal is always and forever "steak," you can skip the restaurant entirely and save thousands. I can do a top-notch steak dinner for eight at home for less than it would cost to take the two of us out for a mediocre piece of beef, and without much greater effort.

Remember, she's a "vegetarian" even if she eats meat.


Skinny Little Boy from Cleveland, Ohio said...

She could go on like this for just about any restaurant meal. Any number of common dishes from mac and cheese to pad thai can be done at home, but the whole point is not to enjoy a meal you didn't cook hopefully cooked by someone with more skill. This just seems like bizarre effort to one-up a competent chef by investing in space taking gadgets. Like Mcardle I'm semi-vegetarian, although I'm less of jerk about it. I like a really well made steak once a year or so--I don't want to buy all kinds of stuff to make it (and possibly ruin it).

Clever Pseudonym said...

Thank goodness for Megan. Where would we all be without her explaining that we can cook this "food" thingies at home?

Mr. Wonderful said...

And she leaves out stuff. To get a good sear on beef, you need to crank the stove high and let a cast iron pan sit on it for awhile--all of which is easy, yes. But then get ready for a TON of smoke, which your exhaust fan either can or can't handle.

That said, I've been cooking for decades, so when we go out (which is seldom), I do want to get food I can't make myself. She's not wrong about that. The dry-ageing fridge seems excessive. And the sous vide is another matter. We recently got a sous vide kit for free and it's been sitting in the box, unopened.