Chef Kevin O’Connor has a signature item on his ingredient list that’s a little unexpected: wood. Although O’Connor was trained in some of the most prestigious kitchens in the Bay Area, he has since escaped into the wild to use his culinary skills in the practice of cooking over a fire, and that requires d learn how to manage a fire and build a good charcoal bed. And just in case you’re unfamiliar with wood-fired cooking? It is exactly what it sounds like. “Quality ingredients, decent wood, and salt are all you need for an amazing meal,” O’Connor told Inside Hook. “Keep it simple and don’t be paralyzed by the thought of needing fancy equipment. Remember that a life-changing meal you cook over a fire could have been enjoyed in exactly the same way 1000 years ago.
He cautions: Quality “doesn’t mean luxury,” but when it comes to cooking meat (and steak, in particular), O’Connor sources from a company that honors quality. animal and delivers the most flavor. First Light Farms, a meat company from New Zealand, has introduced the concept of 100% grass-fed wagyu beef to the global market, and their results speak for themselves, in terms of flavor, while preserving a much better quality of life for the animal. When the animals inevitably have their “bad day”, nearly every part of the cow is purchased and used for non-steak products, such as collagen and hides.
But the concept of 100% grass-fed beef is extremely rare in the world of cattle farming, and that quality is part of why O’Connor is drawn to the brand. “I love that First Light Farms went against the grain (pun intended) by sticking to the most natural processes,” he says. “In this case, it’s about giving the cows what they’re supposed to eat – grass – along with plenty of sunshine and fresh air. The flavor, the richness and the ‘no-duh’ ethos “Grass-fed beef paired with the marbling and butter of wagyu was almost unbelievable when I first tried it, and I haven’t tried anything close to it yet.
First Light’s ethical sourcing and production also aligns with O’Connor’s personal values - he believes that cooking seasonally, with local ingredients that he often sources himself, is the key to food that is truly delicious. “I wouldn’t have any idea what to cook if I didn’t know what’s in season and growing around me,” he said. “I would go so far as to say that cooking without respecting seasonality is selfish. With an ever-changing food landscape and an impending loss of culture surrounding what we eat, it is imperative to retain and share these insights. Wild and native foods from California and other regions are what ignite my torch.
If that’s not enough to entice you to go out and grill some steaks yourself over a high heat, Chef Kevin will walk you through the process himself with a simple, foolproof recipe for the perfect grilled steak you should do. the case. Whether you’re in the middle of nowhere ready to try out your foraging and real-fire skills—or just heat up a grill on your own back porch—O’Connor has the key to getting that perfect flavor and juiciness. For this recipe, he recommends First Light’s Wagyu Striploin, which is available for purchase online or through their monthly steak club.
“My favorite steaks to cook and eat are thick cut Wagyu strip loin,” he said. “Cooked over a fire and seasoned only with salt, I’ve had the ‘best steak ever’ more times than I could count.” So order a few slices of steak online, light a fire, and see if you can earn that compliment for yourself.
Wagyu First Light Rib Steak with Creamed Nettles and Roasted Spring Onions
Note from Chef Kevin: Stinging nettles grow profusely in the wild as a weed and require gloves for harvesting. The pungent compounds disappear once cooked. If you don’t want to risk the sting, don’t hesitate to replace the nettle leaves with baby spinach.
- 2 First Light 100% Wagyu Grass-Fed Ribeyes
- Kosher salt
- First Light 100% Grass-Fed Wagyu Beef Tallow or Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 2 red spring onions or 1 medium red onion
- 1 teaspoon of red wine vinegar
- 4 cups loosely packed fresh nettle leaves (or 6 cups spinach leaves)
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- Salt to taste
For the nettles or spinach
Start by sautéing the nettle leaves (or spinach) in a small saucepan over medium heat with a tablespoon of butter and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until greens are wilted. Add the cream and bring to a boil. Simmer the cream and nettles until the cream has reduced slightly (~5 minutes). Using an immersion blender, blend the cream and nettles until smooth. Check the seasoning and let the mixed nettle cream continue to simmer for another five minutes to thicken. Remove from heat and set aside.
For the steaks
Take the steaks out of the fridge to come to room temperature. Bring a large cast iron skillet to high heat. Lightly brush the steaks with a small amount of extra virgin olive oil or suet before seasoning both sides generously with salt. Once the pan is hot, lay the steaks in, compressing them gently with your hand to make sure they are flat against the pan. Cook the steaks for 3 to 5 minutes on one side, turning a quarter turn every minute. Flip the steaks when one side is heavily caramelized and crispy. Slightly reduce the heat and repeat the operation on the other side of the steak. Continue this process as needed, turning the steak until the desired internal temperature is reached. It should be slightly firm with a bit of springiness when you prick it with your finger (135°F for medium-rare). Remove the steak from the pan and let it rest for 10-12 minutes, turning the steak halfway through the resting process.
For the onions
While the steaks are resting, cook the onions in the same cast iron skillet. If using spring onions, cut them in half, and if using red onions, cut them into wedges, leaving the base intact. Remove the beef fat from the cast iron skillet, replace it with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and bring to medium-high heat. Cook the onions on all sides until they are caramelized. Remove from the pan and cut off the base to help cut the onion into smaller layers. Place the cooked onions in a small bowl and toss with a drizzle of olive oil and the red wine vinegar. Set aside while you carve your rested steaks.
For the finish
Using a sharp knife, cut the steaks, against the grain, into ½-inch-thick pieces. Place the nettle cream on the plate before transferring the cut steaks. Garnish with the seasoned onion and serve immediately.
This article was published in the InsideHook SF newsletter. Join now to learn more about the Bay Area.