I was fortunate to attend a virtual tour of Omaha recently courtesy of Visit Omaha and Omaha Steaks. I’ve certainly heard of both, but aside from that, I admit total ignorance. I learned Omaha is Nebraska’s largest city with a population of 900,000. It boasts the largest indoor rain forest in North America, the world’s largest indoor desert, a wealth of museums, most of them with free admission, and a vibrant music scene. It’s also a food lover’s Mecca.
The Reuben sandwich was invented there at Crescent Moon Alehouse. If you think you’re up to a challenge, order the Stellanator at Stella’s Hamburgers. With 6 patties, 6 fried eggs, 12 pieces of bacon, cheese, and peanut butter for starters, it weighs 4½ pounds and has a whopping 4,900 calories. Omaha is also home to some of the finest steakhouses on the planet and is at the forefront of the Farm to Fork movement.
Omaha has the nation’s largest livestock market, surpassing Chicago in 1955. In 1917, father and son Latvian immigrants JJ and BA Simon opened Table Supply Meat Company which became Omaha Steaks in 1966. The 5th generation of Simons now operates the business. The Simons are extremely philanthropic and donate generously to Omaha’s music and arts community.
The group of writers I joined watched three of Omaha’s finest chefs work their magic preparing steaks. We began with Chef Nick Strawhecker, owner/chef of Dante, which specializes in authentic wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas. His pizzas are in fact one of the few in the country certified by the government of Italy. Nick spent years in Italy and serves only Italian wines in his restaurant. He showed us how he approaches a steak and he selected a 20-ounce bone-in ribeye. He starts by “tempering” a steak, allowing it to come to room temperature for about two hours. He seasons the meat with generous amounts of fresh cracked black pepper and diamond crystal salt. He places the meat in a hot cast iron pan with olive oil seasoned side down and only then seasons the other side. He places the pan in an 800° wood-fire oven and removes it several minutes later. After allowing the meat to rest for at least five minutes, he slices it across the grain. Chef Nick makes tigelle, what he describes as a “love child” of English muffins and pita. He makes sandwiches with the sliced ribeye, adding condiments like Gorgonzola, chili aioli, house-made Kimchi, mustard, braised artichokes, chervil, dill, and morel mushrooms.
Chef Jake Newton joined us next from V. Mertz, in the historic passageway of Omaha’s Old Market entertainment district. Cobblestone streets dotted with boutiques, antique emporiums, and local pubs set the Old Market apart. V. Mertz has been a fixture for 40 years, highlighting the best Nebraska has to offer. Chef Jake has an extensive background including training in Denver and Europe. He too chose a ribeye, but decided on a boneless cut. He starts with a dry steak, removing all excess moisture, then seasons it liberally with salt and cracked black pepper from above for better coverage. He uses canola oil because it has a hotter smoke point, and sears the steak on the hottest surface possible to obtain caramelization and a crust. He removes the steak from the heat and allows it to rest for at least five minutes so the external temperature cools below the internal temperature. He finishes the steak in a 450° oven for about five minutes and lets it rest for about 15 minutes before slicing it across the grain. He likes to serve it with a classic French peppercorn sauce, and a red potato salad with pickled veggies to cut the steak’s fattiness.
We concluded our steak lovers tour at The Kitchen Table. Chef Colin Duggan and his wife Jessica own this unique eatery where everything on the menu is seasonal. The couple spent time in San Francisco before planting roots in Omaha. You might munch on some of their renowned Snack Mix with popcorn, house bacon, and candied nuts. It’s been called highly addictive. Everything is made from scratch and they are known for their sandwiches made on house-made bread. Chef Colin chose a Teres Major steak, a cut I confess I’m unfamiliar with. It comes from the beef shoulder. After cutting off the silver skin, he decided to make three dishes: breakfast, lunch, and dinner all from the same cut. Using a very hot cast-iron skillet, he began by preparing steak and eggs. He used grilled pasilla peppers and fresh asparagus in the eggs, seasoning with oil after cooking to absorb the flavors. Lunch was a steak salad with their tasting spice, a blend of fennel, coriander, paprika, salt, and pepper. He adds sliced steak and pickled onions to green lettuce and dresses it with green goddess dressing minus the anchovies. To complete the culinary trifecta he prepared a jerk-spiced steak for dinner, with marinated tomatoes. Chef Colin likes to season his steak up to 12 hours in advance so the meat soaks in as much flavor as possible.
This visit truly opened my eyes. I can’t wait to pay a visit to Omaha. I’m also quite anxious to incorporate the chefs’ tips as I prepare a Private Reserve Crown Ribeye steak from Omaha Steaks. Each writer received a gift certificate to use the skills they learned in this virtual tour. I’ll share my results with you in the very near future.