If you’re thinking of making dinner for that special someone this year instead of eating out, here are three protein choices — duck, pork, and beef — of varying price ranges. All three are simple to cook by searing over high heat (watch that they don’t burn), and all three have an extra sexy component: fat that is actually good for you. If you’d rather have someone else do the cooking, I’ve included restaurants that serve great versions.
Mostly dark meat, duck can be cooked medium rare. There are also health benefits: Duck fat, like olive oil, is high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Studies have shown that Mediterranean-style diets high in these fats reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Duck fat also contains a high amount of linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid that fights cancer, prevents atherosclerosis, boosts calcium absorption, and aids kidney function.
Buy: Nijiya Market (1737 Post Street #333, 415-563-1901, nijiya.com), Marina Meats (2395 Chestnut Street, 415-673-6700), Bryan’s Grocery (3445 California Street, 415-752-0179).
Cook: Cut fat in a crosshatch pattern, taking care not to cut into the meat. Season all sides with salt and pepper. Heat a cast-iron or other heavy pan over medium-high heat (a drop of water in the pan should madly sizzle). Reduce heat to medium, place duck breasts skin side down in pan and cook for 8 to 10 minutes (the skin should be golden brown and extremely crisp). Remove duck to a plate and pour off almost all the pan fat (save it for a side dish of sautéed potatoes). Return the breasts to the pan, meat side down, and cook 2 to 3 more minutes. Remove duck to a clean plate or cutting board and cover loosely with foil. Resting the meat for at least 5 minutes is very important so that the juices absorb back into the meat. Serve over duck fat-sautéed potatoes or saffron rice with roasted Brussels sprouts.
Dine: Mister Jiu’s — Liberty Farm roast duck with pancakes, cucumbers and peanut butter hoisin ($69 half, $125 whole). Succulent meat and crispy skin make this the city’s best upscale take. Wrap a piece in the paper-thin house-made pancake topped with the accompanying duck pate, cucumbers, and hoisin. 28 Waverly Place, 415-857-9688, misterjius.com.
JAPANESE KOBE BEEF/AMERICAN WAGYU BEEF
Most people know Japanese A5 Wagyu as Kobe beef; but while all Kobe beef is Wagyu, not all Wagyu is Kobe. Like French wine, Japan produces beef by region, or prefecture. Kobe was known as Tajima in ancient times (connoisseurs still refer to the meat as Tajima beef) and the cattle are descendants of kuoge Waygu, or black-haired Japanese cattle. Even today, true A5 Kobe beef is a rarity.
The fat of Wagyu is more healthful than other beef. It’s still a caloric disaster, mind you, but Wagyu contains 30 percent more monounsaturated fatty acids than American Angus. It is also higher in Omega 3 fats (most commonly associated with wild salmon), known for heart-healthy benefits such as raising good and lowering bad cholesterols. It’s not fair to compare it to other steak because it’s more like beef foie gras — meltingly tender with a velvety texture and intense, rich flavor.
Buy: The Butcher Shop by Niku Steakhouse (57 Division Street, 415-829-2306, nikubutchershop.com), San Francisco’s only certified Kobe beef retailer and the exclusive purveyor of A5 Wagyu beef from the Ono Farm in Japan.
Cook: Season all sides with salt and pepper. Heat a cast-iron or other heavy pan over medium- high heat. Reduce heat to medium and place steaks in pan. To achieve medium-rare succulence, I suggest searing both sides until you get a nice, brown crust (a minute or so on each side) and then resting for a few minutes under foil. Serve with my Best Mashed Potatoes Ever (find the recipe at www.marinatimes.com) and spinach or baby kale sautéed in garlic and olive oil.
Dine: Niku Steakhouse — Flight of three Japanese wagyu ($420). Right next door to the Niku butcher shop is Niku restaurant. On a special date night go for the imperial wagyu tomahawk — a monstrous chop that could easily serve two couples ($225), but for Valentine’s Day smaller is bigger with the Japanese wagyu flight (12 ounces). 61 Division Street, 415-829-7817, nikusteakhouse.com.
IBÉRICO DE BELLOTA PORK
Ibérico de Bellota pork is renowned for its beautiful marbling. Indigenous black Ibérico pigs wander freely through the forests of southwest Spain munching on herbs, grasses, and most important, acorns, which create its distinctive flavor (a cross between bacon and beef). It’s high in monounsaturated fats and therefore more healthful than the fat from normal pork. Because of the humane way they’re raised and their special diet, Ibérico can also be eaten rare to medium rare, just like good beef.
Buy: It used to be impossible to find Iberico pork for home preparation in the United States (you had to order it from Spain), but Golden Gate Meats in the Ferry Building (1 Ferry Plaza shop #13, 415-983-7800, ggmeatco.com) now often carries it (call for availability), including the prized Secreto cut.
Cook: Sear quickly on both sides in a very hot pan to form a nice, brown crust, then rest for a few minutes under foil. Serve with saffron rice with peas and a simple salad of arugula with homemade lemon vinaigrette.
Dine: Coqueta — Pluma acorn fed, Spanish Ibérico de bellota pork shoulder loin with honey-chili glaze ($38). The first time I had Iberico de bellota was at Coqueta, and it was a revelation — and it still is. Charred outside, juicy and pink inside, it’s still one of the best dishes in the city. 5 Embarcadero, 415-704-8866, coquetasf.com
E-mail: [email protected]. Follow the Marina Times on Twitter @TheMarinaTimes and like us on Facebook @MarinaTimes.