Saturday, August 11, 2007


Ribeye Steak Marinated with Juniper Berries, Star Anise and Rosemary

Not so long ago, during a wet Winter's afternoon in Auckland, I braised a leg of lamb (see here). Amongst the list of ingredients were juniper berries. I couldn't find any at the time, but I resolved to use them during the Californian Summer, for my angelheart Eric and I had bought some in Colorado in February (well, from an import store that brought them in from Hungary). Though I knew I wouldn't be as interested in braising meat in a hot August kitchen, the thought of making a marinade for ribeye (entrecôte) steak was implanted. Ribeye is a cut of meat that always pleases my angelheart Eric, and out of all steak cuts, this is my preferred for grilling as it has the perfect mix of fat and lean.

If I were not a fan Bombay Sapphire - my chosen spirit when out, if not having wine or cocktails - I don't think I would have been able to describe the properties of juniper berries; however, "gin" is not an adjective, is it? Further inhalations of the deeply hued cones (for that is what they are - not actual berries) conjure up images of an Alpine slope: piney (or resinous, as the younger berries tend to be) with a hint of citrus. Think of clear blue skies with a sharp, biting wind. On its own, though, it is perhaps too sharp. In Central and Northern Europe, juniper berries are often a component of sauerkraut, in a love triangle with caraway seeds and bay leaves. For our marinade, my angelheart Eric and I incorporated star anise, which was chosen to temper the juniper berries with a complex sweetness but offering the same clarity in taste as juniper berries, and rosemary, matching the juniper berries' woodiness with depth.

The oil of juniper berries is best released when lightly crushed using a mortar and pestle. This is the opposite for star anise, which in my experience releases its aroma when only lightly toasted. This is a common ingredient in many Taiwanese stews and soups. I am just a shameless hustler for all things that have the chemical compound anethole: fennel, ouzo, licorice, tarragon, chervil, Sambuca...The rosemary, which we plucked from the shrub in the yard, can be removed from its woody stem and be lightly bruised with the juniper berries.

Ribeye Steak Marinated with Juniper Berries, Star Anise and Rosemary

1 stem rosemary
1 1/2 tablespoons juniper berries
3 crowns star anise
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
3/4 tablespoon runny honey
1/4 cup olive oil
black pepper, freshly crushed
2 Ribeye steaks, approximately 1/2kg/1lb each

1) Remove the leaves of rosemary from the stem and cut thinly. Throw into a mortar.
2) Add the juniper berries to the rosemary in the mortar and crush lightly with a pestle.
3) Lightly toast the star anise, which is to say, take them off the heat when they are fragrant, which should only take a minute or two. Pound them.
4) Put the rosemary, juniper berries and star anise in a vessel large enough to comfortably snug in your cuts of meat. Add the soy sauce, honey and olive oil. Stir together to marry the ingredients.
5) Salt and pepper both sides of the steaks.
6) Put steaks into the vessel with the marinade, and rub the marinade into the steaks.
7) Leave to marinade in the fridge for at least one hour, turning the steaks over halfway through.
8) Bring steaks out of the fridge 20 minutes before you want to cook them.
9) Pat steaks dry with kitchen paper before pan-frying until desired done-ness. They are rare when springy to the touch, medium when slightly resistant, and well-done when they don't yield to the touch at all. Depending on your preference, this can take anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes.

I do not pretend that this is a conventional combination of flavours. The elements are mostly my angelheart Eric's chosing, based on our many trials with coming up with interesting and penetrating marinades for well-marbled steaks. Though complex, the combination leaves one feeling quite light, and this can be attributed to the juniper berries and star anise. To avoid astringency, rosemary and soy sauce impart depth. As an equally light side, a bed of arugula dressed with a vinaigrette and shavings of smoked cheddar (for creaminess and mild depth) was most fitting.

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I'm already a convert of rosemary & juniper combination, but would love to try your addition of star anise to this mixture. If you ever need more juniper berries, give me a shout:)
I am not sure where I can get juniper berries here but I would love to give this marinade a try. You think it will work well on white meat too? Say pork or chicken?
Bombay's my favorite, too, Shaun. You can't beat the old trout on the bottle, but I personally think the aromatics are well represented and discernible. Had Sapphire once, but was disappointed b/c I was expecting a more alluring shade of blue; perhaps the barkeep was light handed.

Juniper is such a natural choice for meats. I think they've been using it since Medieval times.
I've been meaning to try something with juniper for a while now, but always forget. There is a natural food shop near me that carries them, I will have to go pick some up so I can try this, it looks and sounds delicious.
Pille - The new trinity is great and one that Eric and I will explore further. Is star anise easy to come by in Estonia? I love the way juniper cuts through fat, really lifting the flavours of the meat.

Cynthia - Pork is commonly paired with juniper berries throughout Europe, so this is a very safe bet, especially if the pork is proper, which is to say: has some fat. I'm not so sure about the chicken, unless you were were to use it with chicken thighs and wings, which have more fat than the breasts.

Susan, lovie - Yes, I remember once being attracted to the Sapphire because of its beautiful blue bottle! The aromatics are indeed distinct and make for a complex though clean drink. I haven't yet tried the standard Bombay, but I should just to compare them.

Indeed, juniper berries have historically been used with fatty meats. Eric and I would like to explore their usage further. I really can't wait until next year when I can commit however much time I want to doing personal "research".

Sara - Juniper berries are really distinct and could be astringent if not tempered with other herbs and spices, which is why Eric and I used rosemary and star anise. I would like to know what you end up using as you always come up with interesting pairings.
Star anise and beef, hmm sounds good I'll have to give that a go soon :)
I have been enjoying your blog and stories of life in New Zealand so far. You have shared some very delicious and droolworthy recipes as well. Keep up the grreat work and "I'll be back"....
Kelly-Jane - Star anise is a wonderful accompaniment to beef. It accentuates the sweetness in beef while simultaneously assiting in rounding out its flavour.

Valli - Welcome! I'm glad you're enjoying the posts. It is always nice to receive responses like yours.
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