A history of well-done meat in America.
It was time for a steak. I chose steak because it's basic and classic—the Brooks Brothers of the meat world—and chose to order one at SoHo's seasonally-focused Savoy, believing that meat is safer at a restaurant that relies on trusted purveyors rather than factory farms. As for a dining companion, I picked my mother, because she's no fan of undercooked meat herself. I ordered grilled sirloin with cipollini onions and heirloom fingerling potatoes. It was one of the first times in my life I chose an entree for its center rather than its sides. When the waitress said, "Is medium-rare OK?" it was the moment I'd been anticipating, like a proposal. "Yes," I answered. Yes!
And then: here was my steak. "Well, it certainly is rare," said my mother, peering across the table. It was black and crusty on the outside and in the middle, dark red. It had been cut into thin slices, which was reassuring. There would be no mystery center—a raw shocker halfway through my meal. I wouldn't have to worry that the kitchen hadn't realized the inside was still bloody; a professional had evaluated this meat, decided it was OK like that. Normally I would have started with the most well-done strip, but this time I went right for the red. I tasted it, and it was: good.
The meat gave beneath my fork. It was tender. It was juicy. But here's the catch: I didn't revel in its merits. And this confirmed what I had suspected: that these aren't necessarily qualities I prize in food. When people say "juicy," I think of Starburst TV commercials from the 1980s—an artificially flavored explosion in my mouth. I was reminded of an observation I'd come across online: People who prefer well-done don't regard the lack of juiciness as a problem. They like dried things. Liking dried things: Yes, this was me. It was a motif, a style, an inclination for the arid: for raisins, for the air in Colorado, for floorboards without the high-gloss sheen. My spirits fell a little. Is this who I am, a lover of the desiccated? I poked around with my fork, and my heart lifted at discovering something blackened: the onions. Delicious. Then I cut a bite of a savory, well-cooked end strip. "See, this is so good," I said, sighing. It was disappointing to admit it. "This is what I like."
Photograph of a raw steak by Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock.