The Feast: Steak on the Grill with Eric Adjepong

The acclaimed chef shares his recipe for easy New York strip with chermoula; plus, 10 savory Spanish reds

The Feast: Steak on the Grill with Eric Adjepong
Reminiscent of chimichurri, the North African herb sauce known as chermoula gains depth from paprika, cayenne and cumin, and brightness from citrus juices. (Julie Harans)
Oct 10, 2019

Cooking for a crowd? "The Feast" turns to ace chefs—who better to advise on feeding the whole crew?—for recipes, prep advice and, of course, wine pairings. Plus, we'll give you 10 value wines recommended by our editors. Get ready: It's time to feast!

Eric Adjepong may be most familiar for his recent star turn on Top Chef, where his precise, evocative and boldly flavored dishes showcasing the reaches of the transatlantic slave trade earned him a spot among Season 16’s final three contestants. But away from the cameras, Adjepong’s niche is the art of the dinner party. Buttressed by a career at fine dining restaurants, he co-owns Pinch & Plate, a bespoke catering service based in Washington, D.C., with his wife, Janell Adjepong.

Eric and Janell met in 2014—fittingly, at a party—and began dating. A year later, Janell decided to host a dinner for a few girlfriends and asked Eric to cook for it. “I thought it was just going to be something really low-key,” Eric recalls, “and then I remember coming out of the kitchen to see the dinner table and it was completely decked out with the candelabras and flowers, and it was just completely beautiful. I had no idea that she could put together such a tablescape.”

The couple founded Pinch & Plate that year. Janell handles everything from client relations and event planning to decorating, hosting and serving. Eric, who worked at Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence–winning Restaurant Marc Forgione and Kwame Onwuachi’s boundary-breaking Kith and Kin, cooks. Janell notes that clients sometimes seem surprised to actually see the two of them show up on their doorstep, rather than a fleet of deputies. But Eric and Janell do it all, including cleanup at the end of the night.

For an end-of-grilling-season shindig, Eric has provided his recipe for skirt steak with chermoula, a bright North African herb sauce, paired with an aged Rioja from Spain's renowned R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia. The wine pairing comes courtesy of Diane Gross, owner of Cork Wine Bar & Market in Washington, D.C., a combination restaurant, wine bar and wineshop in the Logan Circle neighborhood that provides handpicked wine pairings for the Adjepongs’ events. It has recently begun hosting Pinch & Plate pop-up pairing dinners as well.

On the stresses of hosting a dinner party, the Adjepongs have several thoughts. First, says Janell, “Don’t sweat the small stuff. If you have 10 people coming and you only have eight matching white wineglasses, but you have two red [wineglasses], put the two reds on the table. It’s fine. Nobody’s going to notice. But what people will notice is if, as a host, you’re really flustered.”

She also encourages home party throwers to be comfortable using their own linens and decor rather than renting or buying new items just for a party. “I always say, use what you have. That’s really important to me; it's how we started Pinch & Plate,” she says. “Everything we started our business with I already had in my home.”

Portrait of Eric and Janell Adjepong
Emmanuel Boakye-Appiah
With Pinch & Plate, Eric and Janell Adjepong offer a full slate of home-entertaining services.

Pinch & Plate’s cuisine is far-ranging, including brunch, global fare, Americana, classic French cuisine and Latin American menus. In the recipe provided here, a dish Adjepong cooks at home, the spicy, savory, brightly herbaceous chermoula steals the show. Anchored in a combination of cilantro and parsley stirred into olive oil, the sauce is very similar to chimichurri; its most obvious distinguishing characteristic is the addition of paprika, cayenne and cumin. Lemon and orange juice turn up the brightness.

When it comes to steak, Adjepong notes, many of us forget to let it come to room temperature before blasting it on a hot—and it should be hot!—grill. Steak is a muscle, and it tenses in the cold. Bringing it to room temperature for about 20 minutes before cooking allows the muscle to loosen and helps you avoid cold spots that could lead to uneven cooking.

As far as testing for doneness, Adjepong is a fan of the hand test: Touch your nondominant thumb to your pointer finger and, with your dominant thumb and forefinger, feel the padding between them. Then touch your thumb to your middle finger, then ring finger, then pinkie, and feel how the muscle next to your thumb tightens with each stop. “That index finger is probably about what a rare steak feels like, and then that middle finger is kind of like a medium-rare, and then the ring finger is kind of like a medium-well, and then that pinkie’s like a well-done steak,” Adjepong says.

Diane Gross suggests pairing the dish with a traditional-style Rioja—and if possible, one with a little bottle age, which softens the wine’s tannins and highlights the savory elements. “With steak, we look for bigger wines that are richer and can hold up to the texture and quality of the meat, and the juiciness, and the fat,” she says. However, in this case, “the sauce has a lot of light notes to it.”

To match the weight of the steak but not trample the delicacy of the sauce, she went with the R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Viña Bosconia Reserva 2007, a blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha with other Spanish varieties. She describes “a lot of red silky fruit, with a little bit of plum and plum skin, so you get that bite,” as well as earthy and herbaceous notes such as thyme, with cedary accents. “I think that helps to balance out the richness of the fruit,” she adds. Perhaps most importantly, “[The wine] still has some of that lightness and acidity that would be a complement to the herbs that are used in the sauce,” she says. “You don't want those to get lost.”

Grilled Steak with Chermoula

Recipe courtesy of chef Eric Adjepong and tested by Wine Spectator’s Julie Harans.

Ingredients

For the chermoula:

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups cilantro, packed
  • 1 cup parsley, packed
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup red onion, small-diced
  • 1 teaspoon salt

For the steak:

  • 6 boneless New York strip steaks, about 1 1/4 inches thick
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Cilantro, for serving

Preparation

1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine garlic, cilantro and parsley. Pulse until all ingredients are finely chopped. Add the lemon juice, orange juice, cumin, paprika and cayenne, and pulse until well-combined. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Transfer to a bowl, stir in the red onion and season with salt. Make ahead: The chermoula can be made up to 24 hours in advance and stored, covered, in the refrigerator.

2. About 20 minutes before grilling steaks, remove them from the refrigerator and let sit uncovered at room temperature.

3. Preheat a grill on high. Brush the steaks on both sides with canola oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Place as many steaks on the grill as will fit without crowding, and cook until the meat is well-browned, with deep grill marks, about 5 minutes. Flip steaks and grill for 3 to 5 minutes more for medium-rare, with an instant-read thermometer registering 135° F. The steak should be the tautness of the muscle next to your thumb when the tip of your thumb is touching the tip of your middle finger. Repeat in batches as needed, setting finished steaks aside in a single layer on a wire-rimmed rack set over a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Tent with foil and let rest for at least 5 minutes.

4. As the steaks finish resting, transfer them one at a time to a cutting board and slice against the grain. Arrange the sliced meat on a platter and dress with the chermoula. Garnish with cilantro and serve immediately. Serves 6.


10 Recommended Value Wines: Traditional-Style Spanish Riojas

Note: The following list is a selection of outstanding and very good red wines from recently rated releases. More options can be found in our Wine Ratings Search.

BODEGAS BERONIA

Rioja Reserva 2014

Score: 92 | $17

WS review: Rich and expressive, this red delivers bold flavors of plum, blackberry and licorice, balanced by graphite, black tea and forest floor notes. Tangy acidity offsets the firm tannins. Exuberant. Drink now through 2028. 40,000 cases made, 3,000 cases imported.—Thomas Matthews


CUNE

Rioja Viña Real Crianza 2016

Score: 91 | $17

WS review: This red is dense and focused, with cherry, berry and vanilla flavors that emerge as the tannins give way, leading to a floral and spicy finish. Drink now through 2031. 11,000 cases imported.—T.M.


VIÑA BUJANDA

Rioja Crianza 2015

Score: 90 | $15

WS review: This lithe red is bright and energetic. Fresh cherry and red plum flavors mingle with leafy, licorice and vanilla notes, backed by light tannins and tangerine acidity. Supple and graceful. Drink now through 2025. 35,000 cases made, 5,000 cases imported.—T.M.


BODEGAS FAUSTINO

Rioja Crianza 2016

Score: 90 | $15

WS review: This polished, supple red shows black cherry, fresh herb, licorice and mineral flavors, harmonious and alluring. The structure is light but focused, the finish spicy and fresh. Graceful. Drink now through 2026. 3,000 cases imported.—T.M.


BODEGAS IZADI

Rioja Crianza 2016

Score: 90 | $16

WS review: Harmonious flavors of cherry, forest floor, vanilla and spice mingle in this plush red, but firm tannins impart backbone and bright acidity, keeping the finish fresh. Focused and lively. Drink now through 2028. 67,342 cases made, 3,000 cases imported.—T.M.


BODEGAS OLARRA

Rioja Añares Reserva 2015

Score: 90 | $20

WS review: Sandalwood, tobacco and cedar notes mingle in this spicy red. Cherry, orange peel and licorice flavors are harmonious and expressive. Light tannins and tangerine acidity keep this focused. Drink now through 2025. 22,000 cases made, 14,000 cases imported.—T.M.


BODEGAS PALACIOS REMONDO

Rioja La Montesa Crianza 2016

Score: 90 | $20

WS review: This polished red offers cherry, tangerine and vanilla flavors, with a fruity sweetness, backed by gentle tannins and sweet-tart acidity. Not a big wine, but harmonious and graceful. Drink now through 2024. 53,000 cases made, 13,000 cases imported.—T.M.


BODEGAS CAMPO VIEJO

Rioja Reserva 2014

Score: 89 | $15

WS review: This red is fleshy but supple, with cherry, sandalwood, tobacco and vanilla flavors energized by bright orange peel acidity. Gentle and balanced, in the traditional style. Drink now through 2024. 37,800 cases imported.—T.M.


VICENTE GANDÍA

Tempranillo Rioja Raiza Crianza 2016

Score: 89 | $17

WS review: A smooth texture carries harmonious flavors of black cherry, forest floor, anise and tobacco in this polished red. Orange peel acidity keeps this fresh. Drink now through 2026. 25,000 cases made, 5,000 cases imported.—T.M.


BODEGAS OLARRA

Rioja Añares Crianza 2016

Score: 89 | $15

WS review: This focused red delivers black cherry and licorice flavors, accented by smoky, underbrush and cola notes. Shows backbone, with firm tannins giving way to a savory finish. Drink now through 2026. 24,000 cases made, 3,000 cases imported.—T.M.

Recipes Cooking Pairings Red Wines Steak/Beef Grenache / Garnacha Tempranillo Spain

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