Whether it's pork, beef or fish, nothing can beat a juicy cut of prime grilled meat. So turn up the heat and get sizzling, says Mark Hix

We carnivores are always fired up by the thought of a perfect steak, especially as the barbecue season is upon us. It doesn't have to be beef: there's lamb or pork, tuna or salmon. The idea of any great steak can send us heading for the grills. But, as John Walsh so eloquently described last month in our Food & Drink issue, there's something special about beef. And we're lucky that steak seems to be enjoying a resurgence at the moment and there's a new generation of steak houses opening up to feed our desire.

There's still some way to go before we can compete with the South Africans and Americans on our home turf. Especially in restaurants. One problem here is that good beef isn't cheap, and any restaurant that puts steak from a cow with a good upbringing on the menu will have to buy the meat for almost as much as customers will pay for it.

The last time I had steak in a pub, it was a tempting 450g rib-eye steak on the menu at £14.50. We all ordered it rare, but what turned up was two slices of rib eye that were probably just over half of the specified weight, plus a plateful of suspiciously neat chips, gratuitous grilled tomatoes and deep-fried button mushrooms. I'd rather pay a bit more for memorable meat and just have bearnaise and mustard with my steak. This piece of meat may have seemed like a bargain at £14.50, but if a meal's not enjoyable it's not good value, is it?

The secret of cooking any good steak is a red-hot grill. The best meat in the world can be ruined by half-hearted cooking. Ideally you need a charcoal grill - or barbecue - to almost char the meat on the outside, sealing in all the juices and giving it that special flavour.

You're unlikely to find the best steak - or any other cut come to that - in supermarkets because the meat should be heavily marbled with flecks of fat and shoppers buy on appearance and are easily persuaded by the leaner cuts. As John Walsh discovered, the best steak came from his local butcher's shop.

Cuts such as bavette, rump, T-bone and porterhouse have been elbowed aside as they seem tougher by comparison with the more-popular-than-ever rib-eye. A rump or bavette will never match a rib or fillet for tenderness, but it's rare to find a fillet that tastes of anything and these other cuts should be appreciated for their flavour and texture.

Of course this is all about beef, but you don't have to have a cow. A rare-breed pork loin steak with a good covering of fat should be just as much of a treat for any meat eater.

Steak, watercress and shallot salad

Serves 2

This was something I concocted one night because there was only one steak in the fridge and the best way was to stretch it to two was in a salad. I had a few shallots in there too and thought "steak with fried onion rings and a salad all in one". I love eating main course salads during the summer - they are light enough for a late supper, and you can almost invent a new one every night. Use whatever steak you like, from a tasty bavette to a fillet.

1 steak weighing 250-300g or larger if you wish
100-150g watercress, trimmed and thick stalks removed
5-6 shallots, cut into thin rings
Flour for dusting
100ml milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

for the dressing

1tbsp good quality red wine vinegar
3tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1tsp Dijon mustard

Pre-heat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large thick-bottomed saucepan or deep fat fryer.

Put the shallot rings into the flour, shaking off any excess then through the milk and then through the flour again shaking off excess. Fry them a handful at a time for 3-4 minutes until crisp then remove with a slotted spoon and drain on some kitchen paper. You don't need to worry about keeping these hot.

Heat a ribbed griddle pan or a heavy-bottomed frying pan, or better still a barbecue. Season the steak well and cook to your liking. For me, it has to be rare, especially in a salad.

Make the dressing by mixing all the ingredients together and seasoning. Dress the watercress and arrange on serving plates. Slice the steak and arrange on the watercress, then scatter the shallots on top.

Pork loin steak with borlotti beans and fennel

Serves 4

I would urge everyone to try and find really good pork from a traditional breed. It tastes so much better than the plain, intensively reared pork sold in supermarkets and unenlightened butchers. These rarer breeds actually look as if they will taste of something and if you go even further and hunt down wild boar you really will get a porky flavour. In fact, if you have access to wild boar, use it for this recipe. Peter Gott of Sillfield Farm in Cumbria sells his at Borough Market in London, and Liverpool, Barrow-in-Furness and Manchester farmers' markets. The other night at a food and beer matching dinner we served his wild boar's racks and saddle as a main course with Innis & Gunn's original oak-aged beer.

Fresh Italian borlotti beans are turning up at specialist greengrocers now. If you can't find fresh then use good quality canned or dried or even use our native broad beans.

4 pork loin steaks (or wild boar) weighing about 250g
2 shallots peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 small fennel bulb or half a larger one
4tbsp extra virgin olive oil
150ml chicken stock
180-200g shelled weight of fresh borlotti beans
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Remove any green ferns from the fennel, chop and put to one side. Trim any discoloured flesh from the bulb and cut it into rough small dice of about 1 cm. Gently cook the shallots, garlic and fennel in the olive oil for 3-4 minutes with a lid on, stirring every so often and not colouring. Add the chicken stock and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes or until the fennel is soft.

Meanwhile cook the borlotti beans in boiling salted water for 10 minutes, drain and add to the fennel mixture, season and continue simmering for 10-15 minutes until the beans are soft, add the chopped fennel ferns and simmer for 2-3 minutes. If you're planning to grill the pork on a barbecue, have this part ready in advance.

Pre-heat a grill, ribbed griddle plate, barbecue or heavy frying pan. Season the pork chops f and cook for 3-5 minutes on each side depending on the thickness. Some rare breeds will have a lot of fat and a thick rind so it's a good idea to cut the rind and a little fat away before grilling and crisp it up separately.

Spoon the bean mixture on to plates and place the chop on top.

Salmon steak with celery salad

Serves 4

When you can get your hands on the best wild salmon it's rather nice to cook it on the bone in a form of a darne - a cross section cut through the fish - as we call it in the trade. This stops the fish drying out and tastes especially good. If not wild, buy the best quality farmed, preferably organic, that you can find.

4 salmon steaks weighing about 250g each
1tbsp vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small head of leafy celery

for the dressing

1tbsp cider vinegar
4tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil or olive oil
1tsp grain mustard

First make the celery salad: cut the stem away with a sharp knife then separate the stalks reserving any leaves in another bowl. If the outer leaves are stringy then just peel the outer layer with a vegetable peeler.

Wash the leaves and drain, then, again with a peeler, shave the stalks into ribbons into a bowl. You may not need all the celery so wrap the rest in clingfilm and keep it in the fridge for another salad (or soup) day.

Pre-heat a ribbed griddle, heavy bottomed frying pan or a barbecue, season and lightly oil the fish then cook for 4-5 minutes on each side, keeping the fish a little on the pink side.

Mix all the ingredients together for the dressing and season. Toss the dressing with the celery and leaves, and arrange on 4 plates with the salmon.

Bavette steak with sauce béarnaise

Serves 4

Bavette is common in France but rarely seen over here. It's basically a well-trimmed skirt or flank which is a pretty tasty piece of meat, but not the tenderest cut on the animal - though you can get lucky. Give it a little bash with a steak hammer to break it down and leave it in the fridge for a couple of days in olive oil to tenderise it a little more. Butchers will probably be glad to get rid of flank and will more than likely be expecting you to braise it, so keep your cunning plan to yourself. What you do need to do though is ask him to trim any outside sinew so that you end up with pure meat.

4 bavette weighing about 250g
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3tbsp olive oil

for the béarnaise sauce

40ml white wine vinegar
40ml water
1 small shallot, chopped
A few sprigs of tarragon
A few sprigs of chervil
1 bay leaf
5 peppercorns
3 small egg yolks
200g unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground white pepper

Remove the leaves from the tarragon and chervil and put to one side, reserving the stalks. Place the vinegar, water, shallot, herb stalks and peppercorns in a saucepan and reduce the liquid by boiling for a few minutes until there is no more than a dessertspoonful. Strain through a sieve and leave to cool. You can do this in advance.

Melt the butter and simmer for 5 minutes, being careful not to allow it to burn and go brown. Remove from heat, leave to cool a little, then pour off the pure butter where it has separated from the whey. Discard the whey - it helps to keep the sauce thick if you don't use it. Put the egg yolks into a small bowl (or double boiler if you have one) with half of the vinegar reduction and whisk over a pan of gently simmering water until the mixture begins to thicken and become frothy. Slowly trickle in the butter, whisking continuously - an electric hand whisk will help. If the butter is added too quickly the sauce will separate.

When you have added two-thirds of the butter, taste the sauce and add a little more, or all, of the remaining vinegar reduction. Then add the rest of the butter. The sauce should not be too vinegary, but the vinegar should just cut the oiliness of the butter. Chop the chervil and tarragon leaves and add to the sauce, season with salt and pepper, cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm, not hot, place until needed. The sauce can be reheated over a bowl of hot water and lightly whisked again.

Pre-heat a ribbed griddle, or heavy-bottomed frying pan, season the steaks and cook for a couple of minutes on each side for rare or 3-4 minutes for medium.

Leave the steaks to rest for a couple of minutes then slice and arrange on plates and serve the sauce separately.

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