How to Make a Superior Steak Salad, The Ultimate California Dish

Vivian Lui’s new book “Eat California” is a hearty celebration of Golden State cuisine

September 25, 2020 10:16 am
vivian lui steak salad
Stop trying to eat your screen
Con Poulos

Vivian Lui’s Eat California is a smorgasbord of pan-California recipes, reflective of both the richness of the state’s agricultural bounty and of its exceptionally diverse immigration communities. (Fittingly, it kicks off with a recipe for a rather deluxe version of Avocado Toast, and the salad chapter is significant.) 

“Even after seven years here, I’m still discovering new food — like a taco stand with freshly fried chicharron of stunning proportion or a Korean strip-mall restaurant, where the chef traveled to a specific region of Korea to source the hand-made piece of lacy art that was seaweed for banchan,” says Lui, who grew up in Northern California and then spent a decade in New York City before settling in Santa Monica. 

Amply reflected in the book’s ingredient list, from the Santa Barbara ridgeback prawns of a spring prawn salad to the cara cara and kumquats of the citrus salad, is the diversity of what’s grown in California: If you’re looking for a way to fully exploit your CSA shipment, start here.  “I’ve never enjoyed soft fruits — I think I inherited it from my mom, as all the fruit she made us eat for dessert was always crisp or crunchy,” she says. “One day at the Santa Monica farmers market, a vendor is handing out whole Blenheim apricots to try. Not my usual thing to take samples, but I was very happy I did — the flavor was so pleasantly intense. And it was shocking to be enjoying something with this texture. I learned this particular farm practices dry farming, which contributes to the incredible flavor of their crops.”

As a Nor Cal native, Lui has an innate understanding of Bay Area crops. “The San Rafael farmers market is where I first came across fresh chestnuts still with their spiky pom pom like casing,” she says. “The farmer cracked and roasted some on the spot — so delicious and they kept me warm in the Northern California chill.”

On balance, she says, she prefers “the Southern California sunshine” along with locally grown tropical fruits, but “the briny sweet oysters and wild seaweed from the chilly waters up north make up for the cold. I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite.” 

Here, her recipe for grilled steak with tomato salad (eat ’em while they last!).

eat california vivian lui
Eat California, the new cookbook from Chef Vivian Lui
Smith Street Books/Con Poulos

Vivian Lui’s grilled steak with tomato salad

  • 1½  lb hangar or onglet steak
  • 1 bunch of tarragon, leaves picked
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2-inch piece of fresh horseradish, peeled and grated
  • 1 lb mixed colour and size heirloom tomatoes
  • 3 thick slices country loaf
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing
  • ½ small red onion, very thinly sliced
  • 8 small radishes, very thinly sliced
  • Sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper

Season the steak all over with salt and pepper and set aside.

Preheat the barbecue grill to high. Alternatively, use a stovetop grill pan and heat over medium–high heat.

Finely chop half the tarragon, place in a bowl, add the butter and 3 tablespoons horseradish and mash with a fork to combine. Set aside.

Slice the larger tomatoes into wedges and halve or quarter smaller tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes can stay whole, if liked. Reserve the juices and tomatoes in a large bowl. Lightly brush the bread with olive oil, then grill for 2–3 minutes on each side until charred in spots. Transfer to a wire rack and top with a light sprinkle of salt.

Lightly brush the meat with oil and grill for 3–4 minutes until deeply browned. Flip and repeat. Transfer to the wire rack, top with the herbed butter and leave to rest. Cut or tear the bread slices into bite-sized pieces and place in the bowl with the tomatoes. Add half the onion, the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1⁄2 teaspoon pepper and toss to combine. Transfer to a platter. Thinly slice the steak and place on top of the tomato salad. Top with the radishes, remaining onions and tarragon. Finish with a light sprinkling of grated horseradish and season. 


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