Though I am constantly thinking about various cuts of beef and new ways to cook them, the busy month of December traditionally brings Spruce-Grilled Steak to mind over and over again. Why might I focus on this recipe each year, you ask? The answer is simple: the scent of freshly cut Christmas trees brings me back to the aroma of spruce smoke and a sizzling rib eye steak.
Created by my friend and the editor of my French-Canadian books, Pierre Bourdon, this recipe consists of a “Spencer” steak (what Canadians call a rib eye) grilled in one of the simplest, tastiest, and downright coolest ways there is to grill steak—flash smoked on fresh spruce branches. If you haven’t tried this method yet, now is the time, especially if you or a neighbor decorate with a real Christmas tree. Carefully trim a few branches before you take the tree down. Trust me, it’s worth the odd looks from your family.
This is one of those simple, brilliant ideas you come up with after a bottle or two of wine at a holiday party. It is not as crazy as it sounds—after all, the minty resins in spruce used to be a flavoring in chewing gum and soft drinks. And it doesn’t stop there! You will also find a French recipe for grilling mussels on pine needles on this site.
The method is easy. Right before the steaks are done, place the spruce branches under them and grill them until smoky and aromatic (if you see flames, even better)—maybe 15 to 30 seconds—just long enough to perfume the steaks with spruce smoke.
Any dish that shatters a myth about grilling—in this case, that you should never use a softwood like spruce, or pine—has a place in my repertoire.
Christmas tree not available? You could achieve some of the explosive aromatic effect (although with a somewhat milder flavor) by substituting a bunch of fresh rosemary, thyme, or mint.
Pro tip: A powerful, aromatic red wine, like a Cahors or Côtes-du-Rhône would make a great accompaniment.