I thought I had posted a link to this a while back, but I just searched the archives for it and clearly I hadn’t. Anyway, it represents a longstanding fascination: it’s a Guardian blog post by Tim Hayward on his favourite sandwich, the Shooter. Since reading it, I have been hankering after one for myself, but never marshalled the time and resources to make one. However, Mette and I resolved that during the Christmas holidays we would get it done and, dammit it if we didn’t just follow right through.

The Shooter is so named because it was supposedly devised for upper-class folks who would spend long days out hunting but still needed to eat properly. It was meant to be a cold, portable version of a beef Wellington. Tim Hayward’s piece about it is accompanied by this fine photo gallery; I decided that I’d also document the process as I think it could be instructive in examining the differences between what professional food folk are able to make and the cooking of regular people. It’s not actually too complicated: just two steaks stuffed inside a loaf of bread with some mushrooms and shallots. But you know: these things are never quite as straightforward as they sound.

Here’s the setup (N.B. you can click through the pictures to get mega-resolution versions):

Shooter's sandwich: materials and tools, with Christmasy background courtesy of Mum and Dad

So here’s the thing: the recipe calls for two steaks and a loaf of bread that is roughly the same shape in plan as the steaks. If you look at the illustrations, they used a crusty-looking loaf that was round and quite tall. This is not what we ended up with: we have a lovely local supermarket (the Berkeley Bowl), but we couldn’t find such a loaf there. So we got this one, which looked pretty good but was not round. Further, we wanted to use some steak that we already had: about six months ago Mette bought a load of frozen beef from a guy with a van full of it who happened to be passing. We have been gradually consuming it, and this was the last of the sirloin steaks we had. So rather than using two steaks we figured we’d just chop this one in half. My initial plan had been that we’d slice it in the horizontal plane but a) it turned out to be a bit long to fit inside the loaf, and b) it would have been really tricky to do that. So we just chopped it along the shorter horizontal axis. What this meant was that the two steaks were really quite thick: more on that later.

So the first step is just to dice the mushrooms and shallots and throw them into a pan with some butter:

Mushrooms and shallots, diced, pre-reduction.

They cook down in a pretty awesome way and then you add the flavourings: Worcestershire sauce, brandy, salt and pepper, garlic. All good things, although next time I might add a herb or two. On which, more later.

Next is the steak. Super-hot pan, bit of salt rubbed on the outside and 90 seconds on each side:

Very tempting just to eat it there and then.

Mette had sliced the top off the loaf of bread, torn out most of the crumb and spread mustard and horseradish sauce around the bottom. This was the situation:

The bready shell.

So you just chuck the first steak right in there and start cooking the second one. While the second steak is cooking, you gotta cram in as much of the mushroom mixture as is practical. I reckon we only got about half of ours in, which I think was a bit of a problem because so much of the flavour is stored in those mushrooms. Our sandwich ended up a little dominated by meat: this was a function of the loaf not being quite tall enough, and the steaks being a little too thick. But whatever. Before the second steak was flopped on top, this was the state of the sandwich:

It looks full, but actually there's room for a whole nother steak.

I’m gonna just go right ahead and put in another picture, because I like it:

Second steak just sits right on top.

With all the ingredients inside, the top bit of the bread (spread on the inside with more mustard and horseradish) goes back on top, and the whole thing is wrapped in greaseproof paper, tied up and pressed under something heavy.

Some heavy stuff on top.

We stuck it in the fridge overnight, but a later rereading of the recipe revealed a recommendation not to do so – not sure what the fridge does to it but apparently it’s best kept just a bit below room temperature. But whatever. It was difficult to focus on anything else while the sandwich was being pressed, but we went to the movies anyway. Slicing through paper and sandwich the following day revealed this:

The sheer anticipation. My goodness.

But we didn’t just tear into it right away (we were too full from breakfast at the diner round the corner). We took the dog for a walk and found a nice picnic table with a view of San Francisco and the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a pretty good spot, but I think it’s enhanced by the presence of a double-steak sandwich:

It was at least six months between discovering the recipe and this moment.

OK so yeah, how was it?

Good, but not perfect by any means. As you can see, the steaks had some substantial fatty strands running through them and that made them somewhat difficult to chew through. The bread/mushroom/steak ratio could have been improved – with less steak and more of the other two. It’s an incredibly rich sandwich and I reckon some fresh herbs would probably be to its benefit, thrown in with the mushrooms. Or else something vaguely salad-based as an accompaniment. I don’t know whether not refrigerating it would have made a difference. It was pretty cold, which doesn’t really help with the fattiness of the steak and the butter-soaked mushrooms. But overall: hell, what a thing. We ate it at about 3.30 in the afternoon and didn’t eat again until breakfast the next day.

N.B. I was Googling for the recipe and found that at least one other person has documented a similar experience. It looks like they really nailed it on the ingredients front and the output looks very impressive.

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