Tailgate Traditions: Cook the Competition

This weekend the squad is in Charleston for the start of the Carolina Cup Challenge. But in two weeks they will be back home to start the MLS regular season with an opening-weekend match against the other MLS expansion side, NYCFC. As the regular season approaches, my thoughts turn toward game-day traditions, and in the USA of course that has to include tailgating. 

For years I've tailgated with friends before college football games at the Citrus Bowl and subsequently at Bright House Networks Stadium on the other side of Orlando for the UCF Knights. One thing I've always enjoyed doing is a “cook the opposition” tailgate party, with a theme based around the mascot or home city/state of the visiting team. NYCFC gives us a great opportunity to start off 2015 with a fantastic tailgate menu, so let me share my ideas for your opening match tailgate party. And please leave comments with your ideas about great tailgate menus for the March 8 gameday matchup!

Grilled NY Strip – Lion's Teeth Style

The main striker of this tailgate menu is New York Strip steak. You can prepare it unadorned or marinated with your favorite spices. I always like to marinate anything I'm going to prepare on the grill just because exposure to the open flames can sometimes dry it out a little bit if the coals or gas you are using are a little too hot. 

And just as your striker on the field needs some defenders and flankers to round out the team, I always like to accompany my main dish with some side dishes. For this tailgate we're going to add some potato  defenders and vegetable medley midfielders that we'll prepare a couple of different ways.

You'll do part of your preparation the day before, and for this you'll need access to a few containers you can seal, marinade and spices, a good kitchen knife, and a microwave oven. On game day, you'll need access to a charcoal or gas grill, cooking utensils, and an electric fry pan (alternately you can use a wok or an iron skillet that you heat on your grill). 

Preparing the Steak

Your preparation for the matchday tailgate should start the day before. I like my New York Strip steak about an inch thick before cooking, and I like to buy large enough portions that I can cut them into six-ounce to eight-ounce steaks prior to cooking. For the marinade I suggest going with what pleases your palate. Personally I like using a zesty Italian salad dressing as the base for my marinade, and then adding dry spices to give it just a little more heat: black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic, and oregano. At least 24 hours before the match, prepare a container you can seal and store in your fridge and transfer to your cooler. Pour in your liquid marinade base, and then coat the steaks directly with the added dry ingredients as you cut them to the desired portions. Put enough liquid in the container to cover the bottom and come up 1/8 to ¼ the thickness of the steak. Then place the coated steaks into the container and seal it and stick it in the fridge. Remind yourself to turn the steaks over once before going to bed for the night, and then turn them over again in on matchday morning.

Preparing the Side Dishes

For our potato defenders, we're going to buy and use Yukon Gold baby potatoes. I like to cut these in half across the short axis, turning each potato into a pair of pieces that look roughly acorn-shaped. I've worked with these potatoes for several years, preparing them a number of different ways. My preference for them is to cook them first in the microwave for several minutes. The reason is that this softens them up just a tad. I find that if you don't cook them in the microwave and just try to grill them over flame or heat them in a fry pan, they come out with an inconsistent texture, and some can be a little bit more crunchy inside than I like them. Of course, you should prepare them according to your personal taste. If you like your potatoes crunchy on the inside, then you can skip the microwave stage altogether.

When you cut the potatoes, arrange them on a microwave safe dish or paper plate and sprinkle them with your favorite dry spices. I am partial to a blend from Weber called Steak and Chop seasoning. I don't like to pile the potato pieces in a mound, but instead spread them out so the fill the plate with a single layer. Then I cover the potatoes with a paper towel or napkin and put them in the microwave on high for about eight minutes. When they are done you'll find they are steaming and ever so slightly shriveled, but once they cool they will be just a tad bit softer than raw potatoes and won't crunch when you bite into them. Once this is done, you can throw the potatoes into a second container to go in the fridge over night. You can combine the potatoes and the vegetable medley (below) into a single container, or you can put them in separate containers depending on whether or not you want the potatoes to soak up any of the marinade.

The vegetable medley is one you can either create from scratch or you can buy premixed in the supermarket. I like to do a bit of both. The main medley is going to be the “Eat Smart Vegetable Stir Fry” medley that you can find at the produce section in Publix. This comes in a 12-ounce bag and contains a mixture of broccoli florets, broccoli slaw, snow peas, and carrots. You'll have to decide how many bags you need for the number of people in your tailgate (each bag contains approximately 4 servings). For each bag of this medley you buy, you'll also buy an 8-ounce container of sliced white mushrooms and a large sweet onion. You'll need a large container you can seal for the veggies (you can mix them with the potatoes from above or use a separate one). In this container you'll pour a good six ounces or so of that zesty Italian dressing, and then dump in the mushrooms and the vegetable stir fry. After washing and peeling the onion, I dice it up and then throw the pieces into the mix with the other veggies. Seal the container and then shake it up a bit to get the marinade to coat the veggies more or less evenly. Then throw that container in the fridge. Every time you take out the container with the steaks to turn them, also shake up the veggie container to spread the marinade around.

Matchday cooking

When I get ready to cook, here's how I begin. I'll first heat up my electric frypan (or the wok or skillet) and put a little bit of olive oil in it to coat the pan. Then I start my steaks for just a short time (maybe 45 seconds to one minute per side) in the fry pan. The reason I do this is to get some of the juices from the meat into the pan so that it will help to give some flavor to the potatoes and the veggies when I cook them. Once I've seared the steaks in this way, I transfer them to the grill surface to begin actually cooking them, and I pour my veggie mix into the fry pan for cooking.

Cook the meat based on your preference of rarity. You'll grill it just a couple of minutes per side for a rare steak, or you'll cook it a bit longer for medium or well done steaks. I like my steaks medium-well to be sure they're cooked all the way through, but that's just my personal preference.

As for the veggies, I like to cook them just long enough to see the diced onion begin to caramelize and the potatoes get a little browned, but not so long that the other veggies lose a little crunch. This is sometimes when it is helpful to have the potatoes and other veggies in separate containers. You can throw the potatoes in to start cooking first, and then as they begin to get a little brown you can dump in the other veggies to finish them all off together.

Once it's all cooked up, the only thing you need is some hungry tailgate party goers and some cool refreshments to wash it all down. And whatever you choose to drink with your tailgate fare, be sure to mix in plenty of bottled water so you don't suffer dehydration cramps later on when you're screaming your heart out for our lads on the pitch during the match.

Tell me what you think of this tailgate menu, and what is your favorite tailgate tradition for Orlando City Soccer matches? Do you prepare something unique for each match or do you have a specific “lucky” tailgate food or beverage that always seems to help our squad to victory?