The Coppa Steak at Toro Bravo

120 NE Russell St., 281-4464, torobravopdx.com.

John Gorham invented the coppa steak.

Well, the restaurateur didn't invent cows, cold-smoking or dry-aging. But his technique was the secret formula for turning a forgotten cut into a perfect hunk of meat on a tight budget.

Like so many great, meaty innovations, it was born of tough times—in this case, the Bush recession—and through days of work it becomes a tender hunk. Then it's just a matter of giving it crispy edges and a topping of spicy-creamy salbitxada, a Catalan sauce made of almond, garlic and chilies. In 2007, when we named Toro Bravo the Restaurant of the Year, we called it "at least as satisfying—and far more interesting—than many steakhouse cuts at triple the price."

As told by Gorham…

"When you're in Spain, there are a lot of big chunks of beef everywhere. We wanted that, but we wanted to keep our prices low at Toro—we opened in 2008, right after the market crash, but we wanted something that would give you that feeling of having a nice steak.

So I came across chuck-eye roast. It comes from right at the top of the neck—in pork, it would the coppa. It's not an expensive cut. And I started thinking, 'How can I break this piece of meat down and give it big flavor?' We experimented with it—cleaning it and trussing it and then open-air aging with a salt cure.

We put it in salt and pepper and open-air age in the walk-in for five days. That's dry-aging. We cold-smoke it for a couple hours and we plastic-wrap it right then and put it back in the cooler—that's wet-aging. What that does is really start to break down the tissue.

The salt and the pepper get in there—those are the only seasonings, salt, pepper and smoke—and the salt allows us to really get that crazy crust on the outside when we sear it. After we cook it, we let it rest, always, for a half-hour. No matter how busy we are, we let it rest for a half-hour before we serve it.

It's those secondary cuts when you see the chops of a real chef and cook. We can all cook a tenderloin really well. What can you do with a cheaper, tougher piece of meat?"

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