Delicious Horror: Michael Arnzen

What a month! I can’t believe it’s Halloween Eve and October is almost gone. I have enjoyed the Delicious Horror series so much, and I hope you have, too! While this is the last DH post for October, I’m leaving submissions open and already have received a post I am very excited to share soon in November!

Enjoy this very fun (and detailed) dish by Mike Arnzen (whom I co-organize the Pittsburgh HWA Chapter with!) below, and have a wonderful, spooky, and safe Halloween weekend!

Michael Arnzen has won the Bram Stoker Award four times over his career, including awards for First Novel, Fiction Collection, Poetry and the now-defunct Alternative Forms.  His books include Proverbs for Monsters, Grave Markings, 100 Jolts, and The Gorelets Omnibus, with several titles currently available from Raw Dog Screaming Press

As a writing professor holding a PhD in English, Arnzen teaches fulltime at Seton Hill University and is a resident horror instructor in their MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction. He serves as Academic Advisor to the “Dark Short Fiction” series of primers on various authors (who include Kaaron Warren, Nisi Shawl, Jeffrey Ford, Steve Rasnic Tem and Ramsey Campbell) for Dark Moon Books.  He is working on an experimental new vampire novel. While his creative “gorelets” website is under renovation, visit Mike on twitter @MikeArnzen or at http://michaelarnzen.com/

Tell us what horror book you chose to highlight and why it’s a favorite of yours.

The Books of Blood by Clive Barker have long been a favorite story collection — one of the first I read that made me realize just how “creative” horror writing could be — they really embody Clive’s mantra that “there are no limits” when it comes to the imagination.  And when I say long, I mean since they first came out back in 1984.  I’m elated to see that Hulu has produced a series based on them — it’s about time for a Clive resurgence!

But I’m choosing the Books of Blood because there’s a particular story in one of them (Volume 2, to be precise) that had a profound influence on me.  It changed the way I understand (and write) horror fiction — and it’s since become a staple in my teaching of horror as a college professor.

The story is “Dread,” and it’s one of the greatest horror stories ever written.

What did you decide to make to pair with the book, and what from the book inspired your delicious treat?

I’m no chef, but like many people during the pandemic, I’ve discovered pleasure in experimenting with food and enjoying the results of whatever I can concoct.  So when I saw you were running the “Delicious Horror” series, I was inspired to try something new.  And for the sole purpose of honoring Clive Barker, I have created something…evil.  I call it DREAD STEAK.

Barker’s story includes a very devious scene of sadism, in which the story’s philosophically morbid and evil villain, Quaid, tortures an overweight vegetarian who is dying of starvation in a room he’s locked her up in. He gives her nothing to eat; just water, and, “On the table, on an unpatterned plate, a slab of meat” with a bone sticking out of it. A stern vegan, she refuses to eat the meat on principle, but as the days pass by, her hunger breaks down her defiance, which degrades in concert with the steak that gets more and more rancid as the days go by… until she can resist no more, and eats the horrifying, bug egg-riddled slab of “meat” for survival, sitting on the floor “like a primitive in her cave.”

The story is cruel…and as ingenious as something Poe might write, if he were alive today.

It deserves a corresponding dish.

Can you share the recipe or a link to the recipe?

Dread Steak is prepared simply, just like any steak you might sear to perfection in a pan. But with a twist:  the steak must appear ROTTEN AND MOLDY when placed on the plate.  Rancid-looking with the appearance of fly-eggs or maggots.  And yet it must taste really good.  This can easily be achieved with a little playful trickery that’s not too difficult to pull off… and I have a feeling your readers would easily be able to surpass what I did by taking it to another level. But here’s how I did it, with photos — much like Quaid’s snapshots of his victim’s agony — taken along the way:

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons steak sauce (A1 works nicely)

2 tablespoon unsalted butter

Green and Black and Blue Food Dye (can substitute any raw/green seasoning herbs)

A dozen or more crackers (preferably a sleeve of Ritz)

2-4 sirloin steaks (bonus points if you can find or cut them into coffin-like shapes)

Preparation:

First, you’ll just be cooking a steak as you normally might do it in a frying pan.

Prepare the sirloin beforehand by “buttering” the meat with 2 teaspoons of minced garlic, spread copiously so that the pieces of clove look like pustules.  Then heavily marinate the beef in A1 Steak Sauce, sprinkled with salt, pepper and (very optional) a dash of old bay for flavor. Massage these ingredients into the meat and let sit for ten minutes; longer is fine, and purists might leave it covered on a plate in the fridge to marinate overnight. (Clive’s protagonist would leave to marinate in warm open air for several days until reeking and rotten… avoid that, unless you want an extra dash of Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis).

Next get your large frying pan ready by cranking the oven top to medium heat, simmering up the oil in the pan until it has a nice glistening sheen of heat on it.  Once the oil is warmed up, gently lay the cutlets into the oil and let them sizzle for a good three minutes.

It should be nicely browned on the edges by now.  Flip steak once at this point (i.e. after 3-4 mins) to sear the other side. Trick: Press against edges of pan to brown the edges of the meat.  Cover with lid or another pan to retain heat and ensure cook-through.

While this is happening, you might want to prep your mold (though it might be easier to do this in advance).

For me, that meant emptying half-a-sleeve of Ritz crackers into a plastic food bag (aka “ziplock”) and crushing them into fine crumbs with many violent punches against the countertop. Then I added a teaspoon of oregano.  You might add your own dried or fresh green herbs to the bag, to taste.  Anything that might resemble green fuzz and fly eggs, but be careful about flavors.  I next carefully added about ten droplets of green coloring and shook. After the green was evenly disbursed, I added another five droplets of black color.  I neglected to acquire blue food dye, but I would have included that in the mix too.  I chose food coloring, so as not to interfere with the flavor of the A1 marinade.  Shake and squeeze and work the dye around the bag so that the cracker bits are as evenly coated as you can get them. There can be white crumbs… the batch does not need to be entirely saturated… and the tiny white pearls of crumb only add to it.

Remove your steak from heat and let sit for one minute. When it’s cooled a bit, drop the steak into your plastic bag of “mold” and shake it around, ensuring the entire cutlet is coated.  It should stick just fine to the oils of the cooked steak but you might need to squeeze it inside the bag a little to ensure full coverage. This will look and feel gross.

That’s really the whole gimmick.  It tasted great, and since the crumble was uncooked it didn’t feel “breaded” like a baked or fried coating (which often would use egg as glue) would feel. However, the dye did leave some staining.  If the reader is wanting to avoid artifice, then a foodie substitute might just be pure oregano and other Italian herbs.  But this might result in an unpalatably herbaceous flavor if you’re not careful.

I enjoyed my steak with roasted red potatoes (since Quaid does eventually give his victim potatoes after she eats his meat) and a salad on the side. It occurred to me that the steak could easily be cut into strips and placed into the salad bowl, making a DREAD STEAK SALAD alternative that is drizzled with a fine dose of irony.

Bon appetite!  There is no delight the equal of dread…steak.

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