Perfect Steak... On a Plane? CO78 EWR-ZRH

Medium-rare steak on a plane. Is it physically possible? This is's continuous, existential debate. What culinary possibilities lurk beyond the galley curtain? Beyond expectations? Even beyond a passenger's wildest dreams? For airborne beef is there more out there than a sad, toughened hue of grayish brown? The general consensus between frequent fliers and crew is that "rare steak on a plane" is a concept much like the Yeti, unicorns and Doctor Who's Tardis: its existence can only be explained by magic, trickery or aliens.

Until now.


The photo above is real. However, if I didn't take it myself I would be doubting my own onboard culinary experience. Have you ever had one of those moments where you feel like you've slipped into an alternate universe? That things are somehow not what they seem? Have you ever woken up in your own bed wondering how you got there in the first place? This flight, Continental Airlines 78, is much like all of the above; an eerie film reel mashup of The Twilight ZoneFear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Top Chef.

CO78 was the starting point of a wild, weekend food-fest in Istanbul that happened to coincide with my birthday. I was traveling to Turkey with a friend who flew on separate (but simultaneous) aircraft via Frankfurt to our rendevous across the Aegean. Since we departed EWR at similar times, we met at the concourse bar for a PFB (that's Pre-Flight Beverage): extra dirty martinis, shaken not stirred. I mention all of this because without the influence of that martini I many not have been alcoholically motivated to order steak in the first place. I even texted producer, Mike, from the plane while ordering the "Chef's Choice" in his honor.

What I didn't know at the time was that the menu was already an anomaly, sporting edible options from FIVE months prior. Nowhere on the inflight dining section of the Continental Airlines website is it possible to find a reference to any meals offered on this flight. No other flights in the BusinessFirst® market offered these choices for the month of May. Perhaps we entered a temporal shift. Perhaps we were an experiment - a test audience. At the very least we were a captive audience. 

The meal began innocently enough. I pounded a few Bloody Marys with my usual inflight zeal. The appetizer cart rolled out and I opted for the lot: "a demitasse of fresh tomato shellfish soup with bay scallops accompanied by a wild mushroom and vegetable purse and a beef turnover with Amazon sauce." Besides the fact that I haven't a clue what "Amazon sauce" is, the rest is typical Continental Airlines' fare.


I found myself looking forward to the main course, described as "The Chef's Selection: Grilled Sterling Silver® sirloin steak with garlic and herb butter, Delmonico's Original steak sauce and creamed spinach, onion hash brown potatoes and fresh green asparagus spears." I'm all about garlic and onions, even on a plane. 

I sliced into the steak and was shocked to discover shades of sunset-pink staring back at me. For a moment I felt as though I'd stumbled upon the Holy Grail of inflight dining. Perhaps I did. I steeled myself and tentatively took a bite. The meat was cooked through, warm, flavorful and absolutely medium rare. The thick pat of garlic butter slid down the side of the beef as it melted, leaving a delicious, buttery trail. I dug into the steak with wild abandon wishing for inflight wi-fi so I could capture the moment and transmit it across the globe, or at the very least, to Mike's inbox.


After much reflection, I came up with several reasonable explanations for the perfectly cooked steak served on that fateful night between Newark and Zurich:

1. Continental Airlines was running an inflight dining/catering test, determining the possibility of serving tastier meals at 35,000 feet resulting in a once-in-a-lifetime air food experience.

2. The airline's executives religiously read the Inflight Dish blog, and secretly supplied me with an exceptional meal to secure better online ratings, generating more future ticket sales.

3. Mike got my flight details from the Where Am I Now page of my food/travel blog and elaborately coordinated the delivery of a steakhouse-cooked meal with the inflight crew, the airline and possibly Candid Camera so he could finally say "I told you so."

4. Flight 78, powered by dilithium crystals, hyper-jumped back in time to January 2011 where my entrée was beamed directly to the galley from the airline's catering facilities, straight off the sizzling grill.

5. I was drunk, the lighting was "mood", the steak remained the same.

6. It never happened.


So, readers, what do you think?


Max July 15, 2011 at 11:35 am

I'm shocked to see that pic of your steak - I've been on CO's BF service many times - and as Sara points out - it almost always comes cooked Well Done, no matter how you ask for it.

BTW - here's where the menus for CO BF dining is:


Hi Max,

I went onto the Continental Airlines inflight dining page and according to the airline, this steak dish was not available on any April or May BF flights, adding to the weirdness & mystery. I had to do some internet backtracking to discover the menu was from January 2011... hence, meal options from FIVE months prior. So weird!!!

Didn't they change this flight to be United operated on a 3 class plane? Maybe they were using a generic menu in anticipation.

They DID trade the route with United (since May 1st Continental no longer flies to Zurich from EWR) but I don't think it would affect the catering on Continental metal. It's still just a big, wacky mystery!