A Ramble on Steak Cookery
porter house, T-bone, rib steak, top sirloin, tenderloin, wing steak, flank steak, skirt steak
Steaks are generally tender cuts that can handle being cooked quickly in high heat, say in a pan or on a grill. Thaw your steaks in the fridge over night (longer for larger/thicker cuts). Once they’re thawed, take them out of the fridge, unpack them, pat ‘em dry and let them come to room temperature and air-dry while you prepare the rest of your meal.
Before you’re ready to cook your steaks, heat your pan on the stove or get your grill nice and hot. Season the steaks generously with salt & pepper (fresh ground pepper or none at all, I say) on both sides. Once your pan’s hot, add enough oil to coat it when you swirl it around. Once it’s shimmering but not quite smoking yet, that’s when you want to get your steak on.
If you’re using a BBQ/grill, there’s a nice trick for seasoning your grill. Cut-off the bottom third (root side) of an onion. Save the rest of the onion for another use. Score the cut face of the onion bottom and set it in some oilve oil in a small pale or saucer. Let it soak for a couple of minutes. Get your BBQ blazing hot on one side and just warm on the other (you can finish your steaks on the warm side without fear of burning the outsides). Now, jab your BBQ fork into the onion through the roots. This… is you onion brush! Brush your grill with it to season it, dipping for more oil as needed. This will help prevent your steaks from sticking to the grill, will add more pronounced and flavourfull grill marks on your meat and will make cleaning your grill afterwards easier. Now, skip the next four paragraphs (or scan them to see what you’re missing).
Now, if you’re using a pan on a stove, make sure you place your steak in a way so that if the oil splashes, it’s splashing away from you. Your pan needs to be hot enough to start searing the surface of the meat right away (to prevent sticking), but not so hot that you start charring/burning your meat instantly either. Don’t press the steak down or you’ll displace the oil and end up burning the meat against the pan. A little wiggling or fiddling initially is, but then you want to leave it alone until you’re ready to take a peek to see what it looks like (a minute or so). Once you have a nice reddish brown crust forming on one side, you’re ready to flip the steak.
Once you’ve browned the second side of your steak, you’re ready for what, I’m sure, will be your favourite thing to do on a stove… BUTTER BASTING! Throw a generous nub of butter (say 1-2 table spoons) in the pan with your steak(s). Move it around to get it melting. If you have some fresh thyme, sliced shallots or garlic handy, toss ‘em in with the butter too (your nose will thank you). This here’s the tricky bit; tilt the pan 30deg with the handle side on the stove and the far side in the air. Butter will start to pool at one end. Using a large spoon, start basting the steak(s) with this butter. You’ll see them brown as they get basted. The butter will add richness, compliment and elevate the meat’s flavour and it will help the steak retain its moisture while cooking and resting. If the butter starts to burn turn the heat down. Flip the steak and baste the other side. Stop drooling, it’s not attractive.
Now you need to use your judgment (this will come with time); give the steak(s) a poke to see how done they are. You want some give throughout the steak when you poke it (mid-rare my favourite ‘cuissant’), but not spongey. If there’s only a little yield on the surface, but the core is firm, then you’ve probably over cooked your steak.
If it’s a thin cut, you might already be done. In most cases, you’ll need to heat the steak a little more in an oven at 300-350F. If you’re really into the basting action, you could just continue to baste your steak in the pan at a medium temperature until it’s done instead of popping it in the oven. Check it often to prevent over cooking. Meat continues to cook for a minute once it’s out of the oven, so take it out when it’s a little less cooked than how you want it. Once you think it’s ready, let the steak rest for a few minutes before cutting or serving it, so that it will retain more of it’s juices.
With steaks, you generally want to avoid cooking anything beyond medium (pink and warm in the centre). You lose too much juice and flavour otherwise. Some cuts are even best not cooked beyond medium-rare, because they will get too tough (e.g. flank, skirt). Those trickier steaks are a treat, though, cause they’re chock-full of flavour. Once rested, these ‘medium-tender’ steaks lend themselves well to being sliced thin across the grain. This makes them easier to chew and is a nice way to show off your perfect cuissant.
Make sure you season you steak again with some nice fancy salt. You owe it to yourself to try Maldon salt on a steak some time. Enjoy!