The perfect steak
Tonight I made a great steak for the first time. It wasn’t perfect, but now I know the method for making a restaurant-quality steak in my own kitchen.
I used to be intimidated by the idea of cooking steak. It was one of those things that was good in restaurants, but couldn’t really be duplicated at home. I especially didn’t want to waste money on a nice piece of meat and then wreck it, so when we had cravings for steak, we’d just go out.
No longer! I found a video at The Amateur Gourmet food blog that gives instructions for cooking a restaurant-style steak, so now I can make it at home! The video is pretty vague, so I wrote down the instructions, along with some extra tips.
What you need:
steak (however many everybody wants)
an oven with a range (mine is gas, but work with what you have)
a range- and oven-proof pan (read: stainless steel or cast iron skillet. I have a nice, if small, cast iron skillet that I’m trying to use more often)
sea salt or kosher salt
coarsely ground black pepper
cloves of garlic
What you do:
1. About thirty minutes before cooking, set your steak out at room temperature to rest.
2. Preheat your oven to 350° F, and preheat your pan on the stove top: set it over a high burner for 20-30 minutes.
3. Season your steak: liberally sprinkle with salt and pepper; use the edges to mop up whatever spills over the sides.
4. Pour a good quantity of canola oil into your pan. I think I used about 1/8 of a cup. Tilt the pan so the oil runs all over the bottom.
5a. Once your oil is good and hot (if your pan is hot enough, this won’t take long), put the steak into the pan and sear it for 1 to 2 minutes. Then flip it over, spoon some of the juices/oil over the top, and sear the other side for another 1 to 2 minutes. I used a spatter screen to keep the oil from spraying everywhere; I recommend it if you have one.
5b. If you don’t have a exterior exhaust fan over your stove, go find your smoke alarm and fan it until it goes off, then close all doors between it and the kitchen.
6. Once your steak is seared, throw a knob of butter (about a tablespoon), a crushed clove of garlic, and other seasonings if desired (the video used thyme, but I skipped it) into the pan and stick it into the oven.
7. Check the temperature of your steak every two minutes. This is the one place I screwed up: I trusted the chart on my meat thermometer, which doesn’t have the same definition of ‘medium’ that everyone else uses. I found a nifty (accurate) chart online; I’ll post it here in a minute.
8. Once your steak has reached your desired level of cooked, remove it from the pan and let it sit about 5 minutes before serving.
Yay! If everything worked, you should now have a great steak (and a smoky house)!
I found a couple small top sirloin steaks at my grocery store for a little under four dollars. They were about an inch thick, and probably about six ounces each. For ideal results, steaks should be no thinner than 1″, and no thicker than 2″.
Steak cooking temperatures (in F):
Well done 160° and above
Presumably, once you have experience, you can just eyeball how done it is. The chef in the video had some method using his hand, but they didn’t actually explain what it was. I overcooked mine quite a bit, and realised afterwards that, while following the thermometer, I cooked it a lot longer than I thought I should. Turned out my judgment was more accurate than the thermometer chart.
Tips for buying steak:
There are many cuts of steak, based on where on the cow they came from. The best cuts are strip steak (also called New York strip or Kansas City strip), Porterhouse or T-bone, ribeye, and tenderloin (filet mignon). The less-great cuts are chuck, blade, round, tip and sirloin.
For this method, the best to use are strip or ribeye. Because of the giant bone through it, T-bone is best done on a grill, where contact with the cooking surface is less important. Filet mignon is kinda finicky: it’s very lean, so it doesn’t have much flavor unless it’s wrapped in bacon or something, and it cooks really fast, so you have to watch it like a hawk. Ribeyes aren’t recommended for grilling; they have a lot of large pockets of fat that tend to explode. Strip steaks are juuuuust right. They have a medium amount of fat, so they can be grilled or pan-cooked, and they cook evenly and are easy to eat.
You can certainly use the less-expensive cuts; they tend to be tougher, so marinading them before cooking is a good idea. Here’s a marinade option (I’ll review it once I try it): Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce and garlic powder, with salt before cooking.
No matter what type of steak you buy, the feature you should be looking for is marbling. That is, thin lines of fat threaded all throughout the meat, which gives it its flavor and texture. I didn’t pay attention to that this time, so I’ll be sure to look the next time I’m in the supermarket.
Here’s a link to a good source for cast-iron pans. If I start doing steaks more often, I’ll probably get at least one more pan so that I can cook two at once so the first one doesn’t get cold. I like the restaurant-style serving griddles, but they don’t seem as practical for the stove top portion of the cooking. A great one would be the ribbed-bottom style skillets; those would put nice grill marks on the meat. (As usual, I recommend researching what pan you want, then going to Amazon and buying it for a fraction of the retail price. 🙂 )