Your Steak Cooking Crash Course
There are a lot of things that we are sorely missing during a lockdown. Everything from the light pub garden lunch to the wild weekend in the city is currently not an option for us but, if you’re reading this, I’d say that what you’re missing the most is your favourite cut in your favourite steakhouse.
Not all is lost though! Cooking steak doesn’t have to be a terrifying experience where one false move will leave you red-faced and out of pocket. All you need to do is follow a few simple steps and you’ll have a steak dinner to be proud of so grab a bottle of good red, strap on that apron, and tell your significant other that you’re about to give them a culinary experience worthy of any steakhouse, beef joint, or BBQ bar.
Your first step is going to be selecting the meat. The good news is that you can’t really go wrong here because, as long as it's cooked well, even not so expensive cuts will taste amazing. My advice would be to pick a steak cut that you would usually order in a restaurant so you have somewhat of an idea what it should taste and look like.
If you’re not that experience with steak then just keep it simple. Fan favourite cuts such as ribeye or a stripling have a great fat to meat ratio which provides plenty of bite with plenty of flavour. They’re also usually inexpensive to pick up in the supermarket or at your local butcher.
The next step is your preparation work. Once you’ve taken your prize cut home, it’s time to get everything in its place so you can cook uninterrupted. The French call this “mise en place” and it can be the difference between eating a juicy steak or tucking into a piece of overcooked boot leather.
Let your steak come up to room temperature before you do anything else. This is important because if you try to cook from chilled then the outside is going to cook a lot quicker than the centre and you’ll end up with a crispy crust but red jelly in the centre which is a very quick way to ruin an evening.
Next, you want to get your pan up to a good temperature. I will always recommend using cast iron to cook steak because the thick material holds heat a lot better than any other type of pan. It’s these high and consistent temperatures that will earn you the sear of your dreams so do not neglect your heat management. Start with medium heat until the pan is filled hot all over.
While the pan is coming up to heat, you can turn your attention to the steak. This is where you can really let your culinary creativeness show with seasonings from every corner of the globe if you so wish. For me though, I prefer coarse and flaky salt scattered liberally on top, followed by a healthy crack of freshly ground black pepper. Some may call this underwhelming but the taste of the steak will sing for itself, salt and pepper are just my preferred backing vocals.
When your steak makes contact with the pan you will hear the reassuring sizzle you’ve been waiting for. Even when using cast iron, the pan will lose heat quickly when the steak makes contact so it's worth knocking the heat up another notch on your stove to counteract this effect and keep the heat consistent.
You may have heard that you should only flip a steak 3 times. Once into the pan, once in the pan, and then once more out of the pan. This is nonsense.
The amount you need to flip your steak is the amount needed to cook it evenly, there is no correct amount. Just keep an eye on the sear and, if you think it's due a flip, go for it. You can always flip it back before anyone notices anyway.
By the time you’ve completed your second flip, your steak should be around the rare level. There is no point giving exact timings as every steak and method is different but, as a rule of thumb, about 7-8 minutes is the sweet spot for your average steak.
Keep flipping and checking and checking and flipping until you’re satisfied with the sear produced. Check the firmness by pressing gently on the beef with tongs or get physical with your food and lightly press it with your fingers. If you’re looking for a medium-rare finish then a light firmness is your goal, not unlike the feeling of the palm of your hand when you press the tip of your thumb and the tip of your little finger together.
Once you feel the right firmness and you’re happy with the sear then its time to start planning your exit. My top tip is to gently grab the steak with tongs and place it fat side down into the pan to really render that fat down into something crispy and delicious that will only add to the experience.
The last thing to do is to rescue your steak from the pan, set it back on its pedestal and let it rest. This will allow the muscle fibres to relax and reabsorb all of the moisture that has been released during the traumatic experience of high-temperature cooking.
There is a belief amongst French chefs that meat should rest for half as long as it cooked but there’s no real evidence on that. While the steak is resting, take this time to set the table, pour the wine, light the candles, and put on your favour smooth LP. Once this is design, the steak will be rested and ready.
After the scene has been set and the steak has been unveiled to gasps of amazement. You’re ready for that first slice.
This is what it’s all been building up to. Your brow furrows and beads of sweat start to form as the knife glides through the tender meat with alarming ease. You’re wishing, hoping, and praying with every cell in your body that, when your knife makes a full pass through the meat, you will be greeted with the dark exterior and mellow pink interior of a perfectly cooked medium-rare steak.
If you are greeted by this sight then congratulations, you’ve conquered your fear and are now a fully-fledged meat maestro earning the adoration of your loved ones.
If, however, you are greeted with something that could still produce a moo then all is not lost. STOP SLICING right there, not another slice or else you risk jeopardising the juiciness of the meat. Make your apologies swift, top-up any and all wine glasses on the table, and return the steak to the safety of the oven for another few minutes while it “finishes”.
Either way. You tackled the task of home cooking a steakhouse steak and came up as a winner. With this newfound confidence, you’ll be whipping up steak dinners at a moments notice and soon find yourself entrusted with the coveted spatula at all family BBQs (when we get the all-clear that is).