Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Home Cooking: Steak

Lest you think that my obsession with beef is confined to steakhouses, barbecue spots and burger joints I assure you that it extends to my kitchen. And just as I attempted to recreate the White Manna slider I have also experimented extensively in an attempt to recreate the steakhouse experience in my home. After numerous steaks and mis-steaks I think I have come up with a technique that works pretty well.

If you have good ventilation and are prepared for a little heat in the kitchen it is possible to achieve a restaurant quality steak at home in a domestic kitchen. You are going to need a thick steak. At least 1.5 - 2 inches thick if you like it rare and I am going to insist that you buy it fresh from a butcher and preferably dry aged. The difference between dry aged beef and wet aged beef is something that I will cover in a subsequent post but suffice it to say that the former has a far more complex character and flavor. I also encourage you to buy Prime beef, the extra marbling will have superior flavor and tenderness compared to Choice or Select beef. As for cuts of beef the most popular steaks - strip, porterhouse, t bone, filet mignon and rib eye are all excellent candidates but this technique works great for more economical cuts such as flank, skirt, sirloin or hanger steaks. In fact I prefer the latter cuts to a filet mignon, they may not be quite as tender but they are more flavorful in my opinion.

A dry aged for 28 days USDA Prime rib eye steak from Lobels.

The real problem the home cook faces when cooking steak is achieving the high levels of heat necessary to violently sear the meat, generate a thick, charred crust while maintaining correct internal temperature. Residential broilers simply do not generate enough heat. They cannot compete with the mega BTU output of commercial broilers. The best solution is the cast iron skillet. It excels it providing high temperatures with even heat distribution and it can go from stove top to the oven or broiler for finishing. It also does not lose substantial amounts of heat when food hits it.

To begin with you should leave your steaks out of the fridge for at least an hour or longer depending on the thickness of the cut. The goal is to bring the meat to room temperature, a cold steak will contract when it hits the heat and this wall cause it to toughen. You want a nice relaxed piece of beef. I only apply salt moments before cooking because salt will soak up moisture and could potentially dry out your steak if seasoned too far ahead of time. Personally I don't pepper dry aged steaks because but if you do try to use fresh cracked pepper and aging apply just prior to cooking As for the salt go for Kosher or real sea salt, it make a difference. I should also note that you will want to trim more off the fat from the steaks circumference than you would if cooking over a grill or than a steakhouse will usually serve. It is not that I don't like the external fat but it will tend to cause a lot of smoke and require that you frequently drain the pan of rendered fat, lest you fry your steak rather than sear it. I don't recommend completely removing all of the fat, the fat provides a protective barrier that will stop the steak being over cooked. As for bone in steaks, I prefer them with the bone but one needs to press down on the steak to insure that full contact is made with the cooking surface.

It may seem like over kill but I like to heat up my skillet on the stove top or the broiler for a good 20 minutes before I use it. Water droplets should skit along the surface of the pan as soon as they hit it, rather than just simmering. I also preheat the broiler, while a home broiler won't give you the initial searing effect it is excellent at crisping up meat that has already been charred and bringing the steak to desired temperature. A note about temperature, in steakhouses I like my meat black and blue, completely charred on the outside, cool on the inside. but this is hard to do using this method unless the steak is particularly thick, so I generally eat my steaks closer to rare at home. I really don't recommend eating anything beyond medium rare, unless it is a particularly thick rib eye which will still be flavorful at medium. I feel that you are killing a lot of the flavor by cooking the flesh through but if you like your steaks this way using Prime beef with its higher fat content will insure that your steak is not completely dried out. Using the method described here you will be able to achieve a rare steak while getting all of the flavor and texture that a top restaurant will offer.

Once your pan is nice and hot, I use an infra red thermometer to make sure it reads at least 600 degrees, I place the steak in the skillet and press it down gently to make sure that full contact is made. If you are worried about the beef sticking to the pan you can rub the steaks with peanut oil or clarified butter (clarified butter will burn at a much higher temperature than butter with milk solids in it) I don't recommend olive of other vegetable oils as they have lower smoke points. Personally the steak that I buy are fatty enough that I use no oil at all. I usually let the steak sear for 2-3 minutes per side on the stove top, at these temperatures it is enough to put a dark crust on the steak.

I then transfer the skillet directly in to the broiler for another 2 minutes per side. Obviously if you like your steak cooked medium rare or medium you would leave it in a bit longer. If you are cooking a rib eye that is particularly fatty it may be necessary to drain some of the rendered fat before placing in the broiler. As for testing internal temperature I have been doing this long enough that I can poke the beef with my finger and know how done it is using this technique. You can of course use a meat thermometer, and probably should your first few times out, but I don't like poking my meat if I can help it. You are looking for an internal temperature of 115 - 125 degrees for rare , 125-130 for medium rare and 130 - 135 for medium. Another alternative is to just nick the meat and take a peek. Don't worry about this causing the steak to loose it juice, this is a myth.

Once the steak is done remove from the pan to stop further cooking and let the steak rest for at least 5 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute evenly inside. A steak fresh off the heat will loose almost all of its juice if cut immediately. You can cover the steak with foil but this will cause the steak to continue cooking somewhat as the heat radiates back so I generally leave mine uncovered unless it is particularly thick. Here is the finished product:


MrsDocChuck said...

This is basically the way we cook steaks at home when we can't grill outside. I call it "sear and blast."

We use a 500 oven and not the broiler though.

We enjoy the results but it really doesn't compare to what you can get in a great steakhouse with their screaming high heat.

And then there's the smoke and lingering smell. Our townhouse is small and the smell can be pretty overpowering.

Great note on the salt. Too many people don't salt their meat before they cook it. You might enjoy the story on the importance of salting meat in “Think Like A Chef" By Tom Collichio, by the way.

Hermano 1 said...

I've tried pre-salting my steaks a few hours beforehand and it works very well. The theory is I suppose that because the steak has already been dry aged you're not going to lose that much more moisture. Before cooking there is a little moisture on the surface which I pat dry.

Using this method seems to give really dark crust. Works well with onglet (currently my favourite cut) too.


Nick said...

Thanks for the tip, I may give that one a try sometime. Onglet, or hanger steak as it is often called in the States is a wonderful cut. Like skirt steak it benefits from being situated close to the heart an thus has a good supply of blood, giving it a wonderful red hue.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nick,

Have you ever tried the dry aged prime shell steak at FreshDirect? I saw that but was a bit skeptical due to the price (was it too cheap?) Also they only have one cut (shell steak) for prime aged.

Anyway, I love your blog. Keep up the good work!

Umami Mama said...

i love this post. everything is technically perfect, except you are about ten degrees under on your internal temperatures for steak. i found a link:


to demonstrate what i learned in school. at my work, we truss, quickly grill and then sous vide our filet mignon (in clarified butter with thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, toasted whole black peppercorns and sliced garlic) to an internal temp of 135 F for one hour. afterwards we gently cool it by letting it rest first at room temp for 20 mins, another 20 mins under cool running water, and finally in an ice bath for 20 mins. this gradual cooling ensure the filet won't seize up. the result is a very juicy and flavorful filet. it's very technical, and honestly i prefer my black and blue bone-in rib eye, but it is a way to make that filet flavorful and juicy.