The Perfect Steak
Really, is there anything better? A beautiful crust, tender, pink in the middle. Cooking a lovely cut of beef at home, on par with your favorite steak house, is completely possible. Years ago, I set out on a journey for the wisdom of the beef that would enable me to cook up a beautiful hunk of meat in a way that would WOW my guests (and by that, I mostly mean my husband). It was much simpler that I had expected.
First, pick the right cut. Of course a $50 steak is going to taste amazing, but you can also get a great meal out of a $5 steak as long as you know what to look for and how to read the label.
Prime, Choice, Select? What the heck? Here’s the basic rule: stick with only Prime and Choice, don’t select Select and NEVER choose ungraded for this cookin’ method.
Prime is the best and Choice is the second choice. Select is a passable cut, but for only a few dollars more, a Choice cut will taste twice as good. All meat is inspected my the USDA, so don’t let that label fool you. If it just has a “Inspected by USDA” sticker and no grade sticker it just means the meat didn’t meet standards for a grade. If a cut has a grade, the sticker will be on the package. If there isn’t a sticker, it’s not going to be a tasty, tender cut. Although there are a lot of ways to make a cheap ungraded cut of beef taste great, it involves quite a bit of marinatin’ and manipulatin’.
Remove excess moisture. Although it sounds counter-intuitive when you want a juicy steak, patting the outside of the meat with paper towels is important. If you don’t, you’ll end up with gray meat (and that’s no metaphor).
SALT!!! I’m a huge fan of salt, but even if you would rather pass on this seasoning, ALWAYS SALT YOUR MEAT (also not a metaphor). It’s essential. Not only is salt a tenderizer, it also brightens flavors and aids in a perfect crust. Just sprinkle each side of your meat with salt before you add anything else, and don’t be shy with it. I’ve concocted dozens of steak rubs, but its hard to go wrong with just salt and pepper. You can also add just about any seasoning that you love: onion powder, garlic powder, mustard, even a sprinkle of sugar will add a beautiful caramelization to your crust.
Hot Pan. Get out the best quality pan that you have, add olive oil and let it get hot, about 4 minutes. You don’t want the oil smoking, but you want it hot enough to let out a loud sizzle as you throw your meat in. Cook for about 2-3 minutes on each side. If your meat sticks to the pan, it’s OK. Don’t frantically pull it in an attempt to rescue it, it will release from the pan when it’s done.
Finish in the oven. I once took a cooking class from a fancy chef who spent years as a personal chef to celebrities in Beverly Hills. He said that this was his “steak cooking secret.” Not so much a secret, most restaurants do this, but it’s the best way to get a perfect crust and a pink-not-red center. 350 degrees for about 7 minutes for a 1 1/2 to 2 inch thick steak (Medium rare).
The feel test. This has been a technique of line cooks for a century. Put your thumb and forefinger together. With your other hand, feel the fleshy part of your palm, just below your thumb. That is what a rare steak will feel like. Then put your thumb and middle finger together. The fleshy part of your palm will now feel medium rare. Thumb and ring finger: well done. This is a way to get the doneness you want without having the unsightly cut marks in your beautiful steak.
Here is a great article about that: http://primecutsblog.com/2008/12/01/the-finger-test-to-check-the-doneness-of-steak/
My favorite really-impressive-really-easy steak topping is Gorgonzola Butter. In a food processor put one stick of softened butter, two tbs Gorgonzola cheese, pinch of salt and 1 tsp garlic powder and pulse until well combined. lay out a sheet of plastic wrap and put the Gorgonzola butter in the middle. Roll up the butter in the plastic wrap into a log shape and secure the ends. Place the log in the fridge until firm. Cut off slices of the butter and place a few pats on top of a warm steak. Gorgonzola butter is also really good on asparagus.