How to cook the perfect steak

The Steaks are High : Tips on Cooking the Perfect Pan-Seared Steak

If you don’t cook meat much from home then the idea of cooking a steak could seem pretty intimidating. With this wonderful shift towards sustainable eating, especially when it comes to beef consumption, the steaks (no pun intended) are even higher when it comes to honouring the perfect bit of meat in cooking it to absolute perfection. Follow these simple steps and you’ll cook amazing steakhouse style beef steak every time.

Step 1: Buy a good steak

Happier cow = tastier meat. This is a simple equation that’s easy to swallow if you’re willing to buy less but better quality meat. There have been countless studies which show that the ways in which a cow has been treated, fed and ultimately slaughtered affects the taste of the meat. You can find a reading list at the end of this piece if you’re more interested in reading further into the “happy cow = happy beef” equation.

This recipe is for pan-seared steak, a speedy cooking process which means you want any tender, quick-cooking cuts for this method of cooking steak. Rib eye, T-bone, New York-strip or filet mignon are my picks for cuts that are best for pan-searing. You always want to pick a nice and chunky steak, around 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick – this ensures that the outside gets the chance to brown and crust up nicely before the centre overcooks. My top tip is to make friends with your good-quality local butcher who can tell you where you meat comes from, the best cuts and cooking tips.

Step 2: Dry brine

Salt = flavour and tenderness. Buy your steaks a day or two in advance, this gives you time to dry brine your meat. Dry brining, or pre-salting simply means rubbing salt and sometimes seasoning or sugar directly onto the meat and allowing it to rest in the fridge for a period of time before cooking.

This is the easiest way to achieve tender, seasoned meat where nature does most of the world for you. The salt initially draws out the moisture through osmosis. This moisture, which is the juices of the meat, are then dissolved by the salt, creating a natural brine that puddles on the surface of the meat. This brine is eventually reabsorbed into the meat and starts to break down the tough muscle proteins. Et voilà – meat that has been tenderised and seasoned before even hitting the pan.

Step 3: Getting meat to temperature

Good cooking = good planning. If you are cooking steaks that have just come out of the fridge then you are putting very cold meat into a very hot pan. Cooking fridge-cold steaks means that the surface of the meat will scorch very quickly whilst the centre of the meat will remain cold. Remove your steaks from the fridge and allow them to come to room temperature – I usually allow an hour. Do not be tempted to skip this step.

Step 4: Build up a crusty sear

Turning = even crust. After seasoning and oiling your steak you want cook it in a hot pan and watch it like it’s your newborn baby. Turning it every couple of minutes will help you get a nice crust which is even across all surfaces. Choosing a neutral oil with a high smoke point such as canola oil will allow you to keep the heat high without the oil smoking out. As you cook steaks more often you will become more and more in tune with the sounds, smells and look of your meat which will help you to control the heat, know when to turn it over and read when it is ready, without the use of a thermometer or watching the clock.

Step 5: Baste, baste baste

Butter = your friend. Basting is another step in which you introduce flavour. Now for a quick science lesson:

Butter contains water, fat and milk solids. As you heat the butter, the fat and milk solids separate which have different smoking points. The fat has a much higher smoking point than the milk proteins so if you continue to heat the butter, the water will evaporate and the milk proteins will begin to toast. That amazing, toasty, nutty smell of browned butter is what you are smelling in this tasty reaction, knows as the maillard reaction. Basting your steak in this liquid gold is a no-brainer. Add garlic and herbs such as thyme or rosemary to the pan during this step and you’ll be basting your meat with a deliciously aromatic, infused fat which is synonymous to steakhouse style steak.

Step 6: Rest

Now that you’ve put in all of this effort, the final step is arguably the most important and it requires you to do absolutely nothing at all. Rest your meat on a board once it is cooked to allow the juices to redistribute instead of simply flowing away. Resting your meat also allows the residual heat to continue to cook your meat internally which is the reason you should cook your meat a few degrees below your final desired internal temperature of your steak. This is the perfect amount of time to create a delicious meaty sauce by deglazing your pan juices.

Now you know the basics, get cooking with my Pan-Seared & Butter-Basted Steak recipe.

Reading list

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