A Perfectly Cooked Steak
Oftentimes I begin to compose posts for this site in my head, far from my computer screen. Whether I’m driving through suburban Maryland trying to avoid 495 or laying in bed trying to fall asleep, stories will begin to form in my head. Incidentally this is also how I wrote my wedding vows, over the course of many a late night. This week I was thinking about this post, how when I was learning to cook meat I would have loved a detailed, in depth post. In my head, this post began “now that grilling season is upon us.” Which immediately reminded me that grilling season is not upon us. That if you listened to that groundhog this week, grilling season will never be upon us.
Anyway, it doesn’t matter that it’s not the appropriate time to grill things. It doesn’t matter that it is CURRENTLY SNOWING (like, three feet on the ground snowing). Mostly those things don’t matter because I don’t have a balcony or a backyard and therefore do not have a grill, which means that grilling season doesn’t exist for me. What does exist is “pan roasting” season, which, in my opinion, is a great way to cook steak. First of all, let me just say that it took me a really long time to learn how to cook a steak perfectly. Maybe it had something to do with my being a vegetarian, the fact that my father prefers everything still bleeding, or maybe learning to cook meat is something that just takes time.
In my opinion, a “perfectly” cooked steak is salty and crunchy on the outside with a medium rare center. Medium rare means pinkish red but warm. Less cooked alternatives are rare, which is red and warmish and bloody, which is a cool center. More cooked alternatives are medium, a solid pink and warm center, medium well (very light pink center), or well done, which is a waste of your money (in my opinion. Though we do have friends who order their steaks done and dip them in ketchup). Pan roasting is exactly what it sounds like, cooking over medium heat for a longer period of time on the stove top. The reason I like pan roasting steaks is partially because, as I mentioned, I don’t have a grill and partially because it creates a delicious crust on the steak, which I think is vital.
As for measuring doneness, I rely on three separate methods (because I have served grossly undercooked meat before and don’t care to repeat it.) First, there is temperature. I use a meat thermometer to take the temperature of the center of the steak, which should be 145 for medium rare. Secondly, there is the hand test. With this test you compare the firmness of your hand in various positions to the firmness of the meat. An open hand has the same firmness as rare meat, thumb to pointer is medium rare, thumb middle finger is medium, thumb to ring finger is medium well, and thumb to pinky is well done. Finally, there is simply the test of time. I’ve heard that you don’t want to flip a steak on the grill/in the pan more than once. I’m not sure why but that always sticks with me while I’m cooking steak. So, I try and decide on a time per side based on the thickness of the steak. If the steak is 1/2″ thick I’ll cook it 8-10 minutes per side. For a steak that’s 1″ thick I’ll go 10-12 minutes. Usually I combine a general time forecast with a meat thermometer and frequent firmness tests. It’s obsessive, yes, but the payoff (a perfectly good steak) is large.
Finally, lets discuss seasoning. Kosher salt and pepper. That’s it. I use my cast iron pan to pan roast, sprayed with canola oil. I sprinkle a generous portion of kosher salt and pepper on each side and voila. Actually, lets also discuss what kind of steak you’re buying. For this method, eating it with only salt and pepper to bring out the flavor, I buy grass fed, organic strip steak. Because the flavor is so amazing that it’s an almost otherworldly experience. It’s just… perfect. You could also use filet mignon, porterhouse, sirloin, or t-bone. The key is cooking it over low to medium heat for a longer amount of time so the flavor has the opportunity to really blossom. Also, after you’ve cooked it, you must let it rest. “Resting” the meat is just what it sounds like, letting it sit. You do this so the juices can redistribute, which is vital to having a juicy, delicious steak. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to doing what I’ve been doing best lately, being sick in the snow. Hello Gilmore Girls marathon!
dan measuring the snow outside our window. how much? too much.
Pan Roasted Strip Steak
1 lb strip steak (enough for 2)
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp black pepper
Heat a cast iron pan over medium low heat (3 or 4 or a gas stove). Spray with cooking oil and let the pan warm.
Pull out your steak and pat it down with a paper towel. Meat won’t get that crisp edge that is essential for the perfect steak unless it is dry when it touches the pan, so dabbing it down is essential. Sprinkle half your salt & pepper on each side.
When your skillet is hot, place the steak on the pan and set a timer for 12 minutes (for a steak about 1″ thick). When the 12 minutes is up, flip the steak and reset the timer for another 12 minutes. During this time you can also take the temperature and check the firmness. At the end of the final 12 minutes, or when the inner temperature is 145 for medium rare, remove the steak from heat. Set aside and let rest 10 minutes.
Carve and serve.