I don’t know why, but cooking steak scares me. I’ve mastered leg of lamb, whole chickens, turkey breasts, and pork chops, but a cut of beef? Terrifying. I suppose I’m afraid of ruining things and serving a grey, inedible piece of meat for dinner and looking like a complete noob in the kitchen. But, how impressive would it be to serve up a nicely browned, gloriously pink, tender steak for dinner? How much like a kitchen god would I feel? (A lot, I tell you. A lot like a kitchen god.)
I will preface this by saying that sometimes food blogs can be intimidating because bloggers cook a recipe again and again until it comes out just right, setting up their lights and accessories to create that perfect glamour shot. Well, this isn’t that kind of blog and I do not cook that kind of perfect. Mistakes were made. Things were learned. Still, a pretty decent dinner was had. I will live to cook steak again.
The first task was pretty simple: purchase the steak. Strip steak is the larger part of meat that forms the T-bone and porterhouse steaks. (The other, smaller side is the tenderloin). This recipe called for steaks 1½ – 1¾ inches in thickness, weighing about a pound each. The meat counter had a lovely array of these, sold as NY Strip (it appears under a variety of other names), and I swiftly picked up two.
The second task was less simple: purchase the wine. This picture encapsulates how I feel whenever I go to the wine section:
I typically take up salespeople’s on their offer to help, but I was doing my shopping in the morning and the only staff member present was busy stocking the shelves, so, being the introvert that I am, I was on my own. I’m still in the experimental stage with wine, but I do know there are things that I don’t like, and, like with dating, knowing what you don’t want is half the battle. I don’t like astringent, acidic reds. I prefer drier, spicier wines, to sweeter, fruitier ones. I’ve never had a cabernet I’ve loved, but I wanted something heavier than a pinot noir. I didn’t want to spend more than $15. So, after several trips around the wine section, I settled on this Côtes du Rhône Red for $10.99. I did not actually know anything about Côtes du Rhône, but I figured that, being a blend, it would be medium-bodied and it was as good a pick as any, given my limited knowledge.
Here is where I learned something about wine, completely by mistake. That whole decanting thing, where you’re supposed to let the wine breathe? It makes a difference. I popped open the wine when I started cooking and poured some into glasses for my Eating Companion and myself. I took a sip and frowned. “It’s kind of acidic. I’m not sure I like it,” I told him, dismayed by my poor choice. I put the glass aside and went back to cooking. When I picked up the wine again, 20 or 30 minutes later, I was shocked. It was a completely different glass of wine. The acidity had mellowed and there was little hint of the astringency I detest in stronger reds. It was a very round, balanced taste that I highly enjoyed and ended up working really well with the steaks. Chalk that one up to learning by experience.
The concept behind this recipe is #5: Some Proteins are Best Cooked Twice. Typically we think of searing meat on the stove, then roasting it slowly in the oven to best develop flavor and retain moisture. For thick steaks, the authors found that flipping the order works best. When a cold steak hits a hot skillet, it can take a significant amount of time for browning to occur, as the pan must regain the temperature it loses to the steak. During this time, the meat below the surface of a thick steak will become overcooked by the time the center comes to temperature. By warming the steak in the oven first, the pan doesn’t lose as much heat and browning can start almost immediately without concern for cooking through to the center. With less time in the pan, the meat doesn’t become overcooked. Additionally, the slow heat of the oven activates enzymes that produce more tender meat. (More on that in concept 6.)
This recipe couldn’t be simpler. Cut the steaks into two 8-ounce portions each, pat them dry, sprinkle them liberally with salt and pepper, and place them on a wire rack over a baking sheet, and put them in the oven at 275° for about 20 minutes for medium-rare. When that time is up, get out a stainless steel or cast iron pan, add some vegetable oil, and heat it until the oil just starts to get wispy with smoke. Add the steaks and cook them for 1-2 minutes on each side, so they get a nice and browned crust. Remove the steaks to a clean wire rack over a baking sheet, then stack two on top of each other and hold them in the pan vertically with your tongs to brown them along the edges. Repeat with the remaining two steaks, then set them on the wire rack, cover them with foil, and let them rest for 10 minutes while you prepare the sauce.
You don’t need a sauce if you don’t want one, but I personally love a red wine sauce and have been trying for a long time to make one that actually tastes good. I think the majority of my problems stem from the fact that I only attempt it at Christmas and the wine we pick out for cooking usually isn’t very good. See aforementioned picture for my usual wine-buying experience.
This wine sauce, like the steaks, is ridiculously easy. Pour off the fat from the steaks and add about a tablespoon of fresh oil. When hot, add 8 ounces of trimmed and thinly sliced button mushrooms. Let those cook for about 5-6 minutes, until the juice from the mushrooms evaporates, then add 1 small minced shallot. Cook for another minute, then add 1 cup red wine and ½ cup chicken broth. Cook on high 5-6 minutes, until the mixture reduces to about 1 cup, then finish it off the heat with 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons of butter, 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, and salt and pepper. Spoon it over your rested steaks and it will be the best accompaniment to that rich meatiness and you will be licking it off your plate. True story.
I mentioned before that I made some mistakes and, well, I did. Firstly, I didn’t adequately trim my steaks. I know you’re supposed to trim every bit of fat off of your meat, but honestly, I like to indulge in a little bit of animal fat every now and then. Fat is flavor! Well, in leaving some on, I also left on a fair bit of gristle. My Eating Companion didn’t seem to have any problems, but I ended up spitting a couple mouthfuls into my napkin. I will be trimming steaks much closer from now on. Secondly, you only need to brown the sides of the steaks for about 15-20 seconds per side. I did this unevenly, which meant that while one side of the steak was tender, the other side was chewy and overdone. And, lastly, I didn’t plan the cooking times for the meal out right and I started the steaks way too soon. I put them back in the oven before browning them to get them warmed back up and I think this made them a little bit more overdone than they could have been.
Well, you cook and you learn. I feel grateful that NY Strip happened to be on sale that week, so I did not lose tons of money on a ruined steak. And, truthfully, the steaks weren’t ruined by any means. Even if they weren’t perfect examples of juicy meat perfection, they were still pretty good. Now, armed with some knowledge and an easy cooking method, I can try it again with a bit more confidence. I fully intend on doing that.