A lot of people are quite intimidated when it comes to cooking steak. Cooking a steak to perfection is not really all that hard . . . as long as you follow a few rules. I'm really lucky to live in the UK, where the beef is considered to be some of the best in the world. Top quality meat, marbled with plenty of fat for beef and lamb is essential for successful broiling, grilling and pan frying.
It goes without saying that, if you want the perfect steak, you have to first start out with the perfect cut of meat. For panfrying, broiling or grilling, I wouldn't recommend anything less than a good quality sirloin, rib eye or filet steak. Steak that has been properly aged on the bone will give you the best flavour. I also like to start with meat that is at room temperature, so take your steaks out of the fridge at least half an hour before cooking or longer if possible.
Some cooks eschew seasoning the meat prior to cooking, but I am a firm believer in salting the meat prior to cooking, as the heat helps to seal in the salt, allowing it to penetrate and really flavour the surface of the meat. That old idea about the salt drawing out the moisture and meat juices, is just hoaky to me.
If pan frying, which is my preferred method, you want to use a really heavy skillet, heated to a hot temperature. Brush your seasoned meat with some butter, and then place it in the hot pan. Cook for several minutes to sear the first side, and then flip over and finish searing it on the second side. Don't turn your steak any more than once. Turning it over and over, is what causes the meat juices to release and your steak ends up stewing instead of frying.
I prefer my steaks medium rare.
This is a slide show of the thumb test for firmness . . . a simpleway to judge the doneness of a piece of meat. The further your thumb has to move across your hand, the more resilient the ball of the muscle becomes . . . The amount of resistance felt by your opposing finger when compared against the same finger pressed onto your meat is an excellent gauge in guessing as to how done your meat is.
First finger stage: for blue meat and lightly cooked fish. Touch your thumb to it's opposing first finger and press the ball of your thumb with the tip of a finger of the other hand, the ball will offer no resistance. The surface should be seared in steak, and firm, and the beads of meat juice not yet risen to the surface. The meat is rare to almost blue when cut with a mild flavour.
Second finger stage: for rare meat. Touch your second finger to your thumb and press the ball of your thumb. The ball will feel spongy. The meat should be well browned and spongy when pressed in the centre. It should be firm at the sides and any beads of juice on the surface should be deep pink. The meat when cut is read, juicy and aromatic.
Third finger stage: For medium cooked meat, game or duck, or well done fish. Touch your third finger to your thumb and press the ball of your thumb. The ball will feel resilient. The surface should be crusty brown and the meat should resist when the centre is pressed. Firm at the side, the juices on the surface should be pink, and when cut the meat is juicy, deep pink and well flavoured.
Fourth finger stage: For well done meat, or poultry. Touch your fourth finger to your thumb and press the ball of your thumb. The ball will feel firm. The surface of the meat will be crusty brown and dry and the meat will feel quite firm when touched in the centre. Beads of juice on the surface of the meat will be clear and when cut no pink juices will be visible.
I like to serve my steaks with some tasty fried mushrooms. Very easy to do. Just slice the mushrooms, melt a knob of butter in the pan and then add the mushrooms. Don't agitate the pan at all. Allow the mushrooms to sear and brown. Stirring releases to much of their juices and once again they stew. If you leave them alone and only stir them once they have begun to really brown, you will be rewarded with nicely browned,juicy and flavourful mushrooms. I wait to season them at the end.
Following these few simple rules and techniques should help you to cook the perfect steak every time, and if you still manage to mess it up, well . . . here's the perfect sauce to serve with your steak, whether you have cooked it to perfection . . . or not. It is delicious can enhance a really well cooked steak or cover a multitude of sins!
*Classic Steak Au Poivre Sauce*
Serves 2 generously
This classic sauce is not only delicious when you have a perfectly cooked steak to serve, but is also an excellent cover-up for beef that is overcooked, tough, or lacking in flavour.
2 TBS whole black peppercorns
175ml good red wine
174ml double cream
1 TBS cognac
salt to taste
Place the peppercorns in a heavy ziplock bag and crush with a rolling pin. Place in the saucepan and add the wine. Cook and boil until reduced to 2 TBS. Whisk in the cream and cognac and heat until quite warm. Season to taste with salt.