Thursday, June 14, 2007

Steak, revisited

My favorite character in The Incredibles is the designer, Edna Mode. What does she have to do with steaks, you might ask? Everything! You see, I feel about steaks, the way Edna feels about capes. When Mr. Incredible asks her why she is so opposed to capes if she used to put them on all superhero outfits in the past, Edna coolly replies, "Ah, dahling, I never look back!"

When Arfi Binsted of Homemades decided to host her Cook and Eat Meat event, I knew it was time to revisit steak. Last year, I went through many steak experiments until I finally got what I thought then was a perfect steak. My method involved a quick sear on the stove top, followed by a resting period, followed by roasting in the oven on very low. The inside was medium-rare throughout, but the outside crust was gone by the time the steak rested and finished roasting due to all the released juices. Well, that was definitely not perfect, but as Edna said, "I never look back." I have finally found a fix for the soggy crust issue. I wish I could take credit for the fabulous idea of flipping the roasting and the searing steps. But the credit goes to a fellow food blogger, Jaden from Steamy Kitchen and Cook's Illustrated writer Kenji Alt who gave me this idea. I followed Cook's Illustrated directions to the letter and what a steak! Evenly medium-rare inside AND crispy outside. I guess you can have your steak and eat it too :)

The cut:
I have recently graduated from the cheapy hanger steak to my new favorite -- porterhouse. There is nothing wrong with hanger, but a porterhouse is simply incredible. I used to avoid it like the plague because I figured there is no way to cook both the tenderloin and the strip part of the porterhouse to the same doneness. But this slow roasting technique really works and these two steaks, that are not my favorite on their own, turn into something totally orgasmic when joined by a bone. The tenderloin does not only taste tender, but actually beefy, and the strip does not dry out and toughen up. When buying your porterhouse, make sure it's nice and thick (1.5-2 inches) and that it has a substantial tenderloin part. If the tenderloin is small, they might be trying to pass a T-bone steak as a porterhouse (a more desirable steak). In a porterhouse, the strip part is more tender and the tenderloin does not overcook since it's quite substantial.

The cuts and grades of beef are still a mystery to me. I have bought a grass-fed hanger in San-Francisco once and it was incredibly tender, even though grass-fed beef is supposed to be tougher. But lately, every time I buy hanger in Boston, it's on the chewy side. Even the porterhouse from the same butcher changes from time to time. Rib-eye is the biggest gamble -- one time it's tender and juicy, another time it's chewy. This is all using the same cooking method and being very methodical with testing for doneness, so I am not comparing medium-rare with medium-well steaks here. All these steaks were graded "Choice," which of course is not saying much since almost half of the beef in US is graded Choice.

I wonder if things would be different if I went to a butcher in New York or Chicago. It amazes me how I can get such consistently fabulous fish and such inconsistent meat in Boston. In the last few months I've been having the best luck with porterhouse, so that's what I am sticking with for now.

Slow-roast-then-sear method based on Cook's Illustrated May-June 2007 issue:

You'll need:
  • a roasting pan with a rack
  • a heavy skillet
  • an instant read thermometer
  • 1.5 - 2 inch thick steaks (plan on 6-8 oz of boneless steak per person or 1 porterhouse for 2 people)
  • salt and pepper
  • vegetable or olive oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 275F and adjust oven rack to middle position. Wrap the roasting pan with foil (to make clean up easy). Place a rack in the roasting pan.
  2. Trim the silver skin and extra fat off the outside of the steaks. Dry steaks well with paper towels and season very generously with salt and pepper on all sides. Set the steaks on the rack and place in the oven until instant read thermometer inserted sideways into the center of the steak registers 90 for rare, 95 for medium-rare, 100 for medium, and 110 for medium-well. If you are cooking a porterhouse, stick your thermometer into the wide part of the strip section so that the tip ends up about 1/2 to 1 inch from the bone. How long it takes to get to this temperature depends on the thickness and structure of the steak. A boneless, 8 oz, 1.5 inch thick steak takes about 20 minutes and a 2 pound porterhouse can take as long as 40 minutes. A thermometer is key!
  3. At this point your steak will look extremely unappetizing. Don't panic. Set a heavy skillet over high heat until very hot. Add the oil and wait until it's a little smoky. Add the steaks and cook until browned, 1.5-2 minutes, lifting the steaks after about a minute to redistribute the fat. Flip and brown on the other side. Don't they look better now? Then brown the steaks briefly on the sides and remove to a warm plate to rest loosely tented with foil for 7 minutes.
Grilling Variation: I have tried grilling the steaks in the end instead of searing them on the stove top and it worked really well too. Just make sure your grill is extremely hot so that you get those grill marks in less than 2 minutes per side. If you still didn't get the grill marks, get the steak off the grill anyway. Overcooking will ruin it.

Serving suggestions: You can serve these steaks as simply or as dressed up as your heart desires. If you are in a saucy mood, deglaze the pan with stock and wine to make a pan sauce. Other options are topping your steak with garlic herb butter while it's resting or drizzling it with a little lemon juice and olive oil. Just let your imagination guide you.

Copyright information: the image of Edna is taken from The Incredibles Wikipedia page and is copyright by Walt Disney.


Katerina said...

What a beautiful looking steak! I admit I am a fan of the hanger steak myself, but I haven't ever tried porterhouse.

Kim said...

I absolutely love Edna Mode: "Milan, dahling. Milan!" I'm sure the steak is delicious, too. Miss you! Kim

SteamyKitchen said...

That looks HEAVENLY!!!

I can't wait to try this again....porterhouse topped with chimichurri sauce!

Anonymous said...

Definitely get Prime, not Choice and it will be so much tastier and marbled. You can even tell the difference with a hamburger! (I also think that if someone is going to eat chicken, they should invest in the air-chilled kind, which retains much less water since it is not soaked in water). -Meatlover!

Helen said...

Kim: I miss you guys too :)
Anonymous: I don't think I've ever seen prime ground chuck here in Boston. The way I deal with this issue for burgers is just buying fatty ground beef (at least 85/15, but if possible 80/20). Somehow 80/20 is really hard to find around here. What is it with Boston not appreciating fat in meat?!

There are definitely places where I can buy "Prime" steak here, but it costs an arm and a leg. A prime rib-eye or strip is around $30/Lb, and I am not sure if it's much different from high choice. My feeling is that it's the bottom of prime. I really wish I could see a side by side comparison of prime vs. choice and do a side by taste test. From what I've read, not all prime is created equal, and definitely not all choice.


Arfi Binsted said...

Helen, that is gorgeous steak! Well done with the method. You did a great job! Thank you for participating on Cook and Eat Meat event. Cheers!

Lon said...

Thanks for the recipe, I've got a sweet 20 ouce new york strip without bone that i'll be cooking up tonight.

except i don't have a thermometer.

any guesses on how long i should leave it in the oven for?

Helen said...

Hi Lon,

Hmm, without a thermometer this might not really work since the timing depends a lot on the thickness of the steak and the exact temperature of your oven. My guess is that a 1.5 inch thick NY strip would take about 20 minutes in 275F oven. Here is what I suggest you do after 20 minutes are up: insert a small sharp knife into the center of the steak for 10 seconds, then touch it to the inside of your lip immediately (do it quickly as the knife will cool off and be careful not to cut yourself). 95F should feel just like your body temperature (not warm, not cold). This will give you a medium-rare steak after searing.

Good luck!


Lon said...

thanks for the tip, it was great!

Anonymous said...


I'm a professional cook / lurker (!) and this technique sounds really interesting. It makes perfect sense, yet I've never thought to try it. It definitely flies in the face of traditional restaurant style cooking. I'm really looking forward to trying this at home. Also, although it's pricey, many Whole Foods sell dry aged beef that is totally unreal. The price is indeed exorbitant, but you actually eat much less because it's much richer. For a splurge, it can't be beat.

Your blog is awesome...your enthusiasm infectious.

Helen said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks so much for the tip on Whole Foods dry-aged beef. I see it extremely rarely in the Whole Foods where I shop, but I hear there is another one not far from me that has a much better meat department. I'll have to go check it out :)


SteamyKitchen said...

I was just about to put a GORGEOUS thick rib eye in the oven for slow cooking and my husband caught me. Snagged the steak right out of my hand and went outside to the grill.


one day I will prevail! one day i will be able to stealth slow cook a nice piece of steak!!


TimC said...

Gotta say, your recipes and ideas are wonderful. You should have a restaurant.....yuou leave some of these famous people in the dust!

One question......I was raised on charcoal grilling of most meats. I was taught not to salt the meat prior to grilling because it draws out the moisture. We used pepper and garlic to flavor.
Do you think that is a real problem, or just one of those old rules of thumb that have no basis?

Thanks again for all your great ideas!

Helen said...

Hi Tim,

Sorry for a late reply. Busy weekend. First of all, let me thank you for your words of encouragement and support. It means so much to me that my cooking experiments are useful to someone :)

About salting before vs. after cooking... Chefs don't seem to agree on that one and I haven't tested it both ways to be able to tell you definitively which way is better -- would be a fun little test though. Here is my gut feeling (which isn't much to go on since I usually like real data ;) People worry about juices way too much. Your meat has a ton of them and the best way to get a juicy piece of meat is to not overcook it. Aging, which makes the steaks more tender and much more expensive actually tried to get the moisture OUT of meat -- so losing some juices can't possibly result in a culinary catastrophe. The idea that searing meat seals in the juices is completely bogus -- try searing a steak and letting it rest on a plate and you'll see how much juice will leak out. Salt does draw the moisture out, so I normally salt my steaks immediately before cooking to minimize how much juices they lose. However, I wouldn't be surprised if salting in advance would produce a tastier steak -- I just haven't tried it yet. I usually also add a little sprinkle of salt after the steak is cooked to intensify its flavor.

Hope this helps.


airforcematt said...

This is now my standard pratice for cooking steaks during the colder months - thanks for the post.

Peter said...

Actually you can copy this method in a charcoal grill. You just have to make a two zone fire. This means you put all your charcoal to one side of the grill, that side is called direct high heat, the side with no charcoal under it is the indirect zone. You start roasting the steak on the indirect side, turning it once, then when you get to the desired temperature (as described above) you put it on the direct side and sear both side of the steak. Of course you can do it the other way around starting with searing the steak then roasting. Charcoal adds a taste you wont get any other way. If you want to add some spin to it add some mesquite chips to the fire . Good luck.

Kat said...

New Favourite Blog? I THINK SO!

I'm planning on making Steak Oscar for my boyfriend and I as a special meal tomorrow night, but I don't own a barbecue and just haven't found a way to create steak nearly as good as grilling - until now! I'm very excited to try this method, although it will involve investing in a meat thermometer (haven't been living on away from home for that long, it's hard to build up your kitchen on a budget!) If that proves too expensive, I'll use that knife tip you thought up. Ingenuity!

Thank you so much! From an aspiring chef and soon to be avid follower, - Kat<3

Helen said...

Hi Kat,

A digital thermometer cost $15 at Target. Your steak will probably cost more than that :) I would very strongly suggest you get a thermometer before trying this recipe.


Kat said...

Just wanted to let you know the steak turned out marvelous. I discovered my mother-in-law had several meat thermometers (hidden in the china cabinet... still unsure why...) so there was no problem on that front. However I left the steaks in the oven for awhile and by the time I checked the thermometer read 120, but somehow the steaks still turned out close to rare... I think I must have inserted the thermometer wrong.

The steak was fantastic, if a tad underdone. I used a tritip steak, marinaded it in a little olive oil, a TON of garlic, and a bit of salt, pepper, oregano, and basil. Topped it off with some lump crab meat and hollandaise for some delicious steak oscar with a side of grilled asparagus.

Thanks a ton for my new, perfect method of cooking steak! <3 Kat

Helen said...

Hi Kat,

Not all thermometers are accurate. To test if yours are, boil some water and stick the thermometer in. It should read 212F. Also, make sure to stick the thermometer in sideways into the very center of the steak. If you are not right in the center you might be registering a higher temperature than the center.