The perfect steak is a steak shared with loved ones. Well, actually no, it’s a steak had to oneself. And there are many preferences when it comes to cuts, seasonings, cooking methods and the many other variables. However, there are some guiding principles that can be utilised to achieve best results. Once upon a time I used to only ever eat my steaks well done, because once upon a time I was ignorant. I do not eat steak tartare, because that shit is fucking nasty. But now I understand how a rare or even blue steak is certainly not without its merits. It’s been a long journey, over several years, but as I’ve made nearly every mistake in the book while cooking steak, I shall here and now impart what I have learned.
Do not cook your steak straight from the refrigerator. I repeat, DO NOT COOK YOUR STEAK STRAIGHT FROM THE REFRIGERATOR. Take that sexy little slab of meat out of the cold and let it get up to room temperature. Some say 30 minutes is enough. Some say 1 hour. I say at least 2 hours. The reason for this is that meat that is cold on the inside and hot on the outside does not cook through properly. Some also say to season your steak as soon as you take it out of the fridge, but I’ve found it best to let the meat stop shivering first.
Once you’ve let that handsome bastard acclimate, it’s time to unpack it and dry it off with paper towels. The reason for this is so that a damp piece of meat doesn’t hit the pan when it comes time to fry that little hero up. The moisture on a damp steak lowers the all-important high heat of a pan and leads to inferior steak. Especially considering all the effort that you’re putting into this meal, there is no sense in selling yourself short and not patting your steaks dry. Trust me this is one of the MOST important steps towards heaven. Once dried and brought up to room temp it’s time to season.
There are infinite rubs, potions, spices and concoctions you could potentially put on your wee hunk, but the best is just salt. Yes, fresh cracked pepper is popular and prolific, and not inherently evil, but salt, and nothing but the salt, is best. The reason for this is that salt penetrates the meat, causing it to weep moisture from within, which in turn concentrates the flavour of the meat. To add any flavours on top of that condensed meaty loveliness serves only to detract from the meaty meatiness. You can if you want, but this is my method and I say that pepper, thyme, rosemary, butter and garlic can sit this one out.
I used to baste my steaks in butter with fresh garlic and thyme, I won’t lie. But the recipe has evolved since, and I’m all about the best I’ve got, so stick with it. Those earlier adaptations of the perfect steak are less perfect, and while decent, they are not the most perfect.. SO, you have your steak at room temp, you’ve salted it so liberally that it looks like it had a fall in the snow. Now what? Well, now you go and watch an episode of something for an hour, maybe even two. Because that warm, dry, salted steak needs to weep some of its internal moisture and condense its flavour.
After that hour or two has or have passed, it’s time to fire up your pan. Now, the surface of the Sun is hot, very hot, but even that isn’t near hot enough. When I say „hot” I mean so damn hot that you are afraid to say the pan’s name out loud, let alone look it in the eye. While the pan is getting up to temp, the steaks need to be patted down because, again, moisture is the enemy. Also, a minimal drizzle of oil rubbed into the condensed chunks of beauty means that you don’t have to oil your pan. Just saying.
Right, this is it, the moment you’ve been waiting for. The pan is screaming like an ACDC fan high on meth in the middle of a garden centre on a Tuesday afternoon and your steaks are fully prepped and chomping at the bit. You’ve set aside a board to rest your steaks on and there is nothing for it but to gently, and I mean GENTLY place the steaks in the pan. Now, this is important so listen to me here and I mean REALLY pay attention, are you ready? DO NOT TOUCH THE STEAKS ONCE THEY’RE IN THE PAN. I know, I know, I didn’t have to shout. Only I kinda did, because most of us can’t resist the urge to poke, prod, touch or toss our steaks once they’re on the heat. This is a mortal error, a sinful taint, not to mention it will ruin the, by now, four hours of prep you’ve put in.
I know, they look like they need a little attention, but you have to trust your steaks. They’re out in the big bad world now and if you don’t let them stand on their own two feet they’ll never learn how to be productive members of society. Swallow your pride and be an adult for once in your life. DO NOT TOUCH THEM, that is, until 90 seconds has passed. Then flip them. Then DO NOT TOUCH THEM! I know it’s difficult to not check, examine, question, interpret, investigate or in any other way, shape or form make some sort of physical contact with the steaks, but you MUST not. Until, that is, another 90 seconds has passed. At which point you place the almost finished steaks on a board, preferably a tilted board, and cover them with tinfoil.
Now, the amount of time to let a steak sit for does depend on how thick the steak is. If we’re talking about a two inch thick on-the-bone monster then 10 minutes will do. But otherwise, 5, or, if you’re feeling adventurous, 6 minutes is your sweet spot. The reason for letting them sit is that after the meat comes off the pan the cooking process does not end. Just as you let steak first come up to room temp before you put it on the pan, so too do you let it sit after it comes off the pan so that the internal temperature settles. Again, trust me on this, LET IT REST. If anything, it’s been through a lot. And so have you. Thus far you’ve invested 4 hours and 3 minutes of your life in this meal. You can wait another 5ish minutes.
If, like most of us, you can’t get A5 Wagyu, a little trick to get the most out of cheaper steaks is to coat them in salt, and I mean CAKE them all over in salt and then lay them in your fridge for 30 minutes per inch of thickness before you start the process. Or, blend a pineapple and submerge your steaks in the pulp for no more than 2 hours, before rinsing thoroughly pre-cook. Lastly, don’t share your steak. Be greedy. If you’re cooking a second steak for someone else then fine, but don’t share your steak, unless you have a dog, in which case, make sure and leave them some, because dogs are life.