When I was growing up, steak was like its own food group in my house. We had it probably once a week, almost always grilled by my father, who would almost always char the hell out of the outside (blackened, carcinogenic) while leaving the inside raw. Still, the pieces my mom and I managed to slice from the ends were always delicious. Steaks, I think, really beg to be grilled in a way few other cuts of meat do. Something in their preparation — a slab of meat cooking over open flame — hearkens back to the most primitive age of man.
So what’s a girl to do when she’s not only lacking a caveman (or her father) to cook her up her meat, but she’s stuck in a small New York City apartment in the winter? Thankfully, you can still cook a perfectly wonderful steak without Fred Flinstone’s help, and without the help of a grill. There are three ways to cook a steak within the confines of your kitchen: broiling, roasting, and pan-frying. Broiling, in my experience, has worked the best, but tonight when I turned the oven on, it didn’t get hot. The pilot light was out and, as I am rather attached to my right arm, I decided not to root around for it until I got a box of those extra-long kitchen matches. So, pan-frying it was.
The key to a delicious steak, besides starting with high quality meat (I used organic and grass-fed), is building a good outer crust. You want your steak to have been out of the fridge for a little bit, warming up enough that the center can cook a little easier. Generously season both sides of the steak with freshly cracked pepper and kosher salt, patting down the first side before you flip it to keep as much of the seasoning on as possible. I’m talking generous here, people. You want to coat that thing til there’s no tomorrow.
Next, you want to sear the daylights out of it. Searing is just cooking over high heat so as to form that delicious, delicious crust. Many people say that searing “seals in the juices,” but that theory has been widely disproven by food scientists, including my favorite, Alton Brown. What searing does do is caramelize the meat, and really everything is better caramelized. The caramelized crust also gives a bit of crunch to the meat, creating a nice contrast in texture. Since we’re sauteeing this steak, searing it and cooking it will be one and the same. This, actually, is the problem I often have with pan-frying steak: while the outside forms a magnificent crust, to save that magnificent crust I often have to take the steak out of the pan too early and the inside comes out too raw. But, here we go.
To sear the steak, heat a frying pan to medium-high. I used a non-stick one, and when it was hot enough I just plunked the steak on in, no oil or any other kind of lubricant that might disturb the dry crust I was hoping to achieve. (You can test the pan’s heat by putting your hand an inch or so above the pan, if your hand feels hot, the pan is hot — and it’s no real loss if you put the meat in too early anyway.) Then, I just let it do its thang, for about 3-4 minutes on each side. Basically, you want to cook each side until it has reached your desired level of crustiness and goldenness and then just hope for the best with what’s going on in the middle.
What will help the middle cook, though, is letting the meat rest after it’s out of the pan. That’s right, it’s had a hard day. Let it chill out for a few minutes, if you can restrain yourself. Resting the meat actually will help seal in the juices, and, equally importantly, the meat will keep cooking while it rests, but without creating a further crusted (and probably burned) exterior.
I did all these things, and when I cut into the steak I found — to my delight and amazement — that it was a perfect medium rare, just the way I like it. If you like yours well done, or even medium, this probably isn’t the method for you. But if you like yours well done or medium then, well, then you need an education in meat, my friend. It was on the tougher side, though, but I don’t know if that’s because of my cooking method or because of the meat itself (grass-fed beef is known to be both more flavorful and also tougher).
Next up, broiling!