Major in Meat: Part Two
In Part I, we covered aspects of picking the best steaks; the cuts that are the most tender, the most flavorful, even the cuts best for sharing. I also covered the differences in USDA grading (which grades to stay away from, and which grades are top of the class), as well as the different aging methods and the results of those methods. Now that the foundation for picking a steak has been laid, it is time to cook.
There are so many cooking methods, some easier, some more intensive. For now, sticking to the basics is best. To cook a steak, grilling or pan-frying/sautéing tend to be the easiest, best methods for getting a consistent level of “doneness” while locking in and maintaining the flavors.
Before firing up the grill or stove, there are a few critical things to do in preparation. First things first, that steak needs to chill out, or rather get the chill out. The meat should be taken out of the fridge and allowed to reach room temperature for at least thirty minutes before cooking. An hour will guarantee a consistent temp if time is on your side.
This allows for an even level of cooking throughout the meat, otherwise the center of the steak will be colder than the outside, meaning it will not cook as evenly, sometimes staying raw. [If you are a fan of black and blue steaks, a colder center is desired. If you’re not a fan or don’t know what a black and blue steak is, we can cover that later]
Seasoning. This is where personal taste, quite literally, comes into play. I don’t typically go crazy with a thousand spices or overbearing sauces. I don’t go through the effort of picking out a phenomenal cut of meat that will have incredible flavor on its own, only to cover it up with a bunch of other flavors. I typically only use one brand of seasoning when cooking my steaks, (or chicken, pork, fish, eggs, just about anything). Papa Joe’s Salt is it. The end all be all of seasonings. It’s a blend of several course salts, pepper, and garlic. Normally these things individually add some flavor but don’t wow the taste buds, but their mixture has perfect ratios and not only adds flavor, but brings out the flavor of whatever I use it on. A dab of olive oil, a sprinkle of Papa Joe’s and I’m always good to go. Season your steak anywhere from an hour to 15 minutes before cooking it.
The cooking surface (grill or pan) should be set to medium-high heat, and allowed to get to temp before placing the meat on it. Use another dab of oil to coat the surface; it will help to keep that steak from sticking to the surface.
For a medium-rare steak, three and a half minutes a side is usually the perfect time; for medium that time jumps up to about four to four and a half minutes. A little test for checking the “doneness” is just using one’s hands. Putting the thumb to the index finger, and pushing on the fleshy part below of the palm (by the thumb), will give a sense of medium-rare, thumb to middle finger – medium, thumb to ring finger – medium well, thumb to pinky – medium well / overcooked.
Once the steak is done cooking, it needs to rest. Remove it from the heat, and place it, un-cut (this is crucial), on a plate or platter for at least 5-7 minutes before serving and cutting. This allows it to finish cooking through while locking in the juices. If it is cut before it has time to rest, all those juices that add flavor and keep it tender will spill onto the plate and the steak wont be as perfect as it could be.
Last but not least: Eating! It is now time to dig into this perfectly picked and expertly cooked steak — almost. Time and time again I’ve seen people cut into their flawless steaks only to cut the wrong way, and not maximizing the experience. In meat there is directional grain just as there is in wood. To really maximize the tenderness of the meat, cutting should be done across the grain not with it. By doing that, it helps to break up those fibers, making for a much more enjoyable bite.
Eating is a necessary part of life. We might as well enjoy every bite.