Great Steak

I was going to title this recipe simply “steak au poivre,” because that’s really what it is, but I wanted a slant rhyme. There, I’ve said it. I am not proud of myself.

Slant rhymes aside, a great steak is an excellent recipe to memorize, because invariably the need for one will arise. In my case, that’s whenever I’m alone in the house and can thus fill it with the smoky meaty smell of a giant unapologetic steak, without worrying about the dietary needs of others. In fact this is quite an easy recipe to follow, but I’ve gone perhaps a bit overboard in explaining. I wanted there to be a reason for each step, so that if you were tempted to skip or alter anything, you’d at least know why it was there in the first place.

Oh, and I’ll give you one cheat.

I’ve chosen a New York strip — or simply strip steak — because it has a good compromise of tenderness and flavor. If you can imagine a T-bone steak, the strip is one half of that, on the other side of the bone from the tenderloin. The New York strip has a good amount of fat and can be cut in fairly large sizes, unlike say a filet or a skirt steak.

Start by trimming your steak of any egregious gristle on the edges. Mine didn’t happent to have any. Next, dry your steak on some paper towels, allowing it to come to room temperature. We need the surface to be dry for a good crust to form later on. Bringing the meat to room temperature will assist in even cooking, of course, but why the paper towels? Because we’re building to a Maillard reaction, which is essentially what happens when sugar, amino acids, and high heat have a threesome. Were the steak to be dripping wet, most of that water would boil off as steam. An abundance of steam, which does not reach a temperature above 212 degrees Fahrenheit, would keep the heat at the surface of the meat too far below the point where Maillard would occur. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Generously, and I cannot stress that enough, coat the steak in kosher salt and crushed black pepper. In a saute pan heat a few tablespoons of olive oil until just barely smoking — about medium.

Place the steak in the pan and then add a tablespoon or two of butter. I used to always bring my oil up to heat, add butter, let it melt, and then finally add the meat. Over the years I’ve found this results in two things: 1) the crust will be somewhat overpowered by lots of butter flavor, but more importantly 2) the butter will have cooked so long that it can be overly brown. You may be worried that the side of your steak facing down in the pan doesn’t get fully coated in butter if you add that in last, but I think it’s actually a negligible concern.

Let the steak sit, and do not touch it at all. All we are trying to do is get a nice crust, and you don’t want to do anything to disturb the Maillard reaction. After 2 or possibly 3 minutes, depending on the heat of your stovetop, pick up your steak, vigorously swirl the pan to remix the oils, and place the uncooked side of the steak down to cook another 2 or 3 minutes. Why the range of times? On the one hand you want a high heat and a low cooking time, because this step is mostly for the crust. Were you to cook the meat at low temperature for a longer time, the meat would certainly cook all the way through [eventually], but you might have a boring crust. The flipside is that if you were to simply blast it with heat, you’d burn the butter [and very likely sugars on the surface of the steak.] If you were especially worried about the lack of butter flavor on the cooked side of the steak — now facing you — get your Top Chef rocks off by spooning the oil mixture over the meat. Mmm, meat and butter. Again, don’t physically move the steak.

When you’re satisfied with the crust(s), place the [still technically rare] steak in an aluminum foil sealed wrap. Place in the oven and cook until your desired doneness is reached. Personally, I will eat anything from rare to medium, so I try not to cook too long, usually about 4 minutes. If you’re worried about overcooking, than decrease the temperature to give yourself more of a buffer. I always err on the side of undercooked because you can always throw the steak back in if you cut into it, and it’s too red for your wussy tastebuds.

Here’s the part where you can cheat. Look deeply at what remains in the pan. This is called fond. Is there anything black? Not brown but black. If so, remove it. Black is almost never a characteristic of good flavor in food. Is that racist? Perhaps, but in this case we are going to need every bit of what’s in that pan.

Next, chop a large shallot or two and saute over medium heat with some salt in the original pan. An onion would do as well, but use only half of one. If you’re out of oil, add a little bit, but you probably shouldn’t need much. Oil will aid the cooking of your shallot obviously, but it will impair your ability later on to emulsify the sauce. By the way you’re making a red wine reduction sauce.

With your shallots wilted but not super browned (remember, black = bad), pour in at least a half cup of fruity, dark red wine. Increase the heat to high and vigorously stir the mixture, scraping up all the bits from the bottom of the pan. You can be aggressive with the heat, because now we’re dealing with mostly liquid. For whatever reason, I filmed this part in HD, which you can see here.

You are looking for a reduction of half by the time the steak is out of the oven, but this almost never happens for me in practice. That’s OK because with the steak out of the oven and in the foil, it’s in no danger of cooling off. In fact, it’s going to cook a bit more on the counter. When the wine is reduced enough — it should be noticeably thicker but not like jam thickness…when it cools it will thicken slightly — open your meat pouch and carefully pour into the pan whatever juices are there. If you’re feeling naughty, give the steak a little squeeze to cheat a few juices out.

Reseal the steak pouch, stir the sauce once more, and reduce the heat down to medium-low. Add butter, cream, salt, and pepper to taste. In this case, my cream had partially converted to butter, so I did the only logical thing and treated it as both. An unholy hybrid if you will. At this stage the sauce shouldn’t cook much more; we don’t want the cream and butter to cook all that much. You could also throw in some garlic, mustard, or perhaps herbs like thyme, rosemary, or sage.

When you’re ready to serve, plate the steak and spoon the shallot wine sauce over, or present in a little bowl as I did here.

See, pretty simple, right?

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7 thoughts on “Great Steak

  1. Anonymous says:

    It looks so delicious! I want steak so badly.

  2. Jerch says:

    Good tip! I have a pan but just dont use it. Im afraid of the cleaning. Any cheats you can suggest for keeping the surface?

  3. pjrw says:

    I have long awaited this post. I will be trying this very soon. Is there a way to download this into a file? Thanks!!!

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