A great steak is a real treat. Doesn’t have to be a huge doorstop of meat. Needs no adornment, barring salt and pepper. You don’t even have to spend a fortune on the most expensive fillet – unless you want to, of course.
For many of us, steak is something we’d order from a menu, not whip up at home. But cooking a fantastic steak is a classic recipe in the home chef’s repertoire. And it’s actually pretty easy, if you follow a few principles.
For this article, we’ve not only done our own extensive testing (practice does make perfect, after all), we’ve taken advice from chefs like Jamie Oliver, Samin Nosrat and Wolfgang Puck. Their tips will guide you through selection, preparation, cooking and serving, so you can really savour it. You and your steak deserve it.
Befriend your Butcher
First things first. It’s essential to trust that your butcher knows their stuff and is not cutting corners. Seek a purveyor who hand selects each piece of meat. Says Wolfgang Puck “At the end of the day, if the steak is not tender people are going to complain no matter what you put on it." The better the meat you start with, the more you’ll enjoy your finished steak. It’s that simple.
Choose your Cut
For the purposes of this article we’re talking about
Whichever cut you select, here are a few things to remember if you’re looking to cook steak with nothing less than perfect taste and texture.
Sprinkling with plenty of salt and then letting the meat sit for the day makes it more tender and juicier – and perhaps surprisingly, the opposite of jerky. This ‘dry brining’ technique has a number of fans, including Samin Nosrat, author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. Rub your steak all over with olive oil and plenty of sea salt. As Samin says, “Salt will dissolve protein strands into a gel, allowing them to absorb and retain water better as they cook.”
The Warm Up
Cooking your steak from cold means the heat can’t get right into the middle as efficiently. Before you start cooking, get the steak out of the fridge and allow it to come up to room temperature before cooking. This should take an hour or two, depending on the ambient temperature and the size of your steak. Lightly pat your steaks dry (to help that lovely crust along).
Into The Frying Pan
Make sure your pan is very hot, adding the oil just before your steaks. This will help caramelise the meat (thanks to the Maillard reaction), vital for a delicious crust. Overcooking is the cardinal sin of steak. Aim to cook your steak medium-rare to medium. And avoid crowding the pan – steak needs breathing room, or it’s likely to lower the temperature of the pan and steam, rather than sizzle.
A word about temperature. Generally, the fattier the cut, the hotter your pan should be. It kinda self-bastes during cooking, rendering down the fat and flavouring the meat from within.
Read five hot tips for tender steak on the grill, from our BBQ maestros.
Flip It Good
Now we’re going to give you advice that in some circles borders on sacrilege. Turn your steak every minute or so while it cooks. While some chefs advise against it, an experiment on thechoppingboard.com found that an often-flipped steak actually had a greater band of ‘perfect’ medium rare meat, without compromising on that crust. It also cooked 20-25% faster than an identical steak that was turned only once.
Cut and Peek?
Cooking time depends on many factors, so rather than say, ‘cook for 2 minutes each side’, this is about learning how to tell when it’s done to your liking. A knife cuts into muscle fibres, releasing their moisture – cut into it more than once or twice and you risk drying out your steak. But the real drawback of this testing method is accuracy. When you slice into the middle of a still-hot steak, it will seem rarer than it is. So if you’re going to cut into your steak to test for doneness, take it off the heat before it’s just right. Thanks to carry over heat, steaks will keep cooking after leaving the pan.
The alternative to the cut and peek method? Touch your forefinger and thumb together, and poke the fleshy base of the thumb with your other hand. That’s medium rare. Now poke your steak with the tongs. Pinching your middle finger and thumb is medium, ring finger to thumb is medium well-done, and your little finger – well, you’ve probably ruined a perfectly good steak.
Give It a Rest
Once it’s reached your personal idea of perfection, lift your steak out of the pan and let it rest on a warmed plate for a couple of minutes, to collect its lovely juices. At this point, you can add a little butter or extra virgin olive oil or butter.
Serve & Sauce
Slice across the grain with a nice sharp carving knife, or just leave each piece whole, and serve with any resting juices drizzled over. If you fancy getting fancy, you could practise a rotating roster of classic sauces to accompany your steak – think Bearnaise, peppercorn, chimichurri, or creamy mushroom. Dollop on some horseradish or herbed butter. Or simply add plenty of fresh black pepper, to enjoy it in all its naked glory. And tuck in. Enjoy! 😍🤤