The Perfect Steak. The earth is flat. And other rumours.
RIB EYE STEAK WITH SALSA VERDE, POTATO PUREE AND PURPLE ENDIVE.
Cooking a steak. It should be simple right? There’s meat, there’s a pan, there’s heat. I mean, if cavemen figured it out, how hard could (or should) it be?
Turns out, there’s a lot of ways it can go wrong. And there’s more theories about how to cook a steak than there are about who built the pyramids, and if the world really is flat or not. Most theories were handed down from a time when driving without a seatbelt seemed like a good idea.
Let’s get modern people! We have science now!
And yes, turning your steaks more than once is a thing now, and a very good thing at that.
Start off with a decent steak and you’re half way there. So get chatting to your butcher, they’re full of good advice on all things meaty; like why the cow’s dining habits (grass or grain fed) and bloodline (the wagyu familia) or passport make a difference to your happiness.
Then arm yourself with a solid pan or skillet and a thermometer (and no, I don’t use that one in the bathroom that you stick under your tongue when you’re feeling off) and you should be pretty confident of pulling off a killer steak at home.
And do read through to the tips for a few extra thoughts on the why and how of getting it right every time.
- 50g capers in vinegar
- 4 or 5 anchovies
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1/2 a regular green chilli (deseeded)
- 3 stems of Italian flat leaf parsley
- 3 stems basil (stalks removed)
- 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
- 3-4 tbsp olive oil
- 2 medium potatoes (not waxy kind)
- 1 knob of butter
- 4 tbsp creme fraiche
- 200-250g rib eye steak per person. About 1 inch thick.
- 1 large purple endive
- 1 teaspoon horseradish creme
- 2 teaspoons canola oil or similar
- Salt and pepper
- As for all recipes, keep tasting at every stage and season as you go, rather than salting at the end. Give your salt time to do it’s thing.
- 1. Add all salsa verde ingredients into a stick type blender or food processor and blend together into a rough paste. ( If possible, blend it at the last minute, while your steak has cooked and is resting to stop the bright greens from turning dark green / grey.)
- 2. Taste and balance flavours to your liking and add extra of any ingredient if necessary.
- 3. Peel and cut potato into roughly 1 inch pieces. Add to a pot with enough cold water to cover and pinch of salt.
- 4. Simmer gently until you can pierce easily with a fork.
- 5. Drain, add butter and mash. Add creme fraiche and whisk together until smooth and soft. Not stiff, not runny, but somewhere in the middle.
- 6. Place a lid on and keep warm.
- If you can do both the endive and the steak at the same time in separate pans, then great, if not one at a time is fine too. I would half cook the endive to begin, and then start the steak. You can always finish the endive fully while the steak is resting.
- 7. Warm pan to medium. Cut the endive in half, spread butter on the bottom half (the white part) and place face down into pan so the butter will melt and steam the endive.
- 8. Cover with aluminium foil to steam for 4 - 5 minutes. Then turn temperature to low, with cover off. Brown over a gentle heat until cooked through.
- 9. Preheat pan to hot (hot enough that when you add the steak, the pan temperature doesn’t drop) Add oil and let it come up to temperature. Add steak to pan and try not to move it for the first minute, letting the crust develop. Repeat on the other side. From then on, keep turning the steak every minute or so until it comes up to your desired temperature. For medium rare, pull it out of the pan at about 55C and leave it to rest for 5-10 minutes.
- 10. While the steak is resting you can blend your salsa verde, if you haven’t already. Finish your endive if necessary, re-warm the potato if it has cooled too much, add a splash of milk if it’s becoming dry.
- 11. Now plate up and make it look fancy!
- The steak cooking technique is for a 1" thick steak. Generally, thinner steaks should use higher heat for fast browning without overcooking the inside. Thicker steaks can be done with slightly lower heat as they will need longer to get the internal temperature up.
- Remember to take your steak off the heat when it's a couple of degrees below your desired temperature as the heat will continue to rise just a little.
- With the salsa verde, feel free to invent your own flavours, (I'm not any kind of traditionalist) but do remember to keep all the flavours in balance and make sure it has that flavour punch.
READ ON FOR PICS AND TIPS
‘FOR THE FOOD NERDS’
Why does a steak always taste better when a fancy restaurant cooks it? Partly because the chefs are have taken years to perfect the craft, and also because they have some high temperature equipment on their side. But that’s no reason why you can’t make a great steak at home.
The aim is to get the internal temperature you want, with the external brown crusty parts and flavour that we love.
- First of all let’s talk about salt. Get a generous sprinkling on your steak as early as you can, up to a day in advance if possible. I ask the butcher to salt it for me when I by it if I’m going to have it the same day, or the day after. Any time is good, but more time is better.
(Exception: Self confessed food nerd Kenji Lopez-Alt explains in his book The Food Lab, that you should pre salt your steak only if you can let it rest for more than 40 minutes before cooking. If you don’t have 40 minutes or more, then salting just before cooking is the best option. )
Not only does the salt work it’s way into the meat an season it from the inside, but it also works to denature the proteins inside the steak, (given enough time) and allows them to retain more moisture during the cooking process.
Salting early will also dry out the surface of the steak as well, which will lead to faster and better browning when it hits the pan. And browning is flavour. I leave my steak resting uncovered on a rack out of the fridge for two hours before cooking.
- If you haven’t managed to find the time to do the steps above, make sure you dry the surface of the steak with kitchen towel before getting it in the pan. Less moisture will help the browning process begin quicker. And nobody likes steamed steak!
- The temperature of the steak will make a big difference. The best option is room temperature, so leave it out for a good hour or two prior to cooking. But not longer than that.
- What about the pan? The pan should be something with a heavy bottom, something that can hold a lot of heat. Because when you put the steak in, you don’t want the pan to drop in temperature and for the meat to start sweating. I prefer stainless steel or a cast iron griddle for this type of cooking.
- Then there’s the heat, get that pan hot. As hot as you can. When the pan is ready, then add the oil. And again with for the oil to get hot before putting the steak in.
- And finally to turn or not to turn. I say turn. In doing so your steak will cook quicker and more evenly than the non turned version.
Each dish starts in unexpected ways. This one began with the purple endive I found at the market, something that’s not always available here in Hong Kong. And from there, I set about collecting flavours that could stand up to the perfect bitter sweetness it takes on when it’s cooked.
The beef counters it nicely and the pureed potato was a way to bring a starch into the dish while almost taking on the role of a sauce, giving more moisture to the dish without having to make a pan sauce or a jus.
And to bring a liveliness to it all, the salsa verde – full of pungent and intense flavours – makes your mouth water with each bite. I served this with a teaspoon of horseradish creme that I had left over from the day before, which gave a palate cleansing freshness and the tiniest hint of mustardy sweetness.
Think of each element in terms of what it’s delivering to your finished dish. Find and create contrasts, in flavours, textures and mouthfeel. I’m always chasing harmony, with a little hint of awkwardness.