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A guide to pan-seared steaks
March 26, 2018, 10:34 am

There is nothing better than a delicious, juicy, mouth-watering steak. When it comes to cooking one, preparation and technique make all the difference in the world. With the right tools, the right cut of meat, and the right cooking style, it is not hard to pan-sear a steak to crisp, juicy perfection.

The right steak: You cannot end up with a great cooked steak if you start with a crummy raw one. The best steaks are the tender ones cut from the loin of the cow that generally command the highest prices at the market.

There are four different high-end steaks that you should know and each one is a little different.

·         Ribeye: This steak comes with a large, tender eye of meat surrounded by a swath of fat and a cap that comes from the spinalis muscle. This cap is the juiciest, most flavorful piece of meat that you will find on any steak.

·         Strip: Also known as New York Strip, Kansas City Strip, or contre-filet, strip is similar in texture to that central eye of meat in a ribeye steak. That is because it comes from the exact same muscle, just a little further back down along the cow. People enjoy strip steak for its relatively tender texture and good amount of marbling.

·         Tenderloin: Also known as filet mignon, tenderloin is the tenderest cut of meat on the cow. When cooked, it has a buttery, almost spoon-tender texture. But what it has in tenderness, it lacks in flavor. As a nearly unused muscle in the cow, the tenderloin generally has very little fat, and almost no flavor to speak of.

·         T-Bone: Also known as Porterhouse when the tenderloin section is at least 1 1/2-inches wide, T-bone is simply a slice of rib with both the strip and the tenderloin still attached. It is certainly an impressive and daunting cut of meat, but with the little fat and a small profile, the tenderloin section ends up cooking much faster than the larger strip section.

Size matters: The thickness of a steak is not just about portion control. Without an adequately thick steak, it is difficult to get that contrast between exterior and interior. Thin steaks tend to overcook before they can finish developing a nice crust. It is recommended to get steaks that are at least an inch and a half thick, if not two inches.

Aging: There are two types of aging. So-called wet-aged meat is meat that has been placed in a vacuum-sealed bag and allowed to rest for a few weeks. A wet aged steak shows some improvement over a standard non-aged steak in terms of tenderness—there are enzymes present in the meat that will break down tough connective tissue over time.

Dry-aged meat on the other hand is meat that has been stored in a temperature and humidity-controlled room for anywhere from a week and up to 10 weeks or longer.

Bone in, or out: It is better to cook meat with the bone-in because it adds flavor.

Salt it well: It is recommended to salt your meal about 40 minutes before it hits the grill. Use kosher salt and not regular table salt when doing so. The larger grains of kosher salt are easier to sprinkle evenly with your fingers, and will also draw more initial moisture out of the meat to dissolve than table salt.

Use cast iron: A good cast iron pan is thick, heavy, and designed to hold on to heat for a long, long time. Once properly pre-heated, a good cast iron pan will practically sear a steak on its own, even if you lift it off its heat source. Fast searing is essential if you want to build a thick brown crust without overcooking the interior.

Start with oil: The best cooking medium for a steak is actually plain old oil. Make sure to use plenty of it so that your steak cooks nice and evenly. A quarter cup in a 12-inch skillet would suffice. Adding butter to the pan a few minutes before it is done cooking is a fine idea. This is just enough time to allow the buttery flavor and texture to coat the meat, but not so long that it will burn excessively, producing acrid undertones.

Flip out: Flipping a steak multiple times—as often as once every 15 seconds or so—will give you an evenly cooked meat. This is because with multiple flips, neither side is exposed to intense heat for too long, nor does it lose much heat to the relatively cool air above. It is the equivalent of cooking it from both directions simultaneously.

Baste: Basting is the real key to a perfect pan-seared steak. It performs two different functions. A combination of flipping and basting—that is, spooning hot fat over your meat—will help cook it more gently, and more importantly, from both sides simultaneously, drastically cutting down on its cooking time. A basted and flipped steak will hit its appropriate internal temperature a good 35 percent faster than a single-flip, no-baste steak.

Basting is also a perfect way to perform touch-up jobs on your crust. Spoon hot melted butter over them, and they will quickly color in. The easiest way to baste is to tilt your pan slightly so that hot butter collects near the handle, then use a spoon to pour it over the top of the steak.

Add aromatics: After the butter is melted, add a handful of herbs such as thyme or rosemary, along with some sweet alliums like shallots or garlic. They pop and sputter, releasing their aromas and rapidly infusing the fat with their flavor.

Use a thermometer: Insert the thermometer gently into the very center of your steak to register a reading. For a medium-rare, the thermometer should read around 54 degrees Celsius.

Take a rest: Let your steak rest until its internal temperature drops to about five degrees below its maximum temperature.


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