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From blue to well done: cooking steaks to perfection

From blue to well done: cooking steaks to perfection

by Hugh Thomas 31 August 2016

Tired of the guesswork that comes with cooking steaks, not knowing how they’ll turn out until your guests cut into them? Read our guide to find out how to tell exactly when a steak is ready to serve.

Hugh is a freelance food journalist and professional glutton. Previously, he has written for The Guardian, Time Out, Restaurant magazine, British Street Food, and inapub.

Let’s face it – preparing the perfect steak is a bit more complicated than it looks. But that’s not to say there isn’t the odd pointer to make cooking your steak that much easier. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Prep

First off, you’re going to want to decide how you want your steak done. Blue involves a very quick sear – about one minute a side – while the meat inside stays cold. Then comes rare, which is steak cooked until it has a warm, red centre. Medium has a tender, pinker middle, while medium-well has a pink-brown hue when it’s cut open. At the end of the spectrum, well done is when all the bloodiness is cooked out of the meat, giving the insides a light brown colour.

Before we begin, you’re going to want to take the meat from the fridge and let it reach room temperature while uncovered. This should take at least ten minutes. Then you’ll need a hot pan – go for a heavy based one if you can ­– and place it on the heat until the pan is gently smoking.

Now, pat the surface of the steak with a paper towel. By drying the outside, you’ll give the meat a thicker, more flavourful crust once it hits the heat.

Liberally salt and pepper your steak. The important thing with seasoning is to not over salt the fat rind, if the cut has one, as this draws the moisture out of the fat when it melts, leaving you with a dry, tough piece of meat.

When the cooking’s done, don’t forget to rest the meat. Resting the steak for at least five minutes helps the meat retain its moisture, leaving you with a juicier steak. Again, though you can go by rule of thumb, it’s best to use a thermometer. When the steak’s internal temperature decreases to 49ºC, the muscle fibres have relaxed to a point in which the meat’s juices are no longer lost.

Hugh Thomas

Cook

Cook your steak. The matter of when, and how often, you should turn steak over is the source of much debate, but it all comes down to personal preference – more frequent flipping will cook the steak faster and leave more moisture within the meat, while less frequent flipping will give it a more rendered crust.

When it comes to time spent in the pan, the thickness of the steak dictates how long it should be cooked for. As each cut and each steak differs, the only way to make sue your steak is cooked the way you like it is to use a meat thermometer. 55ºC for blue, 60ºC for rare, 63ºC for medium-rare, 71ºC for medium and 77ºC for well done.

If you’re sans thermometer, don’t be tempted into cutting open the steak mid-cook. Instead, go with the finger test. To do this, relax your hand. With the index finger of your other hand, push on the area between the base of the thumb and the palm. This is what steak cooked rare feels like. Now gently touch your thumb to your index finger, and apply the same pressure with your other index finger as before. This gauges medium-rare. Now try your thumb to middle finger. This indicates medium well. Up from that, thumb to pinky is what well done feels like. Now, by applying the technique to the meat as it’s in the pan, you should have a good idea of how well it’s cooked.

When the cooking’s done, don’t forget to rest the meat. Resting the steak for at least five minutes helps the meat retain its moisture, leaving you with a juicier steak. Again, though you can go by rule of thumb, it’s best to use a thermometer. When the steak’s internal temperature decreases to 49ºC, the muscle fibres have relaxed to a point in which the meat’s juices are no longer lost.

 

Quality is key

It should go without saying, but make sure the meat of the steak is of the highest quality. A cheap steak can be tough to chew, no matter how you cook it, and when you’ve got a quality cut, you’re going to want to make sure it’s done right. Finally, here’s some guidance on how to cook different cuts.

Rib-eye

A firm favourite in restaurants. Get the pan to very hot, and cook the rib-eye to medium doneness. This will give the fat a chance to render without drying the meat out.

Onglet

Swiftly becoming a more popular choice, onglet – also known as hangar – is often ignored due to the tendon that runs through its middle. Best served rare, cook onglet over a fierce heat for a short time.

Fillet

The leanest cut of the lot, fillet should not be cooked beyond medium rare. Low fat content in the meat means most people decide to put it over a very hot pan for almost no time at all.

Rump

While rump may not be as tender as, say, fillet, it’s much more flavourful. To keep as much softness in the meat as possible, cook the meat to medium or medium rare doneness.

Sirloin

Like rib-eye, sirloin has excellent fat marbling, so in order to let the fat permeate the meat, cook it similarly – on a high heat, and to medium or medium rare.

Skirt

Like onglet, skirt possesses more flavour than many other cuts, but the trade off is in its toughness. Best cooked in an intensely hot pan for a few minutes, if that.

T-bone

Since the T-bone is half sirloin, half fillet, you tend to end up with a steak with a variety of textures and flavours after it’s cooked. And the fact it’s on a bone means the intense flavour of the meat won’t get overpowered by marinades and sauces.

Bavette

Bavette – or flank, if you prefer – is a long, flat cut usually employed as an affordable alternative in restaurants. Also, its cheap and rudimentary nature means it’s useful for stir-fries and fajitas.

 
 
 
 
 

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