A perfectly cooked pink, juicy, sirloin steak is often something only associated with that of top restaurants and steak houses. Steak is an expensive choice both in a restaurant and when cooked at home, and lacking the know-how of the trained chef to decide when it is done can make the whole process quite daunting.
There are a few key points to consider when cooking the perfect sirloin steak, the type of pan used, when to season, and perhaps most importantly, how long you cook it for being just a few factors. The fat used to cook it in and the resting time also play a part in the end result.
One of the most important things to remember before cooking a sirloin steak is to make sure it comes to room temperature before it goes anywhere near the pan. Removing from the fridge at least an hour before cooking means that the meat will cook much more evenly, resulting in a better finish. An optimum thickness for a steak is between 3cm and 4cm, any thinner than this proves tricky not to overcook and any thicker may require some time in the oven before serving.
There are many theories on salting steaks. Some say to do it 10 minutes before cooking, some say to season during cooking, and some even say 40 minutes before. However, for the most reliable results, simply season liberally with flaky sea salt (it tastes much better than table salt) just before it goes in the pan, and definitely avoid peppering the steak beforehand, as it will burn in the heat of the pan and taste bitter. Leaving the steak hanging around with salt on before cooking will begin to draw moisture from the steak, which will in turn cool the pan down when it is added – not ideal for creating a tasty browned crust.
Pick a frying pan or griddle pan with a heavy base, as this will help retain the heat whilst cooking. You want to get the pan very hot before the steak goes in, so much so that oil is almost smoking, and never cook more than two steaks in the pan at one time, as overcrowding the pan will result in a loss of heat. The heat of the pan plays a crucial role in achieving a beautiful brown exterior to the meat – this is called the Maillard reaction and is what gives browned meat it’s wonderful roasted flavour.
In terms of oil, it is best to use a flavourless oil with a high smoking point such as groundnut or vegetable oil. If you want to add the richness with butter, do so at the end of cooking – this way you get the flavour without the risk of burning the milk solids and ending up with a bitter taste. Try adding herbs such as rosemary and thyme or garlic when you add the butter for an extra flavour dimension, although purists will insist all that is needed is salt.
The length of time you cook your steak completely depends on personal preference. A 3cm thick steak cooked from room temperature will take around 2 and a half minutes on each side to get to a medium-rare finish. Learning to tell if a steak is cooked by feel is the best way for most cooks, which can by done by gently prodding the pad underneath your thumb and comparing it with the meat. When your palm is open it will feel like a blue steak, whereas bringing your thumb over to touch just underneath your little finger will feel like a well done steak; in between is medium and so on.
The final thing to remember when cooking sirloin steak is the importance of resting time. When the steak is cooked it needs time for the muscle fibres to relax – cutting into it straight away will result in a loss of moisture and unattractive blood spilling out onto the plate. Resting for between 5–10 minutes ensures juicy steaks with no blood spilled on the plate.
There are endless classic sides that work wonderfully with steak. Perfecting your chips is always a good move for a cosy night in, or take it to another level of feasting with some deeply decadent macaroni cheese.
Sirloin doesn't just have to stick to its usual steakhouse accompaniments, though. For a cheffier take on your steak, try Merlin Labron-Johnson's stunning sirloin recipe, served with charred tropea onions and a tangy pickled walnut salsa verde.
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