Thoughts on Steak

I had dinner at Jack’s Place today. I won’t usually consider that place if not for Sarah’s last minute craving for a T-bone steak.

I love a good steak. Perfectly seared and slightly charred on the outside, tenderly moist and pink on the inside; there’s not many other foods that stirs such intense craving in me like this.

I’ve written about this before, and tonight’s dinner got me thinking about this again.

What makes a good steak?

The beef
If your criteria for beef selection is only based on the fact it’s free from Mad Cow Disease then you really should be vegetarian. First simple rule is, the shorter the time it took from the point the cow turned into beef, and onto your plate, the better. Unless you’re talking about dry aged beef. If you’ve ever had a steak at a high-end steakhouse (in Singapore, Morton’s would be one), then you would have probably had dry aged beef.

Why does it taste better? Dry aging does two things to the beef. First, the moisture found in the muscle is evaporated, and the result is a stronger concentration of flavour. Secondly, there are natural enzymes in the meat that break down the connective tissue and this simply leads to beef that’s more tender. Dry aged beef are almost always restaurant quality, and for home cooks, its hard (and expensive) to acquire such cuts, though there are some butchers and supermarkets that sell them.

I digress.

If you’re buying your (non-dry aged) meat from a supermarket, go for meat that has good marbling of fat. The more marbling, the juicier your steaks will be. It also helps to keep the meat moist when cooking. Also, look out for the colour of the meat, it should be bright red and it can touch it, it should be firm to the touch with a little give.

The cut
Different cuts obviously yield different results if you’re cooking steak. Flank, for example is a terrible choice because of the grain of the meat, its going to turn out tough. Generally, all steak cuts come from the top half of the bovine, with the most tender from the middle of the steer. Here’s a quick rundown:

Ribeye: Good fat marbling, tender and flavourful. Good choice for steaks.
Fillet: Lean but very tender. Excellent choice if you’re health conscious.
Sirloin: Slightly tough but still reasonable in flavour. Not a bad choice as its cheaper.
T-bone: Less marbling, but has a small section of tender fillet.
Skirt: Tough but well marbled. Better sliced thin for a steak sandwich.
Chuck: Tough and fibrous. Best used for burgers.

The cooking
My step-by-step guide to cooking steak is here. And it should give you a simple guide to the basic rules. But here’s some extra pointers you should take note of:

1. You should avoid cooking any steak beyond medium. I personally go for medium rare as that’s the best balance between juicy and bloody.
2. The thicker the steak, the harder it is to finish cooking by grill alone. Any cut thicker than about 3/4 inch or so, you might have to sear it hard than finish it in the oven for a few minutes.
3. T-bones and Porterhouse cuts need more time because of the bone. Expect oven time.
4. Start your steak at room temperature, and whack it on a very hot pan. Searing is good for flavour.
5. Let it sear undisturbed. Don’t be tempted to lift the steak to peek underneath, just have a little faith and let Maillard Reaction do it’s work.
5. Do not cut your steak while cooking to check for doneness. Have a little faith. If you’re not sure, pull it off the heat first as you’d rather undercook than over.
6. I can’t stress this enough – let your meat rest! Forget those cow-shaped pans that Jack’s Place uses, you have to let your meat rest off-heat after cooking so the juices redistribute internally. Also, this is not the right time to cut it yet.

The thing I like best about a nicely cooked piece of good quality steak is that you don’t need anything else to accompany it. No mushroom sauce, baked potato or fancy hot plates to serve. Just a salt and pepper on the steak, all by itself on a big white plate. That’s how I like mine anyway.

I hope this will give you some inspiration to try cooking steak at home. I know for sure, next weekend I’m going to.

Thoughts on Steak

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