By Alex Dunlevie
As far as dinner goes, one of the most important things in many peoples mind is how to cook a great steak. The goal here is to build a great crust on the outside, while having as much of the inside of the steak as possible at “target temperature.” What we mean here is that when we cut into the steak, we want to see as much steak as possible at the desired finished temperature (i.e. medium rare for most steak eaters, ~135°F) with only the outer most layer being overcooked, to build our flavorful crust. We will do this by cooking the steak in 2 parts: an initial sear, followed by a short trip in the oven to cook the steak through to our target temperature. The following items are recommended:
- A quality cut of steak of your choice
- oil (vegetable, canola, olive)
- sauté pan
- First, we want to take the steak out of the refrigerator at least 45-60 minutes before cooking. When its out, season it with salt and freshly cracked black pepper, and allow to rest on the counter. This will help some of the chill from the fridge to come off the steak, helping more of our steak to be at target temperature.
- Seasoning at least 45 minutes before cooking will allow some of the juices in the steak to be pulled to the surface, where they will essentially make a brine with the salt, before being pulled back into the meat. This process will season our steaks better and give us a superior result.
- Preheat your oven to 350°F, and heat up your sauté pan on high heat. Depending on your pan’s thickness and material, this could take anywhere from about 10-20 minutes. In general, the heavier your pan, the better your sear, although preheating a heavier pan will always take longer. The pan should be extremely hot.
- Our final consideration is cooking oil. If we choose poorly, our oil will burn before it browns our steaks, giving us acrid and off flavors. My preferred choices here are vegetable oil, canola oil, or olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil would be a waste here, as its subtle flavors will just be ruined by the heat, although “Light” Olive oil works fine.
- Immediately before cooking, pat the steaks on a paper towel to dry the surface(we want to sear the meat, not steam it), add about a tablespoon of oil to the pan, and lay the steaks down in the pan. Set a timer for 3 minutes and do not touch your steaks until the timer goes off! This will allow a nice deep crust to develop, generating flavor. *Be warned, this will generate a fair amount of smoke.
- When the 3 minutes is up, flip the steaks and allow to sear on the other side for another 3 minutes.
- After the 6 minutes of searing, move the steaks to the oven and cook them through to target temperature. *Timing will vary heavily depending on steak thickness and rest period, but could be anywhere from 2 minutes on a thin steak to 20 minutes in the case of very thick steaks.
- Remove at 120°F for rare, 130°F for medium rare, 140°F for medium, and 150°F for medium well, checking the thickest part of the steak with your thermometer. The steaks will carryover about 5 degrees once out of the oven.
- Allow to rest at least 10 minutes before serving. This technique can be replicated on a grill, using a “hot-zone/cool-zone” technique.
For those wishing for an additional layer of flavor, I’ve found excellent results by simply taking a butane or propane torch and flashing the steak with it for a few seconds. This combusts the fat on the surface which generates a smoky, grill-like flavor, although its certainly not as pronounced as truly grilled steaks.
Hopefully this can serve as a barebones guide to the fundamental process. For more information about what type of pan is the best to use for this process, check out which pan do I use. What are your favorite sides to go with your perfectly cooked steak?
Alex Dunlevie is a sous chef with Savory Celebration hailing from the northern San Francisco Bay area. Alex has been a serious foodie his entire life and staged at restaurants around California including the award winning Michael Mina. While mentoring under Chefs Robbie and Samantha, he was given the skills necessary to further his growth as a chef and hone the finer points of his culinary knowledge. Alex loves cooking protein of all kinds, particularly beef, and is interested in both modern and classic approaches to technique.