I’m FORCING myself to cease and desist blogging about the recent election and how freaking outraged I am because of the result. So, I’ve decided to move on to a topic that I passionately love…cooking!
I can’t decide if recipes constitute valid blog entries. And if I do choose to include recipes, I guess I’ll have to either include original ones, or compile some kind of a roundup. I’ll think on this and get back to you later.
For today, however, I thought I’d write about something near and dear to my heart–cooking meat. I wasn’t always a big fan of animal flesh. In fact, I was a vegetarian for about 10 years. I guess because I’ve adopted a low-carb diet, I’ve come to love it.
The other factor is that my beloved boyfriend gave me a smoker last summer, and since then, I’ve become obsessed with smoking meat. I had wanted a smoker for a long time. I assumed that I’d try it, possibly neglect the thing and let it languish, and/or just use it a few times a year.
Surprise! Full-on obsession. I even joined an online pitmaster’s club. I’m one of about three women in the club, which makes me simultaneously the object of pity (because everyone knows that girls can’t cook with fire) and very popular, being somewhat of a novelty. In general, these guys are at my beck and call to answer my every question and mid-brisket freakout. This is good, because smokin’ meat ain’t no joke. Imagine cooking a 20-pound piece of meat for 10 or 12 hours AND SCREWING IT UP. The horror! The tears! The feelings of failure! So, I love those guys.
Anyway, back to The. Perfect. Steak. Every. Time.
The reason I mentioned smoking is because the physics of cooking the perfect steak are the same as smoking meat. It requires a two-zone cooking arrangement–one zone for indirect cooking and the other for direct cooking. But no need to buy a smoker, because you have a convenient means of two-zone cooking already–your oven and your stove.
There are some good reasons why smoked meat (which is cooked with indirect heat) is so sublime, and it’s not just the application of a magic rub you’ve concocted. It’s because low-and-slow smoking gives the cartilage, connective tissues and other stuff that makes it hard to chew a chance to break down and liquefy. It also releases collagen inside the meat. The net result is tender, melt-in-your-mouth, unctuous meat. Yum!
You cannot reproduce this texture with direct cooking, and here’s why: with larger or tough cuts of meat, there’s not enough time to liquefy the connective tissue, et al., without burning the outside of the meat, or drying it out entirely. This is why it’s hard to pan fry a pork chop without turning it into shoe leather. There are talented cooks who can do this. But I am not one of them.
The answer? The reverse sear.
Reverse searing is relatively unknown to home cooks. However, steakhouses use it all the time. Essentially, it’s a method of cooking the meat low and slow in the oven–until it reaches the perfect, not-too-high-temperature–BEFORE you ever caramelize the outside with a thorough sear. The result is absolutely perfect, tender, delicious steak every time. There’s just no chance for it to dry out.
So, here are the deets:
- Buy yourself a lovely, thick steak, such as a nice rib-eye or New York strip.
- Before you even THINK of leaving the store, pick up an instant-read meat thermometer (preferably a digital one). They often sell these in the grocery store. They definitely sell them in the hardware store. Or you can order one from Amazon. Doesn’t need to be fancy; it just needs to be accurate.
- The best pan to use for the reverse-searing method is a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. Cast iron tends to cook very evenly, and it’s unparalleled when it comes to searing, because it gets BLOODY hot. If you don’t have one, grab a heavy-bottom stainless steel pan. It’s also fine to put your steak on a foil-lined baking sheet, although you won’t look as cool.
- Take your meat out of the fridge and let it sit on the counter (covered is probably best) for about 20 minutes, so it’s not freezing cold.
- Season it with a liberal amount of hand-ground sea salt and pepper (and garlic, or whatever strikes your fancy). If you want to add an extra dose of yummy, add a pat of butter on top. (Don’t be afraid. Saturated fat has recently been exonerated as a source of heart disease or cancer.)
- Preheat your oven to 250 degrees.
- Roast your meat for approximately 45 minutes to one hour. Note: I said “approximately.” You absolutely cannot rely on time for this (or any food, really). The key is to bring it up to 125 degrees, if your end goal is a medium-rare steak. If you prefer it medium, go for 130. If you prefer it well done, stop reading here and go find another recipe. (Yes, yes, YES, I’m being snotty here. But I got my attitude on this from Gordon Ramsey. He’s a lot more indignant than I am, and he uses far more four-letter words.)
- When your meat has reached the magic temperature, take it out of the oven. If you’ve roasted it in a separate pan from the one you plan to sear it in, you should preheat your skillet, so it’s ready the moment you remove your steak from the oven. If you are using the same pan, you might want to *very* briefly put it onto a cold plate while you heat up your pan. You want this pan to be very, very, VERY hot. This is the searing part. You basically cannot heat that pan up too high, unless you see flames. Then grab your fire extinguisher, and have at it (turn off the stove first). To avoid the latter scenario, do not, under any circumstances, heat the oil up in your searing pan. You can add a little oil right before putting the meat on, or put a pat of butter on the meat, so you don’t have to add the oil to the pan beforehand. Once I made the mistake of heating olive oil in my cast-iron skillet. I walked away for a moment, then heard the smoke alarm go off. I ran back to the kitchen to see two-and-a-half-foot flames. That was a very bad night that involved a panic attack while I tried to remember how to put out a grease fire, as well as some serious smoke inhalation. No joke. I repeat, this is NO JOKE.
- The goal of searing is to create a beautiful, dark, caramelized crust on the outside of the meat. As mentioned in step 8, this requires a lot of heat. After you’ve heated your pan up without causing a kitchen fire, throw your steaks into the pan. If your pan is hot enough, you shouldn’t have to cook it for more than a couple minutes (“couple” meaning two, for real) on each side. However, just like in step 7, please ignore the time estimate. The goal is that gorgeous, dark-brown crust. And don’t flip the meat until you have achieved this on side one. What you want to avoid is drying out the steak. If your pan is not hot enough, that’s a bummer. But don’t compound the problem by cooking it longer on side two, as well. Just turn up that heat, get that brown crust, then flip it over. Now, you should only have to cook it for a couple minutes on the second side.
Remove the steak from the pan. Ignore anyone’s advice to let the meat rest before serving. I could go into the science of why you don’t need to do this, but why not just take my word for it. After all, I’ve gotten you this far, right?
Throw that sucker on a plate, and prepare for the rave reviews. You can thank me later.