Friday, February 10, 2012

Steak Frites Part Quatre: the steak

So far, I've posted on how I made the sauce, a salad, and fries. Now it's time to present how I made the star of the meal: the steak.

Ingredients:
New York Strip Steak (1 per person) - you can also use sirloin, thick steaks are preferable for those that tend to like their steaks underdone
salt & pepper to season
1/2 tablespoon butter per steak

Luckily for me, these strip steaks were on sale at my grocery store. I looked for a package that had red flesh (if they look pale pink, avoid) and had lots of marbling. Marbling means fat which equals flavor. I pulled the steaks from my fridge about an hour before I was going to start cooking. Bringing the meat to room temperature means that it will cook more easily and evenly. Plus, if you're someone who likes their steaks well done (waste of a steak, if you ask me, but to each his/her own!) then you'll have an easier time cooking it without drying it out if the steak isn't ice cold when it hits the pan and/or oven.
I started by getting an oven safe stainless steel pan on the stove and put the heat on medium high and added in the butter. My pan was big enough to cook two steaks without crowding the pan so I threw in 1 tablespoon. Make sure you don't try and squish in too many steaks because you'll suck all of the heat out of the pan and ruin the quality of the steaks. If your pan was heated thoroughly enough, it should only take a few seconds before the butter melts and starts to brown up. If it takes more than 15 seconds for the butter to melt, your pan is not hot enough and you need to crank it heat. If the butter starts to burn immediately, then obviously your pan is too hot and you need to start over.

**If you like your steak cooked a bit more than rare, then this is when you should turn your oven on to 350 degrees. After seasoning the steaks with salt and pepper, I used tongs to carefully place the steaks in the butter and listened for that lovely sizzle. I like to sort of swirl the steak around in the butter as I'm putting it down. I do this to make sure that there's butter all over the surface of the steak touching the pan. I'm not 100% sure what this technique does (I saw it on Top Chef) but my theory is that it just keeps the steak moist. It's kind of like you're basting it in butter. Once the steaks were placed, I left the pan and walked away for two minutes.
After two minutes, I came back and flipped the steaks, and used the same swirling technique to place them gently back in the butter. There was some nice caramelization on the meat. If it just looks grey and lifeless, your pan was and is not hot enough and you need to crank the heat and let it cook a little longer. I left the meat alone for 3 minutes on the second side. Why do I cook it longer on the second side than on the first side? Because initially the pan was screaming hot but as soon as the steaks were placed in, they sucked out a good deal of heat. To get the same brown caramelization on the second side, you'll need to leave the steaks in for 1 minute longer.

After three minutes, the steaks are rare and cooked enough for my taste.
But if you want it medium-rare then put it in the oven for 3 minutes
                   medium, put it in the oven for 5 minutes
                   medium-well, put it in the oven for 8 minutes
                   well-done, put it in the oven for 11 minutes
and remember that you need to let the meat rest for a few minutes to let the juices redistribute (so your steak doesn't bleed out all over your plate the second you cut into it) and there's something called "carryover cooking time" which means that the steak will continue to cook for a few minutes even after a heat source has been removed. That means it's better to cook your steaks a little rarer than you might want it and let the residual heat finish cooking the steak.

**Considering the fact that oven temperatures can fluctuate and the pan you're using may be more or less conductive than mine, you can use this trick to test your meat:
Make a 'C' with your hand, relax your wrist, and poke the area between your thumb and fingers marked by the RED X. If you like your meat RARE, then poking your steak should have a similar amount of give as your own flesh.
Make a loose fist with your hand (don't clench too hard) and poke that same spot between your thumb and fingers. If you like your meat MEDIUM, then when you poke your steak, it should have that same amount of give as your hand.
And if you like your meat WELL DONE, then compare the meat to poking the tip of your nose.
**Just keep in mind that fattier cuts of meat may get a little crispy (re: burned) the longer they're cooked so if you know you want a well-done steak, trim as much fat off of your steaks as possible and look for a leaner cut of meat or a thinner steak.

Once the steak has been cooked to your preferred doneness, set it aside and let it rest. Meanwhile, don't waste all of the yummy brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan (called "fond" in French). You could make a pan sauce but since I already made that lovely l'entrecote sauce, I decided to cook some vegetables in it. I had sugar snap peas and garlic but you could use mushrooms, green beans, kale, bell peppers, or any combination - your choice, really. I start by tossing the vegetables in and letting them get coated in the fat remaining in the pan. Then I add about 2 tablespoons of chicken stock to deglaze the pan (you could use a good wine instead). The liquid added to the pan will dissolve all of the fond and create a lovely sauce. I like my snap peas crisp so as soon as a sauce forms, I shut off the heat and serve.











Once that's done, it's time to plate. I plate the fries along with my steak drizzled with some sauce and leave the salad and vegetables on the table for people to serve themselves. I left a little gravy boat with the sauce on the table as well.




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