After a rather productive week in the kitchen last week, I've been feeling wholly uninspired this week. Call it a case of chef's-block, or cooking apathy, but the mere act of getting myself into the kitchen has felt like chore. I even had a bout with a nagging craving for bad Chinese food, which I finally relented to and sated with a $5 plate of greasy chow fun from around the corner.
So what's my secret for a perfect steak? Beyond the usual points like using a very hot pan and salting liberally, I have two tips.
- Use a room temperature piece of meat. It prevents the problem of getting a steak with a tough, overcooked exterior and a cold, raw interior. A steak that's straight from the fridge has an internal temperature of about 35 degrees. To get it to rare, you need to raise the internal temperature to 120 degrees. That's an 85 degree change that has to happen quickly, so you don't overcook the exterior. By getting the steak to about 70 degrees before you start cooking it, you only need to raise the internal temperature about 50 degrees.
- After searing the steak, put it in a hot oven, then turn it off. With no direct heat source, the steak will gently cook to your desired level of doneness slowly. More importantly, it's almost impossible to over cook it, since the heat is turned off. The first time I tried this method, I accidentally forgot about the steak, and it was in the oven for nearly 20 minutes. At first, I was livid because my dry aged steak was brownish-pink all the way through, but upon biting into it, I was pleasantly surprised at how moist and tender it was.
The pan sauce is just an emulsion of reduced stock and butter, but the brown fond in the pan from the steak combined with a double dose of shallots and mushrooms gives it a serious wallop of flavour that will tickle your umami tastebuds.
The blurry twirl in the back of the photo at the top of the page is a char-grilled spring onion. This is a beautiful thing that may just have the best effort-to-tastiness ratio of any vegetable dish. Just wash a few spring onions (sweet onions, picked in early spring when they are still young), and put them a few inches from the broiler until the outer layer is charred black all around. Don't worry, you want them to look scary burnt. Put the smoking onions into a pot and cover with a lid. The residual heat cooks the onion all the way through and the smoke coming from the charred exterior infuses the whole thing with a wonderful aroma. When you're ready to serve, just crumble off the charred outer layer and you'll expose the smoky, caramelized onion within. Sprinkle with sea salt and a splash of olive oil and you're good to go.
- Bring the steaks to room temperature (about 30 minutes). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- When the steaks are at room temperature, start heating a cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Don't use a non-stick pan as the high temperature you need to get it to will cause it to release toxic fumes. Generously salt and pepper both sides of the steaks and press the salt and pepper into the surface of the steaks to ensure it sticks.
- When the skillet is very hot, place the steaks in the pan and allow them to brown undisturbed until they don't stick to the pan anymore. Flip and brown for another few minutes on the other side.
- Quickly put the pan in the hot oven and turn it off. Allow them to rest in the oven without opening it for 10 minutes for a rare steak, or 15 minutes for medium rare steak.
- Transfer the steaks to a plate, then return the skillet to the stove over medium heat. Add a splash of olive oil and saute the minced shallots until they start getting soft. Add the mushrooms and continue to saute until they are limp and glossy and there is no liquid in the pan.
- Add the cognac and swirl it around the bottom of the pan to deglaze. Add the chicken stock and raise the heat to high, boiling until it starts to thicken and there's only about 1/4 C of liquid remaining. Push the mushrooms and shallots to the back half of the pan, then add the butter to the other half. Whisk vigorously to incorporate, then stir it all together. Squeeze a splash of lemon juice in and whisk to combine.
- Serve the mushrooms and sauce over the steak.