Monday, April 18, 2011

The Perfect Steak

Who hasn't said or heard this lie, "I don't get steaks in restaurants because I can cook them just as good at home."

And for a large part this is true. The key to any good steak is simplicity- salt, pepper, and heat. Little more is needed. You shouldn't need a battalion of cooks, enormous ranges, or insurance to cook a good steak. But nNo matter how often you throw steaks on the grill or frying pan, small differences in the cut, quality of the meat, and temperature of the fire can cause your steaks to be slightly under or over cooked.

I've searched the world over (ok really just a few backyards) to figure out how to cook steaks perfectly at home. And I finally found it. The key is to treat steaks like barbecue-low and slow. The French have a word for this, it is sous vide. Sorry took Spanish, you have to translate yourself.

Take a deep breath, slow down there Master of the grill, keeper of the flame. Sure I am an idiot, but this is not the conclusive proof you were looking for. Let me set the scene. Last week was my dad's birthday and all he wanted to do was grill some steaks, drink wine, and sit in the backyard. With age, comes wisdom. I had been wanting to grill a thick porterhouse in the style of a bistecca alla fiorentina for some time, so what the heck.

Called Henry at Rare Cuts last week and asked for a porterhouse at least two inches thick. When I show up on Sunday he has a nearly three inch, 56 ounce chunk of man food waiting. "Hey you want to borrow the immersion circulator," Henry asks.

"Hell yes," I say.

Basically here is how it works. You vacuum seal meat, vegetables, eggs, etc... and place it into a waterbath which holds a constant temperature. After a while whatever is in the bag is the same temperature as the water, but it can never go over. Since this steak was so thick, cooking it on a grill would have resulted in a burned exterior with a cool interior. No bueno. Steak got some salt and pepper before getting shrinkwrapped, I got a machine to borrow for the night, and I was out the door.

Plugged in the machine, filled it with water, set the temperature to 130 degrees, placed the steak in the water and went outside to start the grill and drink some wine. After an hour at 130, removed the steak, set it on top of some blazing hot coals, and charred the outside. Pulled meat off the flame and let it rest. When I sliced through the exterior crust it crackled like a log tumbling through a fireplace grate. Inside was the rosiest cut of meat I've ever cooked with just a thin line of well done meat just below the surface.

Because the salt and pepper had stewed with the meat for an extended period of time, the meat had an incredible depth of flavor. A little salad of arugula and Parmesan dressed with lemon juice and extra virgin olive completed the ensemble.

Pretty certain I am going to be ordering one of these machines right quick. A perfect home cooked steak is the best reason I can find for not going out to dinner.


Big Onion said...

Excellent post. Well said!

I prefer a quick pan sear in some rendered fat to the coals myself, but regardless of that last step this is seriously the best way to cook a piece of meat. (And I hear it's good for vegetables, too, but I think they take a ridiculous amount of time, if I remember correctly.)

Cynical Cook said...

Does this mean you're buying a sous vide supreme or going for the full restaurant spread?

GG said...

I'd check out Douglas Baldwin's sous vide guide:

While high-end meat doesn't necessarily require pasteurization, I'd be careful with the handling, etc.

If you're thinking of buying, a Polyscience Sous Vide Professional or a used Lauda is the way to go.

I'maNolaGirl said...

We did the four course tasting at Rare Cuts and had a wonderful experience. It's our go-to for picking up great cuts of meat now.

Anonymous said...

I did a beautiful pork belly in a ghetto sous vide rig consisting of a 70's crock pot (new ones are too hot), an aquarium air pump and airstone for circulation, and a Polder digital thermometer. Vacuum packaged the cured belly along with a small knob of butter, carrots garlic and celery. Yes butter. Twelve hours at about 160 and it was heaven. Meat was confit-like, but the belly held it's shape. A quick sear after I warmed the belly in it's juices (I chilled it and pulled off a lot of the fat that had rendered) and reduced the juices with some wine added. Crazy good.