There’s always a cause for celebration when I bring home a fresh pack of rosy red grass fed steaks. It’s a godsend for the cook because it takes less time to cook than most other animal proteins. It’s also very sensual, requiring involvement of all the senses; looking for the proper crust to form on the meat, feeling the meat for the perfect doneness, tasting the pan sauce for the balance in seasoning, and smelling the intoxicating aroma of searing meat.
Unlike lesser cuts of beef, grass-fed steak is cooked quickly over very high heat, ideally to a perfect medium rare; giving any meat lover the most concentrated experience of beef eating pleasure.
The following advice is from our young RMM Chef/Food Stylist, Alex Lee and a culmination of his experiences at culinary school, cooking in professional kitchens, as well as the triumphs and failures working in his own home kitchen. These tips work well for all cuts of steaks; from the sophisticated and buttery filet, to the symphony of lean and fat in the hearty rib eye, to the wonderful balance and texture of the New York strip.
- Allow the meat to come to temperature 45 minutes before cooking begins. This will allow the meat a chance to come to room temperature, allowing it to cook more evenly and efficiently.
- Season the meat with one thin layer of coarse salt for every ½ inch of steak thickness 20 minutes before cooking. Salt requires time to dissolve and adhere to the meat. The problem with spice rubs is they burn easily; especially when cooking the meat to medium or higher. The problem with marinades is they saturate the meat with moisture; effectively steaming the meat vs. searing it. If you want to impart flavor, I suggest doing it post cooking; either with a toasted and ground spice blend of your choosing, or a flavorful pan sauce.
- Choose the right pan. You will have the greatest amount of success cooking in a heavy cast iron skillet or stainless steel sauté pan. This will ensure even browning and cooking; and serve as the perfect vessel for building the pan sauce.
- Choose an appropriate cooking fat. I see a lot of recipes calling for olive oil. I find it to be a complete waste; it has a low smoke point, it’s expensive, and its flavor diminishes when exposed to heat. Save your olive oil for dressing salads, cold dishes, and dressing pasta. I have experimented with a range of fats and have found the best results from 3:1 ratio oil to butter. That means for every 3T of canola oil there is 1T butter. You have the benefit of the high smoke point and neutral flavor profile from the canola; in addition to the nutty flavor and superior browning from the butter. Don’t rely on a volume measurement to decide; have enough to evenly coat a thin layer over the cooking surface.
- Get the pan as hot as possible. Cast iron generally takes up to 5 minutes to come to temperature with the heating element set on high; stainless steel takes slightly less time. A hot pan will prevent the meat from sticking. It is necessary for proper formation of nice caramelized crust.
- Don’t touch your meat for at least 90 seconds once it hits the pan. I know it’s hard. Even with an open door and your vent on full blast, your kitchen will fill with smoke. I promise, it will not burn or stick. After those 90 seconds have elapsed; check the meat. If it’s a deep brown and attractive flip it and repeat. If it still looks pale to light brown keep going.
- Learn to feel for doneness. Open your hand and touch the fleshy part of your palm, just below you thumb. That is what raw meat feels like. Now, touch your pinky to your thumb and touch the same area of your hand. That is the feeling of a restaurant quality "well done". If your meat ever feels like this, pull it off the heat immediately. That is a hardest you can cook the steak while maintaining some moistness to the meat. Most of you will enjoy our product somewhere between medium and medium rare. By touching your middle finger to your thumb and feeling the fleshy part of your palm will simulate medium rare; touching your ring finger to your thumb, medium. After the steak is seared, finish cooking the steak in a low-medium oven (325-375F).
- Give it a rest for 5-7 minutes. Cutting it open too early will cause a lot of moisture to escape from the meat. Your patience shall be rewarded.
- Make a simple, flavorful pan sauce while the meat is resting. Starting with same pan you cooked the steak in; remove excess fat from the pan leaving a thin layer of fat coating the bottom of the pan. Sauté over high heat a generous handful of sliced onions and mushroom. Add ½ T flour and cook until the mushrooms have turned to a beautiful deep brown. Deglaze the pan with 1 tablespoon whiskey, bourbon, cognac, or brandy. Cook off alcohol; let you nose be your guide. Once the alcohol has burned off add one cup of a good quality beef stock or water and reduce until thick. Finish with fresh chopped herbs and season with salt and pepper until it tastes good.
The most crucial factor to success is procuring the best possible product you can. A cow raised under caring and humane conditions is going to produce a more product. When a cow is fed a diet that is natural to its being, it will develop a more complex and beefy flavor.
Start with a great product, take care and attention during all steps of the cooking process, and choose accompaniments that will enhance without masking the meat. That is the secret to getting top quality restaurant results from home.
Mark Wilhelms is the Founder of Red Meat Market. You can find Mark on Google+ and Twitter