Find the right cut and prepare it simply
From outside the old Chart House restaurant, the smell of steaks cooking made the upcoming dining experience magical even before it began. I loved that glorious smell and the dining experience so much, I got a job there and spent the next six years living that experience nightly at various Chart House restaurants around the country.
In those days, a really good steak meant eating out. You could cook steak at home but it never was quite as good. That’s because good steaks were hard to find at the grocers. Prime grade steaks were reserved for restaurants, and choice cuts were available at the local grocery store.
These grades are based on marbling, the distribution of fat throughout a piece of meat. Fat is flavor, and the better the marbling, the better the steak will taste. Good steakhouses serve prime meat, which accounts for only 3% of all beef.
You can find prime cuts at boutique grocery stores such as Boney’s Bayside Market, as well as some butcher shops in San Diego such as Iowa Meat Farms on Mission Gorge Road, Siesel’s Meats in Bay Park and Heart & Trotter on El Cajon Boulevard. Siesel’s and Iowa Meat Farms have been in business for over 50 years, and Heart and Trotter specializes in high-quality meat from local ranchers.
So, what should you buy? Ribeye, New York strip and filet are the three cuts most commonly found at a good steakhouse. These are all great choices and all considered premium steaks. Ribeye steaks have a higher fat content are very tender and flavorful. A New York strip, my favorite, has less fat with more meat. The New York strip does not have the larger pieces of fat so the steak cuts more uniformly for this reason. A filet, the most tender, has the least amount of marbling of the three, so this cut is the least flavorful. Filets are usually served with a sauce to make up for the lack of marbling.
To prepare the steak, allow it to come to room temperature. Never cook a cold steak. Season generously with coarse kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, lightly pressing them into the steak on the top, bottom and the sides. Grilling is always a good cooking option. Try using charcoal; it imparts so much more flavor than the standard gas grill. But I prefer using an iron skillet. It gives the best char due to the greatest surface area in contact with hot metal. Grill grates don’t have this total contact.
I also recommend a cutting board designed for meat. It’ll have a groove cut around the perimeter connected to a reservoir at one end to collect the juices. My family’s version of this type of cutting board belonged to my grandfather, and it contains memories of meals we shared as a family.
This type of cutting board is not essential but it can change how you eat steak. It should be used for serving and the reservoir allows you to spoon the juices over your meat just before serving.
The steps for pan-roasting steak are not difficult. David Chang, one of my favorite chefs, summed up the procedure: season it, sear it, roast it, baste it, rest it, slice it, eat it.
That’s it in a nutshell.
RECIPE | COURTESY OF CHEF CLYDE VAN ARSDALL IV
- 1 steak (New York, rib-eye preferred)
- 1 tablespoon of bacon fat or vegetable oil
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 garlic cloves
- A few sprigs thyme
- Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- Heat oven to 400 degrees.
- Season steak with salt and pepper, coat both sides liberally and wipe up the extra salt and pepper with the sides of the steak.
- Heat thick bottom pan or cast-iron skillet over high heat.
- When the skillet is very hot, add the tablespoon of fat or oil and then the steak.
- Place the steak in the pan and don’t move it, touch it or press it. Let it sear for a couple of minutes, then check to see if It is well-browned. Flip it and repeat the process on the other side. Stand the steak up using tongs and sear the sides in the same fashion.
- Take a temperature reading. Look for an internal temperature of 130 degrees. If it is not there, place the skillet in the 400-degree oven until 130-degrees registers on the thermometer. Some thinner steaks will not need to go in the oven.
- Once the steak reaches 130 degrees, return the skillet to the stovetop over low heat. Add butter, thyme and garlic to the pan. As soon as the butter starts to melt, tilt the pan, allowing the butter mixture to pool in the bottom of the pan closest to you. Using a spoon baste the steak continuously for about 3 minutes.
- Let the steak rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing. Slice against the grain of the steak.
- Once sliced, reheat the pan slightly then pour the pan juices over the sliced steak and serve.