Whether it’s for a nice outdoor barbecue, a relaxing at-home meal, or a romantic dinner date, the steak is a crowd-pleasing, time-tested favourite, It’s filling, elegant, and, most importantly, delicious. So obviously if you were hoping to find a way into peoples’ hearts (and stomachs), a quick way would be to host a nice dinner with some beautifully cooked steaks. Here are some tips to help you achieve the perfectly cooked steak.
Selecting the Cut
First, you’ll need to decide the cut you’re going for. Do you want a tender cut that melts in your mouth, a slightly chewy piece that gives your jaw an invigorating work-out, or a tough cut that leaves your muscles sore but satisfied? Simultaneously, you need to consider how much you’re willing to compromise on taste. Remember, the less taste the meat has naturally, the more you’ll need to compensate using your own ingredients. While a marinated steak isn’t necessarily a bad thing, you should keep in mind that the more you leave yourself in charge of taste, the more you’ll have to do in preparation, and the more you’ll regret it if you end up forgetting one tiny little detail. The Flank cut, for example, is high on flavour but can be a little tough, while the Filet Mignon is possibly the tenderest cut you can get, albeit a little less flavorful. Generally, the cheaper the cut is, the more likely you’ll need to marinate it.
If you do end up deciding to use a marinade, it’s best to know-how. Marination allows acids to seep deep into the steak, breaking down the muscle proteins and tenderizing the meat. So first, you’ll obviously need something acidic in your marinade. The most common – and best – acidic ingredients are fresh lemon juice, vinegar, or wine. Next, you’ll need a little vegetable or canola oil, since you’ll be cooking this steak in a frying pan. After using these two basic elements, you choose the rest depending on what type of flavour you want to bring out. Worcestershire Sauce, BBQ Sauce, honey, salt & pepper, soy sauce, dressing, or even plain brown sugar are common options. Each combination of sweet and savoury items creates a different explosion of flavour in your mouth, so feel free to experiment and see what works for you.
After making your marinade, make a few small cuts into the meat at various points to allow the marinade to seep in and do its work on the protein as soon as possible. Put the marinade and steak cut into the same container and work the meat around, after which cover both and leave them in the fridge for as long as possible. A day is recommended to really allow the flavour to set in, although half a day isn’t too bad either; an easy way is to marinate them and leave them be overnight, and then cook the steaks the next day.
If you’re using a naturally tasty cut that has no need for marination, just rub some salt onto the meat around an hour before cooking, while rubbing ground pepper onto it just before cooking. Crushed herbs such as rosemary or thyme are optional. Soaking the meat in some milk before cooking will tenderize the meat a bit, and, more importantly, will keep the juices and flavours locked in, not allowing them to seep out onto the plate or the pan.
For the actual act of cooking the steak, you’ll need to heat a large sturdy frying pan or skillet. Leave it for a few minutes on high heat, and then add enough oil to allow the steak to be comfortably fried. After bringing the meat to room temperature, place it on the pan and leave the heat high. The longer you leave the steak on the flame, the more well done it will be. Medium-rare is the general sweet-spot, leaving the meat with its flavour and tenderness while preventing it from being dangerous or under-cooked. Allow the meat to sear and a crust to form; this is what locks the flavour in. Flip the steak over after a little while to allow both sides to cook. After cooking both sides for a bit, prod the meat. The more firm it is, the more well done you’ve made it. Medium-rare will feel a bit firm on the outside, but will still be a little soft like raw steak, and will yield quite a bit from the inside. Remove the steak once cooked to your preference. After this, you can add a little bit of wine to soak up the small food particles left behind, and pour it over the steak for another flavour boost. Leave it to rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
While the steak is resting, you can work on sides if you want any. You can use mashed potatoes, French fries, coleslaw, a small salad, or just some raw herbs of your choice, such as coriander, mint, or parsley. It really boils down to personal preference. Remember not to spend too much time or effort on the sides lest you overshadow the steak.
Once you’ve finalized your sides, and your steak is rested, plate up while still hot and dig in, preferably with some nice wine paired on the side. A nice way to end the process, and a surefire way to land yourself on the repeat-list for dinner hosts!