“Steakhouse taste at home”
Wondering why the steak at home usually does not taste like the one at the restaurant? Trying all kind of different combinations? Is it garlic? Is it butter? Is it how long the steak being matured or the quality of the steak? Is it the secret marinade restaurants use?
There are lots of different factors that contribute to the final taste of the steak however the main difference between home cooking and a steakhouse kitchen is the amount of heat used during the cooking process. While most cooking books tells you to put some oil into a pan and fry each side of the steak for few minutes in a steakhouse kitchen temperatures are slightly higher. At restaurants with an open plan kitchen you can easily see occasional flames and lots of smoke action going on. Luckily there are ways that you can create the perfect steak at the comfort of your own kitchen without flames and too much smoke.
The main difference in the taste comes from charring (browning) caused by the high heat. In a home kitchen, using an ordinary pan it is almost impossible to achieve any charring due to the amount of heat generated by the conventional hobs. Without charring steak tastes relatively dull compared to a steakhouse one. What we refer by charring is the dark brown sometimes partly black stripes on the steak due to high heat and subsequent caramelisation (also called Maillard reaction) rather than the meat being burned and turning into black due to excessive heat.
Two ways of achieving high heat are using a BBQ or a cast iron frying pan. BBQ being a completely different topic, below is how you can cook the best steak in your own kitchen and impress your friends.
You have to have a proper, heavy, cast iron grill pan. Trick here is that, since a conventional hob cannot generate enough heat to create charring on the steak, you pre-heat the frying pan and due to heavy metal content it stores the heat and provides enough to create those lovely dark stripes you see at the steakhouses. If you use an ordinary pan, even pre-heated, pan cools down as soon as you place the steak on and process almost turns into usual oil frying.
I use Le Creuset but any cast iron pan with grill lines will do the job. Avoid, nice looking Teflon frying pans which look like cast iron ones, they simple don’t hold the heat.
Selecting your steak
Any cut can be cooked using this method however I recommend Sirloin or Rib Eye if you are going try this for the first time. Rump and Fillet has much less fat content and they turn out to be less tasty for some although there are great cuts especially when accompanied by the right sauce.
Go for a steak which has matured at least 21 days, restaurants usually go for 28 days however in my view the difference is not huge. You don’t have to go to an expensive butcher and spend lots of money but try to get the best meat you can afford. In London M&S usually offers quality steaks at a reasonable price if you want to avoid a butcher visit.
If you like medium, medium-rare or rare cooking try to buy something thick enough (3/4” or 2cm). Thin steaks are more difficult to get the timing right.
If possible, do not freeze your steak. If you have to, do not use microware to unfreeze. Although both methods meant to preserve the original taste, try to eat your steak without processing it. Fresh always tastes better.
Preparing the steak and the pan
Keep it simple. Don’t be tempted with tens of different marinade recipes and steak sauces. At a proper steakhouse your dish is usually served with nothing else but the steak on the plate.
Take the steak out from the fridge at least one hour before cooking and remove the packaging especially if it is vacuum packed. If the surface is wet, dry it by tapping with a kitchen towel. Let them get to the room temperature and breath until cooking time.
Put the pan on the largest section of your hob at set the heat to maximum. Do not put oil into the pan. Leave it for about five minutes. Remember, all we are doing is to collect enough heat to achieve charring. When the pan is at right temperature it starts to smoke slightly (the oil residues from the previous cooking). Alternatively if it is the first time you are using the pan, wet your hand and let couple of drops of water on to the pan, water should disappear almost immediately. Set you extractor fan to full speed.
While the pan is heating up, slightly oil each side of the steaks using frying grade olive oil. Very little oil should be sufficient to just to wet the surface of the meat. It should not drip when you lift the steak. Then put freshly ground black paper on one side of the steak.
Put the steaks into the pan, peppered side down and wait for 1.5-2 minutes (medium-rare to medium depending to the thickness of the steak). If you try to turn them earlier they most likely stick to the pan. Then, turn them 90 degrees. We don’t flip them over yet, just turn them around to create steakhouse style cross stripes. Leave them for another 1.5-2 minutes and sprinkle some sea salt flakes on the steaks. This last minute addition ensures salt does not melt completely to give a crispy texture and does not consume meat’s valuable juices.
A slightly tricky part is when you flip them over after 3-4 minutes. By then all the heat stored in the pan would be absorbed by the steak and you find yourself back to conventional cooking again. One way of avoiding this is to use a large enough frying pan to flip the steaks over to an empty part of the pan rather than turning them where they are. Usually the smallest pans are ok to do this if you are cooking two pieces. If you cannot do it, you usually don’t get stripes and charring on one side of the steak however even one side gives the same taste so not to worry about this detail too much. Just remember to serve them stripy side up.
Equally important part of the steak cooking is standing after frying. Without sufficient waiting all your efforts to cook the perfect steak may end up in tears when your guest get a small pond of blood in her plate shortly after cutting the steak.
Standing the steak after cooking locks all the juices and flavours but beyond this, especially for medium-rare and rare steaks it makes sure you don’t get any blood coloured juices when you cut the steak. This is one of the reasons that many people avoid rare steak. Furthermore, steak usually continues to cook for about three to five minutes after you take if off the pan. Sufficiently long standing allows consistent cooking every time.
For medium the steak should stand at least ten minutes. For medium rare and especially rare steaks anything more is better. Usual way of standing steak is moving it to a chopping board and covering it with kitchen foil. However going beyond ten minutes it starts to get cold. What I rather do is to set the oven to the minimum setting while I cook the steak and I let plates warm up in the oven. Then I move the steak on a grid and grill pan, cover with kitchen foil and put it into the oven after turning it off, leaving the door ajar. What we are looking here is an oven temperature of 40-50C where your steak can practically stay as long as you like. This also helps greatly with timing if you have guests. Instead of trying to cook the steak just right and just on time you can cook it and it can wait 15-20 minutes until you are ready to serve.
I remember Henry Brosi of The Dorchester letting a rare steak wait for up to 40 minutes before serving it. It was one of the best steaks I have ever had.
Sauces, seasoning, etc
Pretty much anything you put on the steak makes you taste it less. I sometimes put a small piece of garlic butter or few drops of lemon juice while the steak is resting. If you would like to serve your steak with a jus or a sauce, serve these separately on the table and let your guest add them as much as they like. Never pour a sauce on your steak prior to serving. A butter based sauce like Béarnaise or a not too strong red wine jus usually compliments less fatty cuts like fillet or rump well. However try to exclude any sauces with chillies, spices, mustard or anything similar which can overpower the steak easily.
Health and Safety
If it is your first time doing this type of cooking with a frying pan, be careful that the hob area of your kitchen will be hotter – and slightly smokier – than usual. Don’t let children around the hob and don’t let the pan unattended until you turn it off completely. There will be some smoke even if you use oil with a high smoke point. Be prepared for your fire alarm going off.