perfect fillet steak
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A beef steak is good for me if it’s just been thrown into a pan for a few seconds, not even necessarily on both sides. I’m happy with my beef cooked just so it doesn’t run away from my plate. Cooked (can we even call it ‘cooked’??) like that, however, a/ it will be cold and b/ it won’t smell as gorgeous as one cooked for a tiny bit longer. Also, I do feed other people apart from myself, who do not necessarily feel great affinity with the caveman before the discovery of fire, with blood dripping from their gobs, eating meat warm – because it’s STILL warm.
Mind you, anything up from medium rare is crime against good beef. I enjoyed very much reading Anthony Bourdain’s tip never to order a well-charcoaled steak in a restaurant, as it’s bound to be less fresh than the one for medium-rare customers and even less than for the bleu aficionados. And I don’t think he meant aging, which is crucial for good beef, but just sitting around in the fridge getting manky.
How to buy good steaks? Look out for marbling, or nice white fat lines woven into the meat. People who like to buy ‘a nice lean piece of meat’, the leaner the better, are WRONG. Fat marbling makes meat cook quicker as the fat heats up to higher temperatures than lean meat. And it’s the source of flavour.
Now there are several steaking techniques, one being ‘don’t move the steak while it’s sitting in the pan, 3 minutes on each side, don’t even breathe on it, only flip it once’. I employed that technique for years and it’s good enough. Throw your steak in a smoking hot pan and, depending on the thickness, 3 minutes on one side will usually work to the medium-rare effect for fillet, rib-eyes and rumps alike.
But a while ago I had an epiphany reading the chef Heston Blumenthal, I forget where it was published. FLIPPING! Smoking hot pan still essential, no question, but to ensure the meat is cooked evenly through even with thickish cuts, and even at cuisson bleu, you need to flip the meat EVERY 15 SECONDS*. I kid you not. It’s stressful, and you need a timer (but don’t you anyway?) with visible seconds countdown, and to look at it constantly, and forget about checking potatoes while the steak is frying – but the result is astonishing. I now flip. And flip. And flip.
*if you can’t manage 15, try at least every 30 seconds
perfect fillet steak
- 1 fillet steak, about 6oz, per person
- 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
- salt and pepper
- For the anchovy butter (optional):
- a large knob (30g or 2 tbsp.) of unsalted butter, softened
- 1 tsp anchovy paste
Ideally, buy your steaks at least a day or two ahead and keep them in the fridge uncovered, just on a plate. They can sit there for up to five days; they will blacken which is the sign of oxidisation and only improves flavour. But if you don't like the dry appearance, keep them covered loosely with foil or parchment paper.
Prepare the anchovy butter, if making: use shop-bought anchovy paste out of a tube or mash up 3 - 4 drained anchovy fillets in a pestle and mortar. Mix it well with the butter, shape it into a mini log and chill in the fridge. Bring the steaks back to room temperature before cooking - they will happily sit in the kitchen for a few hours.
Prepare a good heavy frying pan, cast iron is undoubtedly the best. Place serving plates in a very low oven to keep them hot, together with an extra plate to rest the steaks on.
The average 6oz. fillet steaks will be about 3cm (1¼in.) thick. For medium rare, the total cooking time will be 5 minutes. Add 1 minute if you must have them medium; or if they are much thicker.
Heat the frying pan on high until it smokes.Set a timer to the required time. Get two steak slices or spatulas ready for flipping. Season the steaks with salt and black pepper.
Add the oil to the pan, put the steaks in and immediately start the timer. Keeping you eye on the timer, flip them every 15 seconds. Remove them onto the heated plate when the time is up, cover loosely with tinfoil and keep in a warm place. They will need to rest for at least 5 minutes.
Transfer the steaks to warm plates and serve with sliced anchovy butter.