Perfect for me might not be perfect for you but it is quite universally agreed that the best beef fillet steak is cooked medium rare. Cast iron pan will help but any heavy frying pan will do if you get it smoking hot. And my secret? Flip it!
I like my steak rare. 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 bit longer as it will lack Maillard’s reaction: the gorgeous caramelisation that occurs on the surface of beef when cooked, that makes our mouths water.
Also, I do feed other people apart from myself, who do not necessarily relate to the caveman before the discovery of fire and insist on medium-rare cookedness at the least.
Crime against good beef
However, anything up from medium rare is crime against good beef. I very much enjoyed reading late Anthony Bourdain’s tip never to order a well-done steak in a restaurant.
It’s bound to be less fresh than the one reserved for medium-rare customers; and even less than for the bleu (rare) 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?
If it looks good, it’s good, no matter what cut. Sometimes a rump steak might be meltingly tender and a fillet not so much.
Look out for marbling, the 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. It makes beef tenderer, because the strands of lean muscle are shorter. And it’s the source of flavour.
What are the various steak cooking techniques?
There are several steaking techniques and I’m afraid it matters less which one you choose than the quality of meat.
One of them is to sit the steak in a very hot pan and not move it for three minutes. Flip once, and cook the other side three minutes again. I employed that technique for years and it’s good enough.
Three minutes on each side will usually work to the medium-rare effect for fillet, rib-eye and rump alike.
I’ve encountered a method which tells you to cook the steak on one side about three quarters of the total time. That would be four and a half minutes on one and a minute and a half on the other. It is interesting, albeit makes for unevenly pink steak inside.
Then there is sous-vide and its home equivalent, cooking at low temperature, with the Maillard’s forced at the end with a blowtorch or a searing hot pan.
There is the salt and pepper question and when to apply them: some salt the meat as it cooks, others salt it up to a day in advance. Pepper might burn and taste a little bitter, unless it’s coarse and coats the steak. I usually find that the simplest approach is the best: season your steaks just before cooking, with the salt and the pepper both.
And finally, my featured technique: a while ago I had an epiphany reading the chef Heston Blumenthal and his steak guidance.
This method requires full concentration and a timer.
A smoking hot pan is also still essential, no question, and it’s important to bring the meat to room temperature.
To ensure the meat is cooked evenly through even with thickish cuts, and even at cuisson bleu, you need to flip the steaks EVERY 15 SECONDS. I kid you not.
Okay - if you can’t manage 15, try at least every 30 seconds. The steak inside will be beautifully even, without the usual brown-pink-brown layers in the cross section.
The steaks then need resting which is obligatory whatever cooking technique you employ. Resting makes the meat relax i.e. tenderise, and the juices get reabsorbed so no fussy eater can yelp that there’s blood on their plate.
It isn’t blood anyway; blood had gone from that piece of meat long before but our fussy diner usually doesn’t want to know about THAT.
The result is astonishing. I now flip my steaks every time. And flip. And flip.