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Perfect fillet steak

Updated: Wed, 31 January, 2024

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!

perfect fillet steak

A happy medium is rare

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.

Fillet steak medium rare cuisinefiend

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 very misguided.

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.

Marbling in a flillet steak

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 days 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.

Perfectly cooked beef fillet mignon

Flip it!

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.

frying fillet steaks

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.

how to cook the best fillet steak

Perfect fillet steak

Servings: 2Time: 20 minutes
Rating: (1 reviews)


  • For the anchovy butter:
  • 30g (2 tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp anchovy paste
  • For the steaks:
  • 2 fillet steaks, about 6 oz. each
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • salt and black pepper


1. 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 darken 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. Bring them to room temperature before cooking.

2. Prepare the anchovy butter: use anchovy paste in a tube or mash up 3 - 4 drained anchovy fillets in a pestle and mortar. Mix the anchovy well with the butter, shape into a mini log and chill in the fridge.

3. 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.

4. The average 6 oz. fillet steaks will be about 3cm (1¼ in) thick. For medium rare, the total cooking time will be 5 minutes. Add 1 minute if you want them medium or if they are much thicker.

5. Heat the frying pan over high heat until it smokes. Set a timer to the required time. Get a steak or fish slice ready for flipping. Season the steaks with salt and black pepper.

6. Add the oil to the pan, place the steaks in and immediately start the timer. Keeping your eye on the timer, flip them every 15 seconds.

7. Remove onto the heated plate when the time is up, cover loosely with foil and keep in a warm place. They will need to rest for at least 5 minutes.

8. Transfer the steaks to warm serving plates and serve with slices of cold anchovy butter.

Originally published: Fri, 12 September, 2014

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Wow! Best steak ever! I am now a committed flipper! (Sorry - I didn't make the butter).
3 years ago

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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