Reverse seared steak, or steak cooked back to front, is when you cook a steak through to perfect rare pinkiness and then blast it on the grill, griddle or a frying pan.
Why ‘reverse sear’ is the wrong name
They call it ‘reverse sear’, but it’s not an entirely fitting name. Searing means cooking just the outside of a piece of meat or fish, quickly, briefly and over high heat.
‘Seared’ means scorched on the outside, barely cooked on the inside. It doesn’t mean ‘and later finished off in very low oven’. The latter is surplus and optional to the definition.
Seared beef carpaccio for instance is a chunk of beef fillet browned whole, then sliced thinly. It is raw inside and served cold.
Seared tuna steak is also technically raw underneath the appetising herb or spice crust. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, tuna is actually much tastier raw than cooked through which turns it to cardboard.
But still the term has nothing to do with any further action, be it roasting or sous-videing. Unless we’re talking about cote de boeuf or tomahawk, sharing steaks whose thickness requires for them to be finished at lower temperature so the middle is cooked at least rare.
The recipe in question though is for an ordinary steak, one-person, individual piece of beef, ribeye, sirloin or fillet.
So, do I have an alternative, better name for the dish and the cooking method or am I just mouthing off?
Well, I could certainly don my wordsmith’s cap and propose something like ‘low-hi steak’, or ‘roast-charred steak’, but since it is already a fixture in the world of cooking, I’ll leave it be. Reverse seared it is.
The method is simple and requires no special equipment but it will be more successful in an electric oven that reliably keeps low temperature. Gas ovens are more volatile but if you trust yours, by all means give it a try.
First, salt your steak
Steaks always, always benefit from salting them as much in advance as possible. If you allow them to spend a few days in the fridge, salted and uncovered, they will age, tenderise and gain flavour.
It’s perfectly safe to store them like that for a week, though I’ve been known to go for as long as a fortnight. After all you pay top dollar for 30-day aged Aberdeen Angus in posh restaurants.
But before you decide to kiss that steak goodbye for a month, rather than a week, don’t forget butchers have appropriate facilities to age the beef in a sterile environment and constant temperature.
There are some hacks around persuading you to try it at home but it takes a lot of hassle and some special dry age bags. Stick to a few days is my advice.
Second, start it at low temperature
I had a period of fascination with low temperature cooking which in my view gives results similar to sous-vide. I’d cook everything for ages in a barely warm oven or in my warming drawer. Low temperature cooking renders the meat or fish tender but not dry, incredibly succulent but with no browning.
This time I’d recommend cooking two or more 8-ounce steaks for half an hour in the oven warmed up to 80C/175F. They will come out almost exactly as they went in: looking raw, perhaps only having leached a little juice.
The internal temperature should be between 45C/110F and 50C/122F, depending how much searing time you intend for them.
A digital meat probe, especially one that can go into the oven inserted in the meat, is obviously a bonus but in the absence of one, the timing above is decently reliable.
Boneless ribeye steaks have a flap that annoyingly comes loose in the heat and necessitates tying the steak up with kitchen string. This method brilliantly removes that need because it keeps the meat in place without changing its shape. You'll notice I still tied mine, being overcautious, but it was pretty redundant.
After they come out of the oven, the steaks need to rest up to even one hour. That’s because the searing stage must take place purely on the outside of the meat, without letting the heat penetrate inside and cook it much further.
Third, finish in high heat
The heat can come from the hob or from an outdoor grill or barbecue, but it must be ferocious.
I like to brush the steaks with a touch of ghee (not butter as it will burn), to help the caramelisation along.
The searing will take up to 2 minutes on each side, depending on the charredness you want to achieve. If you want a deeply scorched crust developed over full 2 minutes, remove the meat from the oven earlier, when it shows 43-45C on the thermometer.
Once off the frying pan, the steaks need no resting and can be served immediately.
The butter is the seasoning
Don’t season the steaks with anything but the salt in advance, or the spices will burn unpleasantly on the surface. It’s much better to make a portion of flavoured, aka compound butter to daub over steaks just before serving, and more on the side.
And the butter in this recipe is pure umami: with smoked salt and porcini mushroom powder, you’ll be wishing you’d made twice or thrice as much to spread on everything.
Porcini powder is available to buy from online retailers. You can make it yourself as well, by grinding dried mushrooms in a pestle and mortar or a spice mill.
If porcini are out of bounds, you can use dried shiitake.
More steak recipes
The opposite to reverse steak will be what: forward steak? This cast iron steak is that. A sharing steak cooked in the oven on a cast iron pan, served with Roquefort butter.
Cheap cuts can be glorious: bavette or flank with a spicy dry rub, seared quickly in a smoking hot pan is the best value cut of beef prepared in the best way.
The pure form of steak, steak tartare with crispy capers should be served deconstructed, the diner mixing it to their taste. My secret to perfect tartare is three Cs: the cut, the chop and the crunch.