Valentine’s Day is upon us once again, and joy of joys, you actually have a date! The question is, do you take them out for a romantic dinner at a fancy restaurant, (and wind up spending so much money you have to sell your blood for the next week to make your car payment), or do you make an amazing meal at home, and possibly burn the place down? Another point to consider is that most restaurants offer a special, multi-course deal to lure in more customers. By the time you’ve finished your meals, any desire you and your lover had for each other has been replaced by a desire to change into sweat pants and pass out in a fat, uncomfortable heap on the bed. Or at least, that’s what I’ve been told, that’s never happened to me personally… (nervously laughing).
So the challenge then is to make a meal that is (relatively) inexpensive, healthy, appears like you’ve put in a bit of effort, and won’t leave you so bloated that you can’t get a little loving in afterward. Now you can go to the effort of roasting a chicken, or leg of lamb, and if you are willing to put in the time, more power to you. For me personally, I like the ease and versatility of making steaks.
Preparing a steak can seem like an intimidating task, especially if you don’t have a grill or barbecue. In truth, the best restaurants often cook their steaks using a frying pan and the oven. That is because the key to a perfectly cooked steak is timing and temperature control. So here is a how-to guide for preparing a steak that will taste as-good-as-if-not-better-than one you would get at a high end restaurant.
Finding the right cut of meat.
There are a seemingly bewildering variety of cuts of steak out there, all at different prices, and useful for different applications. Therefore, it’s a good idea to know a little bit about each cut, and the ideal cooking methods for them.
- Starting at the front of the beef carcass are the chuck (shoulder), brisket, and shank. These primal cuts are mainly composed of muscle and connective tissue, and are best if cooked using moist heat (like braising).
- Next come the ribs, which encompasses everything from the 6th to the 12th rib, and from the back bone to the top of the short plate. This primal cut yields the prime rib roast, as well as rib steaks, and short ribs. I love ribeye steaks for their blend of flavourful, marbled fat, and meaty flavour.
- The short plate is the lower portion of the rib primal cut.
- The loin is where the bulk of steaks are cut from. This includes everything from the Porterhouse steak, to the tenderloin, filet mignon, and top sirloin. These cuts are the most tender, and often the most expensive.
- Flank steak comes from underneath the full loin primal cut.
- The round is where many of the cheapest cuts come from. The round primal cut encompasses the rear leg bone,tailbone, and rear shank. Steaks cut from the round are inexpensive, but usually tougher than those cut from other primal cuts. I like to cut these steaks up for stewing meat.
Whatever cut you decide on, it should be between 1 and 1 1/2 inches thick, and the fat should be evenly distributed throughout the steak.
Preparing the steak.
Once you’ve chosen your steaks, it’s time to prepare them. Start off by patting the outside of the steak dry with a paper towel. Then rub a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil into each side, and then season each side of the steak with a pinch of kosher salt, and a couple of turns of a pepper mill. Leave the steaks out on a cutting board for 10 minutes, which will allow the salt to pull some of the moisture from the surface of the meat. While you wait, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Start by opening all your windows, and removing the batteries from your smoke detector. I know it’s February, and it’s freezing outside, but bundle up a bit, and suck it up. The key to your steak is getting a good sear on the outside, and that is going to entail creating a LOT of smoke. But the rewards more than justify the inconvenience.
Heat an oven-safe frying pan over high heat, until a drop of water sizzles away instantly. Place the steak in the pan, and sear on one side for 3 minutes. Do not press the steak down, flip it over prematurely, or even touch it in any way. LEAVE IT ALONE! I know it’s scary, but you have to be brave.
Flip the steak over using a set of long handle tongs (you don’t want to pierce the meat with a fork), and sear the other side for 3 minutes. In the last minute, add a couple of pats of butter (about 2 tsp each) to the pan. This is the secret to why restaurant food tastes so good: lots and lots of butter. Sprinkle about 1 tsp grated Parmesan cheese onto the top of the steak during the last 30 seconds of searing time. To finish cooking the steak, place the pan on the middle rack in the preheated oven, and cook it for 5-8 minutes. (5 minutes for medium-rare, 6.5 minutes for medium, anything beyond that gives you shoe leather.) You can tell how done the steak is by feel. The firmer the steak feels to your finger, the more done it is.
At the end of the cooking time, place the steak on a cutting board, tent it loosely with foil, and let the meat rest for a minimum of 5 minutes. You need to let your steak rest to allow the muscle fibres to relax, and to keep the juices from running out of the meat as soon as you cut into it. While the meat is resting, you can finish preparing the rest of the meal.
Now that your steaks are done, you can serve them with anything you like, from roasted potatoes, mashed cauliflower, creamed spinach, or sautéed mushrooms. But remember, we want to have a healthy meal that will be filling, but still allow us to see our toes after we’ve eaten. So let’s make an entree-sized steak salad, because as I’ve mentioned before, you can win that special someone over with salad.
To prepare the salad, toss spring mix with half a pint of quartered cherry tomatoes, 1/2 cup thinly sliced Spanish onion, 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms, and 1/2 an English cucumber, chopped. Slice the steak thinly across the grain, and lay it over the salad. Take your time, and make your plates look as pretty as possible. Top the steak with goat cheese, or grated Parmesan cheese, and drizzle balsamic vinaigrette over top.
- 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp herbes de Provence
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Combine all ingredients in a blender until dressing has thickened, and emulsified. Taste the dressing, and adjust the seasoning if needed. Refrigerate any unused dressing for up to 2 weeks.
Now that’s one delicious salad! As you gaze lovingly at your beloved in the dim, romantic glow of the candlelight, rest assured that the end of your evening together won’t involve disappointment or recriminations. Unless you wind up eating that entire box of chocolates by yourself, and wind up crashing out in a sugary haze. Not that I’ve ever had that happen before… (Nervous laughter).