Everything you need to know about preparing steak
A well-cooked steak remains a firm favourite and can still reveal a lot about a chef's skills. However simple it may seem, it's the details that make a difference.
The king of the perfect steak
It's the question that is on everyone's lips when they talk to a chef: How do I cook the perfect steak? And every chef seems to have the answer. But, is it the right answer? Sure, you've been cooking a delicious steak for years already, but are you making it in the best way? Opinions on this vary greatly, and recent years have seen new possibilities and insights added to the list. There's not much else you can discuss with a group of chefs at such length as how to cook the perfect steak. But that begs the question: how do you become the king of the perfect steak?
Do you want an easy method for testing the doneness of steak? Then touch the tips of one of your four fingers to your thumb without applying any pressure. The tension that you feel on the fleshy part underneath your thumb equals the doneness of the meat:
- French cooking terms: bleu (1), saignant (2), à point (3), or bien cuit (4)
- English cooking terms: rare (1), medium-rare (2), medium (3), or well done (4)
The science of steak
Let's start with the background of meat and its preparation. The main components that determine the texture of the meat are: moisture, muscle proteins, and connective tissue. Approximately 75% of the meat consists of moisture that is retained by the connective tissue. The muscles are tender while the connective tissue tends to be tough. When the temperature of the meat rises to 55°C, more and more proteins solidify. These solidified proteins push out the moisture. This means that high temperatures will result in a greater loss of moisture. Controlling the temperature is essential to prevent the muscle cells from being wrung out like a sponge.
Prevent the muscle cells from being wrung out like a sponge!
There is no such thing as searing
As early as the 1930s, it was proven that you cannot sear meat in an attempt to lock in the moisture. Despite this, it remains a widely believed myth that has proven difficult to discredit.
For the sake of clarity: the Maillard reaction that occurs when frying meat gives it a delicious flavour, so definitely continue doing this. But you cannot lock in the moisture by heating the exterior of the steak. The sizzling that you hear while cooking the steak is nothing more than the moisture being released from the meat. But what is particularly important to achieve a juicy result is to give the meat time to rest. This allows the muscles to rest and releases tension from the meat. It also ensures that the moisture is retained inside the meat, making your steak a lot more tender.
Three tried and tested techniques
These are the three most interesting techniques that every chef should master. There is only one way to find out which technique is best for you, and that is to try them all. It'll cost you a few pieces of meat, but at least you'll have found your perfect cooking technique.
1. Frying in a pan
Allow the steak to come to room temperature and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add butter to a hot pan and wait until it stops bubbling. Place the steak in the pan and pan-fry until nicely browned on one side. Regularly baste the steak with the sizzling butter. The nutty butter also adds a delicious flavour to the steak. Keep adjusting the heat to prevent the butter from burning. Turn over the steak and repeat the process until the steak is cooked to perfection. Leave the steak to rest for a few minutes, either in aluminium foil or in a warm place near the stove or in a heating cabinet.
2. Sous vide
Heat up the sous vide bath to exactly 65°C. Generously season the steaks with salt and pepper. Place the steaks in vacuum sealer bags and add a little olive oil. Pull vacuum and refrigerate until use. Cook the meat before serving for fifteen minutes in the sous vide bath at 65°C. Take the steaks out of the bags and fry in a pan in a little butter or oil or grill on a charcoal barbecue.
3. Low temperature
Season the steak with salt and pepper and fry on both sides in clarified butter. Preheat a normal oven, low-temperature oven, or warming drawer to 90°C with a core temperature of 50°C. Cook the meat in the oven until the core temperature has been reached.
Tip: you can also do this the other way around. That means that you first cook the meat until it has reached the core temperature before frying it in a pan. It all depends on what best suits your way of working.
Managing and resting are the magic words when it comes to perfectly cooking a steak. Choose the method that best suits your kitchen. If you work in large amounts, then the third method is easiest. However, by cooking sous vide, much of the work can be done mise en place, which saves you time at service.
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