help me make great steak
Ok, hounds -- you've introduced me to kurobuta pork. You taught me everything I ever wanted to know about a rack of lamb. Now, can you do it again with steak? Please?
Here is a recent incident that made me realize that I need help:
I splurged for the prime, aged sirloin at $30/Lb and was disappointed. Cooked it to medium-rare, but it was not particularly tender or flavorful. It was good, but not great. And for $30/Lb, I want great. Everyone swoons over sirloin (NY stip), but I thought rib-eye is both more tender and beefy. Is it just me? Did I do something wrong with that ultra expensive piece of meat? I just salted, peppered and grilled on high just until it browned and then turned down the heat until it reached 115F. It went up another 10 degrees while resting.
First questions about buying it:
1) Grass fed vs. grain fed -- I heard that grass fed is more flavorful, but tougher than grain fed. Is that true? If I am buying cuts that are generally more flavorful than tender (skirt and hanger) will they will too tough if grass fed?
2) Prime vs. choice -- is it worth the extra bucks for any cut or only some cuts?
3) Aged vs. not aged -- does this even exist for cheaper cuts like skirt and hanger?
4) What are your favorite cuts for steak? In restaurants, I really enjoy rib-eye, hanger, and skirt. Any good cuts I am missing?
Now the prep:
1) would you trim the fat around the steak? What about that large piece of fat that runs through the middle of rib-eye?
2) marinading -- what exactly does it do? does it help with tenderness or is it all about flavor?
3) when do you salt -- before or after cooking? would you add salt to the marinade?
And finally cooking:
1) high heat vs low heat -- I hear that high heat makes the meat tougher. Is that an issue? How do you deal with that? Do you finish in the oven? If you don't use high heat, how do you get the steak to brown?
2) What temperature do you cook your steak to? I like my meats to be medium-rare, which as far as I could tell by experimenting means taking off heat at 115F and serving at 125F. Do some cuts need to be cooked more or less than others?
3) Resting -- how long do you rest a steak? Do you cover it with foil during resting?
Any other words of steak wisdom?
In our household's experience, grass fed is much tastier than feedlot/grain fed, and if you go for grain fed, wheat fed from Canada tastes better than corn fed. For answers to all your questions, read the sections on cooking steaks and butchering beef in Bill Buford's excellent new book "Heat" -- it's a real education. (A must read for all foodies!) I think the most dependably tender cut for steak is tenderloin; my preference then goes ribeye, strip, and T Bone. If you trim off the fat before cooking, you'll lose flavor. I can't give full directions on the grilling part, as my husband is the master at that. For steaks, however, we only use a charcoal grill. The meat is prepared with some minced garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil about the time he lights the fire. When the meat feels to the touch like touching the fat pad below your thumb on your palm, it's medium rare; like the web between thumb and forefinger, medium; and like the thumb itself, well-done. If you let the meat sit, it cooks further, so if you're taking it up medium rare and foiling it, it will be medium after just a few minutes. I'm sure others will also have good advice.
I'll keep this short and simple: get the strip steak online at Lobel's:
Smear the steaks with soft butter, then salt and pepper them, and cook on a grill over hardwood charcoal at a very high heat, about 3-6 minutes a side depending on thickness. Allow a good char to develop. Just before it's done, do a "Peter Luger" and pour some clarified butter over the steak on both sides. Take the steak off the heat when the interior is 110 degrees and let sit 5-10 minutes (no need for foil unless it's cold outside).
I can't answer all your questions, and certainly don't consider myself a meat expert, but I always do a good job at home with steaks, and have a few good rules that I swear by: first, I chose my steaks based purely on appearance - how well marbeled they are (even a choice steak can sometimes be better marbeled than some labeled "prime"). Secondly, I test done-ness the Julia Child way - by pressing on the surface. A little experience with this allows you to cook the steak the way you want it without having to insert a thermometer.
I have never had to marinate a steak (wouldn't want to interfere with the beefy flavor, but that's just me). I do not salt them before cooking (I read once that this toughens the meat, but I don't know if that's true - however, salting and peppering them after they're cooked works just fine). High heat does not toughen a good steak, in my experience. Maybe it would if the meat was lean, however. I don't see why you'd want to rest a steak - I certainly wouldn't cover it with foil, which would only serve to steam it. Have everything else come ready as you finish the steak, and serve it at once.
Our all-time favorite is a porterhouse - a good compromise between flavor and tenderness.
When you cut a steak right after it has been cooked, you will notice that the steak releases a lot of its juices. Thus if you rest the steak after cooking, it allows the juices to settle back into the meat. After resting, you will notice that not as much juice runs out of the meat when cutting and the meat will actually be juicier when you chew into it. That is the reason for resting the steak.
I will usually rest my steak, but I also enjoy serving my steak over rice (or pasta) and when I do this, sometimes I will cut into the steak a little early to allow the juices to run into my starch giving it a little extra flavor.
Do you know if the sirloin was dry or wet aged? Most "aged" steaks are just plonked in a cryovac. Doesn't really have much effect on the meat in my experience.
However, a properly dry aged steak is a real treat. Fairly easy to do at home. Evaporating the moisture in the meat really concentrates the flavor. Its the difference between a handmade burger on the grill and Mcdonalds.
My favorite cuts are bone-in ribeye, fillet, ny strip, london broil. I usually take my butchers advise when I ask him whats good today. The only steak I marinate is London Broil, everything else I usually just use sea salt and fresh ground pepper before grilling. High heat always 4 to 5 mins. a side, then take off grill and let set uncovered a couple mins. before cutting. Grass fed seems more readily available at my butcher, but he has steered me to grian fed on ocassion. I don't think Prime vs. Choice is worth the extra money.