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More steak questions

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Hey folks, I'll be making a steak for my girlfriend soon. Most likely I'll be working with a 1" thick steak (not yet sure which cut, but I doubt I'll be able to get any thicker at this time).

1. Any tips for searing the sides to render the fat? Would you have to stand up the steak and hold it with tongs for a few minutes? Would it be best to do this before or after actually cooking the steak?

2. A lot of posts seem to suggest my cast iron pan should be screaming hot. I don't have any kind of cooking thermometer, so I just turn the stove up to 10/Max and wait for the smoke. I have no problem with this (I love that crust!), but I worry about burning the coarse ground pepper (which will be used for seasoning) as well as the fond. Any tips? Should I even be worried?

3. I want to make a sauce using the fond, Cabernet, peppercorns, beef stock, and butter. Considering that it takes quite some time to reduce, wouldn't the steak start to get cold? Can some of this be done in advance (like reducing the beef stock and Cabernet the day before and keeping it in the fridge)?

4. What kind of oil should I use to coat my steak? Olive oil seems to be the popular choice, but with that scorching heat, wouldn't it be better to choose an oil with a higher smoking point? A post here mentioned peanut oil, but I can't use that for allergic reasons.

5. This may very well be a really stupid question, but anyway... everyone says to let the steak reach room temperature before you start so that it cooks more evenly. But if the steak is still cold, wouldn't that allow the steak to develop a nice crust without overcooking the inside?

6. Another stupid one. I know there's a lot of debate about when to season the steak with salt. The argument against seasoning earlier is that the salt draws out the moisture. But here's what I don't get. Is this moisture really the same as the "juices?" I ask this because as far as I know, the concept behind dry-aging steaks is to remove the moisture, thereby condensing the flavors. Am I making any sense?

Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!

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  1. I won't deal with all your questions, but here's a start:

    It sounds like you want to make steak au poivre - I don't blame you, it's a delicious classic. Here's a classic recipe: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec.... The sauce takes less than 10 minutes, so it gives the steak a chance to rest. Before you serve, put the steak in the sauce to coat.

    As far as cooking the steak, I'd also recommend cast iron. Make sure the steak is room temperature, it's a must. I usually take it out of the frig about 1-1.5 hrs before I plan to cook it. Season it with salt and pepper just before cooking and use vegetable oil as the recipe suggests.

    If you're worried about it not being cooked all the way through, heat your oven up fairly high (425-450) and finish in the oven for a few minutes (with a 1" steak, this shouldn't be too much of a problem unless you want medium-well).

    And if possible, get Prime grade beef - it really is worth the extra expense. I did steak au poivre for V-day and it was a hit.

    Good luck.

    1. Here're a couple of thoughts.....

      - It should be room temperature and DRY. Your question 5 is a good one and I don't know the answer, but I know my steaks got way better when I started bringing them to room temp and patting them dry before cooking.

      - I season with plenty of salt and pepper before cooking - I rub it into the steak all over (kind of massaging it, pulling it apart a little, it's good for it, I swear) and then let it sit on the counter for an hour or more. I don't know the answer to #6 - good question.

      - Related to the point above; I find really bashing the steak around a bit makes it taste better. Some I put into a ziploc and smack with a frypan. I don't know why it works or what it does; I expect it loosens up the collagen or something (/fake science talk :-) I mostly cook striploins and similar thinnish cuts though, so I don't know if that'd be relevant for a thick cut.

      - Yes, I hold a thick steak on end using tongs, to sear the sides. Always feel a little silly doing it, but my OCD compels me to.

      - By the way, if it's a thick steak be sure to slash the fat if there's a lot, otherwise the steak will buckle as it cooks. Also, be sure to season the fat just like you do the meat. Yum.

      - Indeed it is a good idea to age your steak. I've done this by wrapping it in paper towel and refrigerating for several days. It really does deepen the flavour, although you sometimes need to trim off the dried-out perimeter before cooking.

      - The hotter the pan the better, yes. I wouldn't worry about a bit of cracked/ground pepper, but if you're planning to roll its sides in whole peppercorns then you may be right to be wary.

      - Peanut oil has a very high smoke point. You can substitute either safflower or sunflower; they're both just as high.

      - You are correct re #3. I usually make the gist of the sauce ahead (even just a few minutes ahead is fine), then cook the steak and let it rest while I finish the sauce. (It's imperative to let the steak rest at least 5 minutes before serving.) Finish the sauce by deglazing the pan with butter, then toss in whatever you've premade, reheat and serve.

      Good luck! Steak, mmm.

      2 Replies
      1. re: spigot

        Totally helpful - these were some things I wondered too.

        1. re: Cinnamon

          Thanks for the replies, everyone. I made the steak, and it was great! I ended up using extra light olive oil, which has a pretty high smoke point. And holding up the steak to sear the fatty edges? Totally worth it. :) I am also happy to say that the sauce worked out as planned.

          I hope someone can answer those other questions, but regardless, I'm very happy happy with the results thus far.

      2. The argument I've read for seasoning the steak with salt before searing is that it does bring out moisture, which is actually a good thing: the moisture contains protein, which causes the seared crust to become extra splendiferous. It seems to work for me!

        1. how long is toooo long for steaks to be unrefrigerated. would cooking well make it safe? bought two tbone steaks yesterday and the package missed and sat out all night. can i still eat them if cooked a long time? if not, is it safe for the dog to eat.

          1 Reply
          1. re: syrlyn

            I'd eat it without a second thought. Not ground beef, of course, but you're gonna kill any external bacteria on that steak within seconds of it hitting the pan. And honestly, I think a medium-rare steak is even better when it's a little on the "gamey" side. Not "rotten", but a little gamey is good for me. I'm the guy at the Korger buying up all the "old" meat that has gone slightly grey around the edges. makes for great stir-frys and roasts, and it's absolutely safe.

          2. It's well established that the amount of moisture drawn out by salting is insignificant. However I just read an article about Dr. This on molecular gastronomy. He said:
            "Yes, he was putting Maldon salt on meat just before serving, but the salt was drawing out the water from the meat, so it was dissolving instead of giving the crunch he wanted. I had an idea: Put the salt into oil because it will be protected. And now, in all of Pierre's kitchens, there are small cups with various oils and various salts. He tells the press in many interviews this is my main discovery, but I will not get the Nobel Prize for that."