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Buttering beef while cooking... do you?

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I've noticed a lot of cooking shows with chefs using copius amounts of butter while cooking beef/steak. Not a dab to get the pan going, or some flavoring at the end. More like drowning!

Usually these shows are not the instructional variety a la Emeril/Alton, etc. but the shows where chefs are competing or where the show catches "behind the scenes" snapshots.

It's also rare to see print recipes that call for heavy buttering. I'm guessing a lot of people might get freaked out if a recipe called for 7 sticks of butter! So it begs me to ask:

- Is it one of those hidden restaurant "secrets" to use a lot of butter in cooking good beef/steaks?

- If so, what are some techinuqes that can be adapted by the home cook? For example, would you continually baste a steak on the grill?

- Any other thoughts? For example, I usually use dry rubs on grilled meats as I don't like how "wet" meats react... but I'm also not working with professional grade ovens/burners/etc/

Me and your local dairy council thanks you in advance!

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  1. The only time I ate at Ruth Chris they served my steak drowning in butter. It was the most DISGUSTING thing I'd ever tasted. Normally I love butter. Butter in a baked potato, on pancakes, but NOT steak. It overpowered the taste of my New York steak. I will never go back.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Kate is always hungry

      That's part of why I asked. It seems to be a fave technique of many top end steak places. Peter Luger is oft mentioned as the best steak house in the country and they seemingly use a lot of butter to prep top offerings. I'm not questioning it... just wondering. Does it make a great piece of beef that much better, or does it end up messing with the original flavor?

      1. re: tastyjon

        Let me clarify--it was almost 14 years ago, and I still RECOIL when I think of it. The butter was all I could taste. When I think of my favorite steak dinners, I never detected any butter. It's been a while since I've been out for steak and I am very old school so I would probably stick to places like Pacific Dining Car and stay out of "top end" steak houses.

      2. re: Kate is always hungry

        me too me too. i was so put off by the butter that i barely ate the steak. DH who sometimes will eat anything managed to finish it off. almost glad to hear someone else was put off by the butter. i somehow think it may be a camouflage for inferior meat but if Peter Luger's does it... havent eaten there but heard raves.

      3. My favorite place for steak, Second St. Bistro in Pomona serves Steak Frites with a slab of butter melting on top.

        OMG it is sinful and wonderful at once.

        **I've had it once, thought of it many many times**

        I have never cooked steak w/butter, but I have been seeing it on shows also. It seems to be a mixture of butter and oil.

        1 Reply
        1. re: laliz

          for a steak or something that only has a quick cook I don't bother - instead I make a flavoured butter to serve ontop of the steak - blue cheese and butter or sundried tomato pureed with butter are favourites.

          However my favourite prime rib recipe from Fine Cooking requires basting with butter during the cooking process - that and the fact that the roast to covered with rosemary, thyme and crushes garlic cloves makes a fabulous flavour. Very buttery.

        2. What Ruth's Chris does is nothing like what Peter Lugers does. Ruth's Chris puts the cooked steak in a pool of bubbling melted butter and Peter Lugers (and lots of other steakhouses) puts butter on the steak after taking it out from the broiler and it melts into the meat.

          I have never cooked a steak in butter but have always been interested. They way I've seen it done on TV, is after the first side is seared in the butter and the steak is flipped, the seared side is continually basted with the hot butter. I haven't done it yet but will try it one of these days. I'd imagine you'd have to use a lower temp than normal for pan cooking a steak otherwise the butter would burn.

          1. I don't think one can properly cook steak in butter, at least the way I like it done--seared over very high heat and then finished in the oven-rare. The butter would burn. I do like a seasoned butter plopped on the top the minute it is done. mmmm. The steak in france is often served with a pat of butter on the top-delish! This is not like the Ruth Chris steak that is absolutely drowning in butter (unflavored at that) which is really off-putting imo. I wonder for those who like steak cooked on the more well-done side if basting in butter would keep the meat moist? Has anyone tried this?

            1. Putting a small pat of butter on top of a cooked steak is a very old-fashioned habit - my father always used to do it, and I found it mentioned in Theodore Dreiser's "Sister Carrie" (which took place in the late 1800s/early 1900s, I believe). It probably improved the flavor of the beef of the time, and gave you something to taste while you were chewing longer than we need to chew now. Also, my mom always sauteed her filets in clarified butter, which was quite lovely (if rich - but it's filet, right?).

              1. butter is indeed one of those restaurant "secrets"

                ever wonder why their steaks are so glistening?

                1. OMG, that's why I love Ruths Chris!

                  1. A couple of things occur to me. The first is that they may not be using as much butter as it looks like on TV. There is a thing that happens with some camera lenses that makes things beyond the sharpest focus look larger, so there is the possibility that if the cameraman is focusing on the cook, and the pan is just a bit farther from the camera, it could feasibly look like copious amounts of butter are being used when in reality, they're not.

                    The other is that -- sigh -- it just seems to me that a whole bunch of people are cooking on TV lately who, in my opinion, probably can't make a decent peanut butter and jelly sandwich, so what are they doing on TV trying to teach anyone to cook!

                    There is one other possibility that comes to mind. If they are using a really grungy grade of beef -- little to no marbeling, little to no flavor, a poor grade of beef, probably wet cured, frozen and thawed -- they may be trying to compensate with the amount of butter they're using, but if they're going for anything short of a long cooked stew, it isn't going to work! And it certainly won't produce a nice beef flavor, which has already been seriously compromised by any or all of the things I mention between the dashes!

                    In classic steak preperation (in the kitchen, as opposed to on a charcoal/gas grill) there are basically two methods used, with a gazillion variations on a theme based on each. Both methods use a frying pan to sear the steak.

                    The first method is for steaks such as filet mignon or tournedos. "Tournedos" are simply steaks cut from the large end of the tenderloin. Filets mignon are cut from the small end. And while were at it, the transitional section in the middle of the whole tenderloin is called the chateaubriand, and is traditionally not cut into individual steaks but is cooked as a "mini-roast" for two and served "a la forestier," or with little bundles of vegetables around it. And while I'm dumping trivia, the original way to cook chateaubriand a hundred years ago (or whatever) was to sandwich it between two lesser steaks, grill until uniformly rare all the way through all three steaks, then throw the outer steaks to the kitchen dogs and serve the perfectly rare tenderloin to the lord of the manor (the manor being Chateau Briand). But I digress. Both filets mignon and tournedos are traditionally seared in a frying pan in equal parts of oil and butter. How much oil and butter depends on the size of the pan and the number of steaks. The goal is to gain enough to sear to get nice color and a light crust, but cautiously because these steaks will dry out in a heartbeat! They are then finished in the oven, removed to a warm plate to rest while a sauce is prepared, usually using the "fond' (crusty bits) in the pan as a base. Tournedos were traditionall presented on a "crouton" made by sauteeing a round of French bread cut to the size of the meat in butter until lightly browned, setting the meat on it on the service plate, and topping with a couple of spoonsful of the sauce. The remaining sauce (if any) is passed in a sauce boat. The crouton absorbs the steak juices as the diner cuts into it. Really really good! The sauce was made by adding a little demiglace or veal stock to the pan, a splash of good red wine or cognac (or both), the fond is scraped/dissolved into the sauce from the bottom of the pan and then the pan is removed from the flame and "thickened" with a "knob" of fresh butter. The butter melts in and gives the sauce a smooth sheen. The sauce is a great enhancer to the steak without modifying or diminishing the steaks great beef flavor.

                    The other method of pan cooking a steak is for other cuts such as NY strips, T-Bones, and such. The list is long. Again a mixture of oil and butter is heated in the pan before the steak is added to sear and crust. These steaks are also traditionally finished in the oven, but because they have more fat than a tenderloin, they can be given a heavier crust without fear of drying them out before popping them into the oven. In the case of both types of steak, oven finishing ensures a more even cooking throughout the steak because you're only searing the outside on the stove. It *is* possible to cook a steak all the way on top of the stove, but chances are the "rare" part of the steak is going to be pushed "off center" because the steak was cooked on one side a little longer than the other. When this type of steak is finished in the oven, it is removed to a warm plate and a generous pat of herbed butter is placed in the center and allowed to melt into the meat as it goes to table. Some of the herb butters I especially like are terragon, thyme, garlic, shallot, and black truffles. But not all in the same butter! When it's a home cook doing this instead of a chef in a restaurant kitchen, there is a cook's bonus here: toss a bit of the herb butter in the frying pan, then a slice of bread to brown and absorb all the great flavor. The cook does NOT have to share! But if you're just cooking for two (or one) and the pan is big enough for two slices of bread, these make fantastic croutons to absorb the juices as you eat the steak. (I'm getting hungry!)

                    To make herb butter, simply bring some butter to room temperature, add the herb(s?) of choice, mix well, then form into a roll in wax paper or saran wrap, twist the ends tightly and put it in the refrigerator until ready to use. Depending on the size/thickness of the steak, anywhere from a teaspoonful to a tablespoonful should do it. You don't want to end up with steak in your butter instead of butter on your steak.

                    As for your question about continuously basting a steak on the grill, my personal answer is a resounding no! A steak does not take a long time to cook, and the whole purpose of grilling a steak is to get that great exterior char. Basting will seriously defeat this purpose, and depending on what you're using to baste with, chances are it will burn, or if it's butter, it will cause serious flare ups that will NOT serve as flavor enhancers! When I grill anything that I want to finish with a barbecue sauce, including things like ribs, I charcoal broil them, then I remove them to a shallow roasting pan and slather them with barbecue sauce and pop them into a moderately hot oven for ten to twenty minutes. Any sauce with tomatoes or sugar in it will burn quickly over a grill and taste nasty.

                    Hope this helps.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Caroline1

                      I agree with Carolines herbed butter (compound butters), this also gives you a chance to be creative. Maitre d'hotel butter is a compound butter with lemon and chopped parsely. Add garlic and you have escargot butter. I love the thought of the black truffled butter. What a treat! Anchovie butter would be nice as well.

                      If I were to baste the steak with butter, I would do so at the last minute. Otherwise I might be tempted to use a clarified butter so it does not give an off burnt taste. Again, as Caroline pointed out, the butter should really be used to finish the meat. I am sure the chain steak house you mentoned does that.

                      One more point, if you think other restaurants do not add butter (sometimes even for holding large quantities for naquet purposes) then you are sorely mistaken. it is actually a more common practice to rub with a vegetable shortening (see: Crisco) for enhancing the grill marks.

                    2. As a couple post mentioned, I do use a compound butter with one steak recipe, but more of a london broil or flank that uses a spicy chili, cumin butter. This I do brush on 2, maybe 3 times during cooking. But it certainly doesn't taste like butter when it is done. That and a couple of chicken recipes cause for marinating with butter, but nothing else. I do sometimes put a nice pad of compound butter on the steak, fish or poulty when done. But I wouldn't marinade a lot with butter.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: kchurchill5

                        I use many types of compound butters depending an what I am looking for taste wise. The most popular lately is a blue cheese butter.

                        1. re: bigfellow

                          I do gorgonzolo butter, not a true bc fan but gg I can handle :)

                          A dish I offer for catering is a pork loin slice served on a bed of mashed sweet potatoes with blue cheese and walnuts butter topped with an apple balsamic glaze and more blue cheese butter. It is a simple dish but everyone raves

                          Try adding some crushed walnuts in the blue cheese butter for over pork or chicken, really good