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Jan 16, 2009 08:30 PM

Why do some steakhouses adulterate their beef by poaching their steak in butter before cooking it?

If the beef is prime, dry aged, and just generally a well-marbled slab of bovine goodness (which is what I expect if I'm paying upwards of $50+ for a 10 oz. ribeye) why poach the beef in butter before sticking it in the salamander?

I know that Michael Mina in his Bourbon Steakhouses does this, and I've heard of other joints doing it as well.

Why??? This is like parboiling ribs before barbecuing them.

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  1. Some reason experts believe that steaks taste better with butter. Can't stand Ruth's Chris believes serving it swimming in butter makes it good, I always have to remember to tell them to leave the butter out.

    1. The WaPo food section recently had an interview with Mina about this. To put it briefly, his reasoning is that it seals the meat, resulting in an evenly cooked steak as opposed to the usual red in the middle, then grey on the outside.

      2 Replies
      1. re: MsDiPesto

        Its more in the style of sous vide than anything else, DEFINITELY not boiling. I believe the butter is brought up to somewhere around 120 degrees or something like that. It definitely ensures a more even doneness, and probably more than anything its just an easier pickup, more foolproof temps on steaks.

        1. re: Turkeybone

          Turkeybone - I was told that you can keep meat at a low temp indefinitely (say, 120 degrees) and it will never overcook because it can't go higher than the surrounding liquid. It makes sense to me - does it sound right to you? Perhaps the restaurant can then hold all of its meat at that temp and then just pull out what it needs and brown it per order?

      2. I suspect it produces a juicier piece of meat, especially if the customer wants anything beyond rare. High heat makes the meat fibers contract and expel their juices; gentle heat reduces this.

        We had a big debate some time ago about heating or finishing meat in the microwave. But shortly after that, i read some place that judiciously preheating the steak in the microwave before grilling, reduced the juice loss. I think it was Americas Test Kitchen that claimed this, but I may be wrong. Poaching in butter at a controlled temperature may achieve this with better control.

        Harold McGee also looked at weight loss in this book The Curious Cook, when he addressed the idea that searing sealed the meat surface. Searing, that is high heat, is good for flavor, but not for juiciness.

        I don't think your comparison to parboiling ribs applies. BBQ is long slow cooking; grilling steaks is fast, high heat cooking. Nor do I think 'adulteration' is the right descriptor. That implies adding something foreign to the meat. Make up your mind - does this process add butter to the meat, or remove natural meat flavors (which is the complaint people make about parboiling)?

        1. Some restaurants use a Beurre Monte or emulsified butter on meat for a number of reasons. When a steak is finished in the oven or salamander, it is often first basted with Beurre Monte to create an even layer of fat to better conduct the heat. It also keeps the meat moist and (for most people) enhances the flavor. Finished meat may also rest in a Beurre Monte bath since it lowers the temperature of the meat quickly reducing carryover cooking and keeping the meat moist.

          Other restaurants simply apply a pat of butter after the meat has finished cooking - a taste thing.

          But either way it is not like parboiling meat. t's more like adding salt and pepper at the end - an enhancer of the steak's natural flavor.