How to nail a good steak

James’ parents kindly bought us a steak cooking course for Christmas. I am a big fan of good steak but don’t make the effort to cook it much at home as I often get it wrong.

The first problem is picking a bad piece of meat from the supermarket. You may already be setting yourself up for failure before even getting a pan out of the cupboard.

Luckily enough, on the course we were taught plenty of hints and tips on not just how to cook the steak, but also where and what to look out for when picking out your piece of meat.

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The key to a good steak is using a piece of meat which has been aged. In essence this means hanging the meat for anywhere up to 60days and allowing air to circulate around it. This allows a lot of the moisture to be drawn out of the meat, and it also starts to break down the meat tissue giving you a more flavoursome and tender steak. If that all sounds a bit unpleasant don’t worry because it all helps make your steak delicious!

Good butchers and some meat counters at leading supermarkets is where you’ll find your prime steak. They will age their meat, whereas most of the vacuum-packed meat you get at supermarkets is packed straight from the butchers block which is not what you want. The best thing to do is ask the butcher if it’s aged, and how long for. You’ll want to go for about a 1 – 1.5 inch thick steak. The thickness is more important than the weight.

The colour should be a light cherry red (not deep red) with a fine texture and firm to the touch. Also look for marbling, these are thin threads of fat running through the meat that gives it that great flavour. A substantial amount of evenly distributed marbling is a good thing, rather than a few big veins of fat.

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Fortunately we didn’t have to think about any of the above as the course leader came with a magnificent slab of meat for us to cut our steaks from. So let’s get to the cooking.

First up, you need to make sure the steak is completely dry and has come to room temperature.

Then heat up a frying pan and get that nice and hot (about a 7 out of 10). Cut off some of the larger chunks of fat around the edges of the steak and render them down in the pan to cook with.

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Once the pan is hot enough remove the pieces of fat, sprinkle some salt over both sides of the steak and begin cooking.

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For a medium rare steak at 3cm thick, you should cook about three minutes each side. A good way to know is when there are no more grey areas and you have that brown caramelised effect all over.

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We cooked the other side for the same amount of time. For a medium steak, as soon as you see the blood coming out of the steak you want to remove it from the heat. You don’t want to lose those juices!

Also the finger test is pretty reliable; press your finger on the outside of the steak, if it feels the same texture all the way across it is done.

You then need to rest the steak on a warm plate for at least five minutes, allowing the fibres to relax and the juices to flow evenly through the meat.

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Now, naturally you’re going to want a sauce with that fine piece of meat. In my opinion, that sauce has got to be peppercorn and thankfully that was what we were doing next.

We used the same pan we cooked the steaks in to make the most of those juices, however you can use a clean pan and just heat up some oil. We started by frying off the finely chopped shallots.

We then added the peppercorns; we had a mixture of pink, green and white.

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We then added the brandy and turned up the heat, cooking off the alcohol.

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Before adding in some beef stock.

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And finally the double cream.

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The steak should have had the optimal amount of time to rest and be ready to be blanketed in the rich and indulgent sauce. One interesting insight we were given is that in restaurants the plate, sides and sauce are served hot, but the well-rested steak has often cooled down by the time it’s served.

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We celebrated our new skill in cooking a divine steak by sitting down to devour it, along with some triple cooked chips and some greens.

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This was a great gift to do together and a fun evening; I’m now a whole lot more confident cooking steak.

You can find out more about the courses here. 

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