Nothing says “I love you” quite like a home-cooked meal (well for me, anyway). And for some people, the perfect meal involves the perfect steak. I am not a very big steak fan but for many, cooking the perfect steak is somewhat of an art form. There are so many different techniques, tried and true methods, random sauces and whatnot. But today, I will try and trump all of these things, by teaching you how to cook the most scientifically perfect steak.
Flavour, Tender, Moist
For most people, the perfect steak is characterised by three things: flavour, juiciness and tenderness. Creating the perfect balance of these three components is challenging as boosting one quality may inevitably diminish the other. But, it may be worth it in the quest of the perfect steak.
We’ll start with flavour, which is achieved when the steak is heated to a very high temperature. The surface of the meat begins to brown and releases aromatic compounds, giving that characteristic smell. This is known as the Maillard reaction and is crucial in bringing out the flavour of any steak.
However, while the flavour is achieved by extremely high temperatures (such as that of the metal surface of your pan), the juiciness and tender texture of the steak is maximised when we have controlled heat.
The meat that we eat is structured such that muscle cells are joined to form long fibres. When we heat these fibres, they contract, toughen and release water. Therefore, the right temperature is needed such that we don’t contract the fibres too much and we don’t lose too much of that moistness to the pan.
The perfect temperature for this is about 55°C or medium-rare. The steak is cooked, but the juices are retained. If we heat it up any more, you’ll be left with a chewy, dry piece of meat which most people find unpalatable. A well done steak is at about 60-65°C so it’s a pretty small window of opportunity to get that perfect temperature.
It’s all about the temperature
To achieve this perfect inside temperature of your steak, we need to abandon traditional methods of cooking. Many cookbooks and TV/home chefs advise you to cook your steak in a very hot pan, flipping only once. However, the heat required to brown the meat is too high, so the side of the meat in contact with the pan will become dry and tough.
This could be avoided if we simply flipped the meat frequently. This would prevent the temperature from building up on any one side but still allow the steak to be cooked through. It’s also a good idea to cook your steak when it’s at room temperature. If you add a cold steak to the pan, it will take longer to cook the middle of it, which means that the outside will receive more heat and dry up.
Resting meat is another crucial factor in attaining the perfect steak. During the entire cooking process, the muscles fibres are tense and contracted. Upon cooling though, they relax and reabsorb some of their lost moisture. Therefore, resting meat slowly is important.
Steak needs to be rested on a wire rack to allow air to pass on the underside of the steak. If rested on a plate or chopping board, heat will build up on the contact side and continue to cook and toughen it. It’s also worth mentioning that steak will continue to cook once off the pan, as there is residual heat. So it’s best to cook the steak a little bit less than what you intended and have it cook through once it’s resting.
So as a recap:
1. Flavour is during the Maillard reaction, when meat is heated at a very high temperature
2. Mild heat tenderises and moistens meat, but over-heating dries it up
3. Flipping the steak continuously prevents surface of steak from drying up
4. Cooling meat retains moisture, making for a juicy steak
So how do we put all this into practice?
1. Rest the raw steak until it reaches room temperature.
2. Heat a bit of oil in a pan until super hot.
3. Place meat once the pan is smoking and flip it every 15 seconds until just before the desired doneness. This can be tested by either feeling the meat or with a thermometer (preferably one you haven’t already put in your ear or worse, your bottom).
4. Rest the meat on a wire rack to let it finish cooking and reabsorb its juices. Serve and enjoy!
PS. For more cooking tips, check my top tips for the Perfect Cake