Friday, 28 November 2008

The perfect steak

I love steak. I really do. I love meat in general. But I loooooveee steak... What kind of steak you might ask. Any kind. Mainly sirloin, ribeye and rump. Yeap, that's right... rump! Actually, in my opinion, the humble rump is the best cut for the meat aficionado. A big slab of rump, takes you back to the prehistoric times, when cavemen ate big chunks of raw meat and washed it down with muddy water from the small river next to their cave. In more coherent culinary terms, I find that the rump has enough texture and deep meat flavour than sirloin and ribeye. I won't go near high-end cuts... Fillet has very little fat and flavour, and supreme, uber-expensive meats like kobe/waguy are so fatty, that they are like meat mash, no texture at all. I hate the feeling of fat melting in my mouth, which is kind of the sensation you get with these premium cuts.

So... the good ole rump it is. Now we have decided on the cut, lets talk about cooking it...

Wait!! What about the type of beef, the aging, you need high-quality well-hanged beef mister!!!

(that was the voice of the typical foodie....)

I know, I know... there are a million other variables, like aging the meat, what type of beef you choose, etc etc... Well... buy the best one you can afford and feel comfortable with spending your money on. To be fair, most meats you can buy from a butcher and (dare I say it...) even those pre-packaged supermarket steaks, are good enough. I am not going the opposite way of food snobbery, I am not a culinary punk/anarchist, I am not trying to be confrontational but the truth of the matter is that modern food technology has managed to give us, in general terms, safe, good quality beef. If you can, avoid the pre-packaged stuff, but hey, if you fancy a steak, they are good enough. Yes, a 120 day hanged free-range super-dupper organic Aberdeen Angus steak should be better than a cellophaned supermarket one. But think about this: are you confident enough regarding you cooking skills to hanlde such an expensive meat? If you like it medium rare, do you know how to cook it this way? I believe that unless you are a very experienced cook, leave the very expensive meats on the side for a while, until you are capable enough to consistently cook a steak to perfection.

And here is where this post come to the rescue. My ambition is to show you how to cook the perfect steak, time after time after time, with minimum effort (erm... well.. we will see about that..) In my opinion, cooking is as important, if not more important than the cut or type of beef to having a great steak. There is some very simple science behind it a few myths to dispel along the way...

OK, the science part, and I will try to make it as simple and un-geeky as possible. In order for the meat to have a juicy but toothsome texture (remember, meat-mash like kobe is a no no...), you need to cook it so internal temperature reaches 55-60 degrees Celsius. This is the Holy Grail of steak in restaurants, the infamous medium-rare/medium It has a light ping colour, the steak is juicy and tender, but you also need a nicely charred crust. How do you achieve that consistently and with little effort? There are two ways: one is using sous vide, which essentially is sealing the meat in a vaccum bag, and then putting it in a water bath that has exactly 55-60 C temperature, depending on the doneness that your want, until the internal temperature is the same with the temperature of the water. Then you briefly char it on a very hot pan or with a blow-torch to give it a nice crust and colour. Problem is... unless you want to play MacGyver in your kitchen, you will need to splash out a substancial amount of money in the region of 300-400 dollars for home-grade equipement, much much more for pro equipment.

So... what is the alternative? The alternative comes from Harold McGee and Heston Blumenthal, and is so simple, yet so effective: use a scorching hot pan, and flip your steak every 10-15 secs...

(To be fair, my grandmother has been doing it for 60 years, but I will still credit H&H for it...)

What??? are you mental??? Every Chef on TV says only flip once!!! You know nothing!!!

(that was the voice of the same foodie that was whinging about the quality of the steak...)

Yes my friends, flip the hell out of it. There is a very simple explanation for this. What you are actually doing is creating a mini-rotisserie. Ever wondered why rotisserie food tastes so good, being crusty, nicely coloured, but yet very juicy? The secret lies on the fact that only a small surface of the meat come to contact with heat, while the part that is away from the heat cools down. That cooling down is the essential part of the whole method. When proteins in the meat heat up after a point, they denature and as they contract they release water. But you need that water inside your meat for it to be juicy!

So here is what you need for a perfect steak

1) steak (no shit Sherlock...)
2) a quality cast iron pan. I use a La Crousette griddle pan
3) Something you can use to flip the steak without piercing it, I use a pair of tongues
4) a kitchen thermometer with a probe
5) lots and lots of heat

erm... that's it... basically...

Let the pan on the fire for 10-15 mins to get it scorching hot. It helps if you leave the steak out 20-30 mins before you cook it, to reach room temperature. This will help as it will not drop the temperature of the pan, and the inside will cook faster. I have lately experimented with nuking the steak in the microwave at medium power for 45 sec, warming it up a bit without cooking it. Seems to work fine!!

Spread some oil on the steak, and season (salt and pepper is my preference, but you can go wild if you wish). Then put the steak in the pan, leave it for 30 secs on each side to caramelise (Mailliard reaction for the geeks...). After those initial 30 secs on each side, flip the steak every 10-15 secs. That actually creates the mini-rotisserie action I was talking about. The side that is not cooking is actually cooling down, hence the temperature inside the steak rises quite slowly, not as aggressively as if you cooked it 2.5 mins in one side and then flipped it to cook for another 2.5 mins. Now, here is where the probe comes in play. After a couple of minutes of flipping (i.e. 8 flips if you flip every 15 secs) take the temperature of the meat. Make sure that the probe is more or less in the centre of the steak. You need to do that in order to have a baseline and gauge how much cooking it needs. Keep flipping for another minute (4 flips) and probe again. You need to take the steak out of the pan 3 C degrees before it reaches your ideal temperature. I like it at 55 C, so I take it out at 52C. This is usually after 12 flips (3 mins), plus the initial minute where each side was charred for 30 secs

Now, here is where variables such as thickness of meat, temperature of the pan, cut of meat come in play. Depending on your kitchen setup, cooking times might vary. In my kitchen, my pan, with a 1.5 inch cut of rump steak, I need four minutes for the steak to reach 52 C. In other kitchens, with other cuts of meat, this time might vary.

I know, I know... this all sounds very complicated just to cook a steak... But it gets more simple after a couple of times, and after you have established a baseline. I no longer use a probe, I just cook and count the times I flip (or use it once after 3-4 mins jsut to check). It comes out perfect every time! Once you get the hang of it, it becomes very easy, trust me!

So there you have it, the technique for a perfect steak! But wait! You can also use this method for any piece of meat you cook in a pan, or on the barbecue (even better). I use if for lamp chops, pork chops, burgers (works great!) chicken.

I hope people try this method, get back to me with any questions or comments.

Oh dear... I just saw how big this post is... I hope readers will actually read up to the section where I explain the technique...

My next post will be very soon, I am going to review two cigars, a Cuban and and a non-Cuban, while throwing in a bit of science on cigars and their flavours. I still don't know which cigars I will pick, put watch this space!!

Friday, 15 August 2008

The dreadful first post....

As the title says, I dread this post. I am still not sure how this blog is going to shape up. This is my fist ever post in my first ever blog...My initial thought is this: share my passion in cigars, good food and alcohol with others. Now... how would I go about it? I am not sure... I love smoking cigars, I love eating and cooking, and love whisky, wine, rum (alcohol in general...).

My initial though is to start reviewing some of the above. I intent to post some recipes I like. I also like the science behind things, so I plan to talk about molecular gastronomy (or food science as I prefer it...) , possibly extended to cigars. For example, we report different flavours when smoking of cigar (coffee, chocolate, nuts etc...). Where do these come from? Regarding food, there are some amazing blogs on food science (check my blogs I read tag). I might try to simplify some of their findings, report my personal experiences.

Yeap... it does sound like a mess... But I hope it will a pleasant read, that at some point it will shape up to a cohesive blog (or not...). In the past I have been sharing some of my opinions in a few forums. But I find the unrestricted nature of blogging (compared to forum posting) quite liberating. I think...

Most of all, I hope to find people who share the same passions as I do, and are happy to discuss.

(how lame was that line...)

More, very very soon.