Madame Arcati’s Steak – Clairvoyantly, Conclusively And Consistently Melt-in-the-mouth Perfect
“Any moron can cook a steak,’ I kept saying to myself, as I went about my work in the kitchen early Thursday evening.”Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado
Today is the first day of spring – hooray! And it’s also my son’s birthday so what better day than to post a blog on how to cook steak? Why? Because steak is my son’s signature dish. His first culinary contribution to our household was, standing atop a chair to gain the requisite height, stirring the risotto. However, when he began regularly doing a stand-alone stint in the kitchen, it was steak that he was cooking. And following on from years of school-escaping pizza-eating, we have progressed, often, to steak when we dine out together these days.
One of the best was consumed last year at a steakhouse opposite the Gielgud Theatre in London’s West End. Mind you, we’d just been to see the amazing Angela Lansbury playing Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit – almost anything would have tasted good after that. No wonder she says it’s her best theatrical role. See the delicious clip below.
The great thing about steak for people who don’t have much time is that it is the best, nearest-to-instant form of red meat to be had, its ‘instantness’ is the whole point of it so to speak. Which is why I’m not advocating the slow-cooking method recommended by Heston Blumenthal in the clip below although I’m sure it is excellent.
If you are using a cheap cut, marinate with one of the following marinades at the bottom of this post.
You’ll need to be rich as Croesus however to drink the ultimate with your steak – that would be a good claret – perhaps a 2004 Château Lafleur Pomerol (about £1,500 for six bottles).
Recipe: how my son manages to cook his always-perfect steak
Use fillet steak, and use a heavy-duty cast iron pan. I know it’s not supposed to have as much flavour but you should be able to cut through it like butter. Any steak that needs a steak knife is a tough steak. Go for the best you can afford. Orkney, Aberdeen Angus, Red Poll and Hereford are all good. Heston Blumenthal’s choice is the British Longhorn – but he’s using a cut rather than an individual steak. Don’t marinate good quality steak – you’ll lose the essence of it.
2. Buy steak 3-4 cm thick. Any thinner and you will struggle to control the rareness, or otherwise, you seek.
3. Don’t be fooled into thinking bright red means fresh… it means it hasn’t necessarily been hung as much as it should. It should be hung on the bone for at least 21 days. And the fat should be a creamy yellow colour, not bright white
4. Meat needs to breathe so it should be wrapped in paper (not plastic) at the butchers and stored in the bottom of the fridge (so it doesn’t contaminate everything below it) in a dish where it can breathe – don’t envelop it in plastic bags or cling film – this will help it to brown better.
5. Bring steaks to ROOM TEMPERATURE – take them out of the fridge at least half an hour before frying them.
6. Although Bareham and Hopkinson warn that advanced seasoning extracts moisture and inhibits the development of a charred and crusted surface, they advise:“when cooking buttery little fillets, they don’t taste anywhere near as good if they haven’t been seasoned first”.The key is to salt (use smoked sea salt) them immediately before putting them in the pan, or at least an hour prior to cooking (ideally overnight) – to find out why go to the excellent Food Lab.
6. Heat a heavy frying pan on a high heat for a good five minutes or so, it should be shimmering-hot.
7. While the pan is getting hot using a pair of tongs hold the steak vertically and fry the fat so that it runs and crisps, turning to treat the whole diameter.
8. Do NOT try to cook too many steaks at once or you will lose heat and the meat will boil rather than sear.
9. Add a little butter, or flavoured butter just before you finish cooking for flavour.
10. Total cooking/resting time for steak should be ten minutes – if you like your steak rare there will then be a commensurate additional time for resting, however, see suggested times below.You need to SEAR the meat and NOT because it keeps in the juices. Go here to find out what you are actually doing and why.
11. Do NOT put oil in the pan, instead make sure the steak itself is dry (of water and blood) and well oiled (it will already be if it has been marinated, but add a little extra if you think it needs it). Guidelines for the length of time are given below, but of course the thickness of the steak will affect these.
Contrary to the advice of many you can turn the meat a couple of times which will help to reduce the thickness of the layer of overdone meat around the outside of the steak, BUT the steak must be thick, dried (as described above) and the pan shimmeringly hot.
- RARE (bleu) steak: 2½ minutes on one side, 2½ minutes on the other side. Take the pan off the heat and leave to rest for five minutes. When you prod* it, it will leave a slight indentation
- MEDIUM RARE (à point) steak: three minutes each side, then four minutes resting. The indentation is there briefly
- MEDIUM (cuit) steak: four minutes each side, then two or three minutes resting. The indentation is there even less briefly – the meat almost bounces back to its original shape
- WELL-DONE (bien cuit) steak: five minutes each side, one minute resting. By this stage it will be like shoe leather – dead as a dodo when you prod
12. Don’t forget to allow the meat to rest covered in foil – if you cut into the meat immediately all the lovely juice will escape. It can rest for longer than the times specified above, but not for less time.
13. Deglaze the pan with some red martini if you want a bit of extra juice.
*there are number of different methods for testing how well done a steak is, and prodding is the most practical. There is also the thermometer method – but I can never find mine; there is the compare-with-the-pad-of-the-base-of-your-thumb method – but I am usually busy using both my hands at the time, either gesticulating wildly in animated conversation, or preventing the just-added butter from burning; or there is the cut and have a look method which will inevitably result in overdone steak as it will look rarer than it is.
Three soft as butter making marinades
marinade one – Chinese inspired
i. ⅓ cup/80ml good quality soy sauce
ii. ½ cup/120ml olive oil
iii. ⅓ cup/80ml lemon juice
iv. 4 cloves of garlic, crushed with a little smoked salt
v. 1½ tbsp dried parsley
vi. grinds of Indonesian long pepper
marinade two – Greek inspired
i. 200g tub/¾ cup greek yoghurt
ii. large bunch of fresh herbs, or 2 tbsp of dried herbes de Provence (Aux Anysetiers du Roy is the best, get it from Divertimenti or from Amazon.
iii. 4 cloves garlic crushed with 2 tsp smoked salt
iv. 6 spring onions, chopped, with about 1 cm of the green stalk
marinade three – Scottish inspired
i. 4 tbsp olive oil
ii. 1 tbsp whisky
iii. ½ tbsp. thick Belazu balsamic vinegar
iv. 1 tsp smoked salt
v. 10 grinds Indonesian long black pepper
how to make the marinades
- mix/whisk all together (with cappuccino whisk)
- put steaks and marinade in a plastic bag
- leave for eight hours, or overnight, or freeze if you are using marinade one
What to pair with your steak?
Mike Turner (of the series, Please Bring Me My Wine), writing in Bordeaux Magazine, has this advice:
A couple of things really, cut and cooking matter. You’ll need any pairing wines fairly powerful, but with fattier cuts – like a sirloin – you need more acidity in the wine to cut through it. So here look to Graves or the Medoc right at the top of the left bank.
If you grill it longer you’re going to have more charring on the outside and need a bit more fruit in the wine to pair the sweeter angle – check out the Saint Julien region there.
If you like it well-done (like my parents do!) then the proteins are a bit tighter and you need a bit more structure and tannin, so we’re back to Bourg and the Malbec/Merlot/Cabernet blends.
An alternative approach to steak
“‘I’m not one of these hit-or-miss beefsteak chefs,’ he said. ‘I grill my steaks on hickory embers. The efflorescence of seasoned hardwood is in the steak when you eat it. My beefsteaks are genuine old-fashioned. I’ll give you the official lineup. First we lay out celery, radishes, olives, and scallions. Then we lay out the crabmeat cocktails. Some people say that’s not old-fashioned. I’m eighty-three years old and I ought to know what’s old-fashioned. Then we lay out some skewered kidney shells. Lamb or pig – what’s the difference?
Then comes the resistance – cuts of seasoned loin of beef on hot toast with butter gravy. Sure, I use toast. None of this day-old-bread stuff for me. I know what I’m doing. Then we lay out some baked Idahoes. I let them have paper forks for the crabmeat and Idahoes; everything else should be attended to with fingers. A man who don’t like to eat with his fingers hasn’t got any business with a beefsteak. Then we lay out the broiled duplex lamb chops. All during the beefsteak we are laying out pitchers of refreshment. By that I mean beer.'”
-Ellis in an interview with Joseph Mitchell in The New Yorker, 1939
This post is dedicated to my son.