1. Buy good beef
When it comes to cooking and eating steak, good quality beef is a must. Not only will it taste great, but will be far easier to cook to perfection. You don’t need to spend a fortune on heritage breed beef from an expensive farm shop, but you can do far better than the insipid offerings from the supermarket shelf. Look for dry aged, at a minimum of 21 days. Most supermarket steak states that it has been aged for this minimum, but that usually means it has sat in its little vac pack for the duration. Dry aging brings about the changes in flavour and texture that will bring out the best in your steak.
2. Choose your cut
There are cuts of steak to suit different occasions and for most people the question of price will factor into it somewhere. Some cuts are more forgiving than others and far easier to cook; an important factor if you are trying to impress and also remain calm at the same time.
Fillet – the most expensive cut, this is also the leanest. Taken from muscle that does little work, a well-cooked fillet should be as soft as butter. This is posh steak, the kind that comes with vegetables on the side and a good sauce. Fillet can take practice to cook well as it is thicker than other cuts as well as virtually fatless.
Sirloin – this is the cut most people are familiar with and gives a good balance between tender meat and creamy fat. Equally at home with a formal meal or a plate of chips, sirloin is the versatile workhorse of steaks and, given the right instructions, can be straightforward to get right.
Rib eye – this is casual steak that although excellent when cooked as a whole steak, is often found cut into strips for stir fries or sandwiches. Great value for money, rib eye is the most forgiving of steaks and is pretty hard to cook badly. Keep it casual with rib eye; a big plate of chips and maybe a sauce. Or breakfast with fried eggs and hash browns.
T-bone – this is a hefty steak, perfect for sharing. Fillet on one side of the bone, sirloin on the other, T-bone is classic steak just made for hand-cut chips and béarnaise sauce. Of course you do not have to share.
3. Bring the meat to room temperature
For perfect steak, with as little margin for error as possible, always bring your steak to room temperature before cooking. It will cook more evenly, spend less time in the pan, and you certainly won’t need a steak knife.
4. Oil the meat not the pan
Oh, and whilst we are about it, use a cast iron frying pan or even just a battered old one. Shiny new non-stick will boil your lovely steak in its own steam and render it inedible. The meat needs to stick to the surface to create all that browned savoury loveliness.
You need just the lightest brush of oil. Really you are using the frying pan as a skillet; put too much oil in there and you will get fried steak and a greasy kitchen. The easiest way forward is to brush both sides of the steak very lightly with oil. Season with a grind of pepper, but not salt. Not yet.
Finally, on the subject of pans (which is clearly an important one), make sure that it is searingly hot. A splash of cold water aimed at the surface will sizzle wildly. You also need plenty of room for each steak or you will bring the temperature down too far. The result? Epic steak fail and an emergency take-away.
5. Get the timing right
What are you aiming for? Do you really know or just head for medium and hope for the best? There are six basic levels of doneness. Timings are based on your average ¾ inch steak.
Blue – this is seared on the outside and the meat throughout the entire steak will be just warm. It shows no sign of cooking and has the appearance of raw; underneath about 2mm of seared crust. 1.25 mins per side
Rare – here the seared edge is thicker and the core of raw is thinner. 1.75 mins per side
Medium rare – here the seared edge is thicker again, yet there is still a raw core at the centre. This is the last stage before the steak cooks through fully. 2.25 mins per side
Medium – Good old medium. For most people, medium is the pinnacle of perfection. The steak is cooked through yet still moist and juicy. The juices and the meat at the centre are pink but there is no raw core. 2.75 mins per side
Medium well – Here there is less juice, and less pink going on. The meat is tender, and still juicy, but only very faint traces of pink. 3.25 mins per side.
Well done – if you like your steak well done, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It is possible to cook a steak well done without obliterating it. Well done is the point at which the meat is brown all the way through and there are no running juices. But it is not dry, or burnt. Caught at the perfect point it is still soft and tender to eat. 3.75 mins per side.
Steaks differ in thickness and heat sources vary greatly so any timings really are a rough estimate. As with most things it takes time and experience to get the hang of but the best way to test a steak is by prodding it. A rare steak will feel wobbly just like raw meat and a well done steak will have no softness beneath it all; it will feel firm and unyielding. In between are all the various stages of doneness and the feeling of bounce will tell you how much of the inner core of the steak is cooked all the way through.
Before moving on to the final, and equally important resting stage, just one point about salt.
Salt will draw moisture from the meat and create steam. This steam will cause your steak to boil in its own juices and become tough and inedible. The time to salt your meat is either in the pan before the meat goes in, or on the cooked side once it has been turned over. After that, you can salt again at the point of service. Steak needs salt, and you can be as generous as you like, but you need to take note of when to add.
6. Rest your steak
Once cooked to the perfect point, remove the steak from the hot pan and place on a plate. Leave it to sit for five minutes whilst you get everything else ready. This allows the fibres to relax and the juices to integrate back into the meat. Your perfectly cooked steak will cut like butter and melt in the mouth. A good grind of salt and pepper before serving and it will be perfectly seasoned too.
Why not put our skills to the test? Take a look at our range of genuine Ayrshire beef and see if you can master steak perfection.