The idea of buying a slab of red meat and slapping it in a pan, burning it and eating it really never appealed to me—until I tried a good steak.
A vegetarian in college (because who wasn’t?) and current germaphobe, I really have never been comfortable with cooking meat in general. Any food that requires my counter to be bleached after prep is probably something I don’t want in my body, I thought.
I further justified my decision with the fact that meat—good meat—is expensive and has to be bought fresh. I will use a carrot that has been sitting in my fridge for a week; not so with a raw chicken breast or New York strip.
As a busy and frugal person who lived alone, avoiding cooking meat at home made a lot of sense. Then I discovered that other people genuinely enjoy the idea of sitting down to a hunk of perfectly cooked beef. Bacon is even more delicious when enjoyed on my own deck in the sunshine, cooked to that awesome extra-crispy texture that restaurants never get right, and a perfectly roasted chicken is one of life’s greatest culinary pleasures.
Really, the only problem with cooking meat is that my preferred methods (roasting, pan searing) require pretty high heat and the smoking fat usually fills my poorly ventilated apartment with haze—bacon is the worst culprit. But usually it’s well worth the smoke and the lingering smell once I dive into the result.
Steak is my biggest challenge. Growing up, my father and grandfather insisted on having their steaks well done, meaning I grew up with gray, tough beef that I doused in A1 sauce when I wasn’t refusing to eat it. There was nothing juicy, tender or tasty about the meat on my plate, which is why it wasn’t a sacrifice to give that sort of thing up.
Then somewhere along the line, I ate part of a medium-rare skirt steak grilled and sliced on the diagonal and realized that steak could be more than something to be avoided.
There are only a few rules when it comes to making a very good steak. One, buy good meat. There are uses for cheaper cuts such as top round, but these cuts need special methods or tenderizing to break apart tough connective tissue. For the recipe below, either a ribeye or a New York strip is recommended, though I suspect you could adjust it to handle a skirt or flat iron steak.
Two, for the love of God, do not overcook it. I understand that many people like steaks that are more done than others—I like mine with a warm, red center, but I acknowledge that others prefer more rare or less rare steaks.
Just don’t do what my otherwise wonderful grandfather has done in the past and ask for a steak “burnt” and then complain it’s tough. Of course it’s tough—the crap has been cooked out of it.
Three, if you’re still unsure, find a very good, specific recipe that involves some oven time. Bon Appetit had a recipe for ribeyes in its January issue that involved pan-searing a ribeye and finishing it in the oven—the two different cooking methods help novices create a steak that is nice and brown on the outside, perfectly done on the inside. Use a cast-iron pan for best results.
Four, salt the meat before you cook it. Just trust me.
The recipe below is from Nigella Lawson’s book “Nigellissima,” modified to match the way I did it. The idea of a marinade (or “steeping” as she calls it) at the end very much appealed to me, and I liked the idea of slicing the steak to ensure doneness before serving.
The recipe serves two, and I highly recommend serving the sliced steak and tomatoes over either a spinach and arugula salad or mashed potatoes or with bread.