It seems like only yesterday that I won sixteen sirloin steaks at a charity auction and decided I would document my efforts in learning to cook them. In fact, it was nearly three months ago, and what a three months it’s been. I’ve learned a lot about cooking steaks, and along the way I got a chance to try some interesting side dishes and have some delicious meals. If you’d care to refresh your memory, here’s the whole series.
- Steak #7: Pan Cooked with Celery Root and Bourbon Sauce was the first one in which I actually did a good job cooking the steak. But it turned out just to be a warm up for…
- Steaks #8 and #9: Italian Marinaded and Pan-Cooked were the ones where I learned important techniques like the water test for heating the pan and the difference between flipping once and many times during the steak’s cooking.
- Steak #10: Cocoa Crusted with Jicama Fries continued my roll, with a very well cooked steak. The side could have been better executed, but was well chosen.
- Steak #14: Pan Cooked with Triple Celery was the best composed meal of the sixteen — no surprise, since I took it whole cloth from a great cookbook.
- And though it didn’t teach me anything about cooking steaks, Steak #12: Portland Cheesesteak was an awfully tasty meal.
There were two main problems I faced in this series. The first was just cooking the steak right – starting out was a little rough. Steaks 1-3 were overdone, 4 was okay, 5 and 6 were underdone. All of this was at least instructive, and I achieved reliable medium-rareness by the time I learned the additional blood drop trick in Steaks 8&9.
As things continued, though, I ran into another problem, which was the uninspired meal. Steak 11: Pan Cooked with Mushroom Sauce and Spinach was a prime example of this – I really should have had a little more imagination and gone to the grocery store. Steak #16: Pan Cooked with Sweet Potato Fries was one of these as well, and it had the additional problem of the failed mayonnaise/semi-successful dipping sauce.
Moving forward into further steaks, I will take with me a solid foundation in steak cooking technique. I think I can boil it down to the following lessons:
- Let the steak rest for a while before being cooked. I didn’t do any formal testing on this, but it makes good sense that it would lead to more even cooking. I wasn’t too picky about “coming to room temperature” exactly, but I did let them sit out for at least a half hour.
- Though I usually don’t buy paper towels, they’re a good investment for cooking meat, including steaks. Once I realized how much better the char is on a dried steak, I started towel drying my roast chickens, too, and it made the skin that much crispier. Yum!
- Let the pan get HOT. Really hot. Let it preheat for as long as you can bare to wait (which isn’t that long, for me), and then give it another minute. Use the water test if unsure.
- Use the Flip Once or Flip Many Times technique, depending on desired results. Flip Once gives better char, but Flip Many Times better preserves any seasoning on the exterior of the steak. Depending on which you’re using, look for blood drops to know when it’s ready to flip and when it’s done at about medium, or poke it to feel for doneness.
- Let the steak rest on a wire rack, not a plate.
And probably the most important lesson:
- It seems like it would take a good steak and make it into a terrible meal. Short of burning it to a crisp or leaving the center completely uncooked, it’s probably going to turn out fine. This project has by no means turned me into a steak expert (it would probably take quite a few more to do that) but it’s given me the basic skills and confidence to cook a nice piece of meat and not worry about ruining it. Sounds like a success to me.
And of course, there’s still so much to learn! I barely touched on marinades, and my sauces really ran the gamut. And there are many more types of steaks to grill! Sirloins are pretty straightforward and were a good place to start, but I look forward to trying out different cuts. Any favorites?