The Yum-Yum Den – by Dennis Tkach. Opening message to vegans, pseudo-vegans, and the entire granola nation (who should have all passed into history with the hippie movement of the 60’s:) Chicken gets very boring, pork is generally dry, ground beef is mundane and veal is for the 1%. But steak, ah yes, that cholesterol loaded deadly slab of poison that ‘health experts’ say will speed along your demise, whatever you do, DO NOT believe them. You cannot equate the best tasting food on God’s green earth with anything but oral nirvana. So for you lovers of kale, or flower salads, or anything butter free, salt free, sugar free and tasteless, this column is not for you.
The following recipe will not give you those attractive grill lines that you see when you barbecue or when you paying a whack o’ cash for a beef eating experience at Hy’s Steak Loft or The Keg.
However, for skillet / stove top cooking, I present you with the recipe and secrets to making the most delicious steak you will ever savor this side of Kobe, Japan. (Kobe cattle are the Rolls Royce of beefdom. These highly prized Tajima-Gyu cattle, (only 3,900 head qualify for slaughter every year) are grain fed and pampered to give the most amazing marbled (fat infused and therefore flavor charged) meat. The ‘fat’ melts at 65 degrees, much lower than body temperature. In other words, the meat literally melts in your mouth. Sorry Canada, Kobe is not available in the great white north ANYWHERE. Not available in Europe and in the USA only available (in miniscule quantities) since 2012. Cholesterol be damned, we are talking serious mouth-watering ecstasy! If you ever see ‘Kobe’ on any menu, no matter how prestigious the restaurant, there is a 99.9% chance it is fake, phony, false advertising, outright lying. For export it wholesales at $200.00 a pound and in 2013 less than 300 pounds of Kobe in total was imported into the USA. The only place where I know ipso facto that you can get a real genuine Kobe steak is the Wynn Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Be prepared to have your wallet seriously plundered, but also be prepared for one of the worlds’ great eating experiences.
And now, for the real blue collar world of beef. First off, you have to understand that the ultimate tender and succulent steaks are determined not by a recipe but more critically, from the cattle themselves AND from the butcher. Some beef cattle are slaughtered after their time, true to the axiom that, like people, age serves only to desiccate and toughen. If a cow is rough handled on it’s way to slaughter and it becomes understandably distressed, fear and panic can release all kinds of undesirable chemical changes in the unfortunate beast, also altering the texture of the meat. This is also not a good thing. What sometimes looks like good steak would better be utilized as shoe leather. (General rule: Do NOT buy your beef steak or roasts at Walmart.) Talk to your friendly neighborhood butcher. He KNOWS what is available and what is good quality.
For stove top preparation here are the steak cuts I recommend. (Barbecue steak is a whole other realm, one I will explore later in time for the summer season of the backyard grill thrill.)
2. A cut no thicker than 1”. (This will ensure even cooking, however rare, medium or well done your preference.)
3. Sirloin, believe it or not, should be the least favored cut. (Too lean and difficult to get just right.) In order of choice I would first offer most Angus beef cuts from grain fed Alberta cattle, followed by prime-rib, New York strip loin, outside skirt, rib-eye or flat iron. (The last two cuts are popularly found on American restaurant menus.)
When making your selection look for rich red flesh and generous even marbling. Before you cringe at the thought of eating squishy pure fat, remember that if cooked properly these veins of creamy fat will melt into the meat, thereby creating the wonderful juicy flavor that makes a great steak great.
4. Aged beef is also a good indicator for dramatically raising the succulence and tender factor towards the top of the ‘mmmmm scale’.
5. Never use a marinade. All you will taste is the marinade and mask the true taste of the meat. Tenderizing by marinade is simply cheating with a cheap cut of meat.
6. Unlike barbecuing, for stove-top preparation you will not need dry rubs, spritz bottles, or sauces.
Remove your steak from its packaging and dry it well with a paper towel. Then, set it aside on fresh paper towels and let it continue to ‘dry’. Raise it to room temperature 30 to 60 minutes out of the fridge. (Of course, longer if frozen.) Keep replacing paper towels until all surface moisture is pretty well removed through absorption. Drying maximizes formation of an ideal crust.
For seasoning in the pan, use only course salt, (sea or Kosher) and pepper according to taste.
Ventilation: When ready for the big sizzle, make certain you have a stove top ventilation system that is ramped up to the max and if possible a kitchen window open. Beware of setting off the smoke detector (something on several occasions I learned the hard way.)
Use only a cast iron frying pan. The flavor difference is quite dramatic. Whatever else you use, no matter how expensive your cookware, be it ceramic, Teflon, bonded aluminum, etcetera, etcetera, NOTHING can compete with a well-cured cast iron frying pan.
Turn your element on HIGH and let the cast iron pan get HOT HOT HOT. Then when you think it is hot enough, give it more time to get HOTTER.
Add a little grapeseed oil or peanut oil (1 tbsp.). These oils are relatively tasteless and have a high burn temperature.
When ready, ‘fry’ only one steak at a time. And NEVER more than 5 minutes. Pat dry one last time and add 1 tsp. course salt to the pan just before introducing the steak. Let the steak ‘sizzle’ for 1 minute, pressing down gently on the steak for uniformity of surface contact. Also move the steak around to pick up all the salt. After 1 minute, turn the steak and repeat for the other side, also 1 minute. You will be achieving a salty, encased bark-like crust over the entire surface of the meat. Sprinkle a little more salt on the pan and steak. (Remember, there is already a certain amount of sodium in the meat itself, so do not overdue it.) For a rare steak, you will need no more than the 2 minutes, medium rare 3 minutes ( one 30 second turn after the initial 2 minutes = 3 minutes total) medium, 2 – 3 30 second turns = 4 minutes, or if well done, (and you are killing a lot of the flavor,) no more than 5 minutes. (At 5 minutes or more on the pan you will make me weep over your desecration of a great steak.)
In the final minute or two of frying, if desired, add pepper, preferably fresh ground and let it meld into the crust.
Before presentation on a plate, let it rest under a tent of aluminum foil for 5 minutes. If you wish, thick slice the steak on the diagonal, cutting away from your body with the top edge of the knife leaning towards you.
Serve with a wedge of lemon. The citric acid can add wonders to enhance and compliment the finished steak. I recommend a good cabernet sauvignon, or any dry red such as chianti ruffino or medallino, or if you are a non drinker like I am, a good chilled glass of Welch’s red grape juice. A baked potato smothered in butter, sour cream, chives, or shredded cheese is the perfect compliment to your plate.