Sunday, July 13, 2008

How Not to Cook a Steak

I've been procrastinating writing this post for the past hour or so, because it's both disappointing and kind of embarrassing.

Over at Smitten Kitchen, Deb asked what what her readers' kitchen fears are so she can help her readers conquer them. Something about the topic must have struck a nerve, because she received over 300 comments. And I became very interested in them, for some reason, and read every single one. The "fears" seem to fall into clusters, and one thing that surprised me was the number of people scared of cooking meat. I generally feel comfortable with meat, although large hunks like pot roast might cause a bit of trepidation -- I've never tried to cook for a lot of people at once, so there has been no need for such large meaty things. But I'm fairly confident that if the occasion required a pot roast, I could make a pretty good one.

Anyway, all this thinking about meat, combined with a grill-free July 4th last weekend, gave me a huge craving for steak. I don't eat much red meat these days -- it's so expensive, and after reading The Omnivore's Dilemma recently, I decided my next steak should be a grass-fed one, and then the cost becomes even more prohibitive. But my craving got the best of me and I decided to splurge on an almost-1-pound grass-fed porterhouse from Hawthorne Valley Farm at the green market yesterday.

I got home and suddenly it hit me - I had no clue how to cook this steak! (I probably should have figured this out earlier.) Reading through Deb's comments from people afraid of cooking meat, I thought, at least that's one fear I've conquered. I've grilled steaks to perfection before, definitely not scared of them. Except that I live in a small 6th floor apartment in Manhattan without roof access and grilling is not an option here. So I started googling frantically to find the best way to cook a steak indoors, and I came across these directions by Leah of Love and Butter. "Perfect," I said to myself, "she even talks about cooking 1-pound grass-fed porterhouse steaks in a flat skillet! I can do this!"

I let my steak come to room temperature, preheated the oven to 450, and rubbed both sides of the steak with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

(Doesn't it just look perfect? Look at that rich red color!)

Leah then suggests searing the first side of the steak for 6-7 minutes and the second side for 2-3 minutes. Since my steak was on the thinner side, about 1", I seared it 4 minutes on the first side and only 1 minute on the second side.

Then I popped the whole skillet into the oven for 4 minutes (again, she suggests 6-7 minutes for a thicker steak, so I thought 4 would be good for my thinner one). A preliminary cut revealed that the steak might have cooked a little longer than necessary for my perfect medium rare goal, but I didn't want to pass judgment until it had a chance to rest. So five minutes later, I finally cut into it to see how I had done.

In case you can't tell from the picture, the steak was... not even close to medium rare. I think it ranged from medium-well to full on well done. I cut it into slices anyway and ate about half of the steak for dinner with some roasted fingerling potatoes and a salad.

Half an hour later, the potatoes and salad were all gone, and the steak was mostly still there on my plate. The tenderloin half of the porterhouse fared better than top loin half, as it was still sort of tender and easy to eat (even though it was so overcooked). The top loin required so much chewing, even when cut into teeny tiny pieces, that I just gave up part-way through and tossed it. I was planning on using the rest of the steak in a salad tomorrow night, but I'm not sure my jaw will be up to it.

So... I'm a little upset. I basically ruined an expensive piece of meat, wasting time and money on something barely edible. Maybe I should have been afraid of it in the first place. Sigh. I will probably try again at some point, once my deflated steak ego returns to its normal size, and next time if I have a thin steak I'll skip the oven completely and just sear it a little longer on each side. I have a hunch this steak would have been perfect if only I had left it on the stove.

In case anyone is reading this who has experience with grass-fed steaks, any advice for next time? Should the cooking procedure be different in any way from that of supermarket corn-fed steaks? I know the fat content tends to be lower; does that make the meat chewier to begin with? Is there a way to tenderize the meat, or is completely unnecessary to tenderize it if you can actually cook it to medium rare?

Here's to hoping I won't have to write another "how not to xyz" post for a while...


Leah said...

Oh Joanna, I'm so sorry!

I should have mentioned - and maybe I'll post an edit soon - two important things:

1. If your steak is thinner, then yes, you can skip the oven step and just keep it on the stove top. Or put it in the oven for maybe a minute or two at the most, if you take a peek and see that it's not quite cooked enough for you.

2. Don't be afraid to cut into the steak and take that peek! Even while it's still on the stove! I still do it sometimes, and I'm not afraid of cooking meat. Until you get more comfortable with what types and sizes of steaks need stove and oven or just stove (and how long for each), give yourself that visual.

Also, next time, maybe try cooking a steak without a bone in it next time, like a NY strip. The meat closest to the bone takes longer to cook. That way you'll have a more even cooking process and can get a better feel for it.

If it makes you feel better, I overcook steaks now and again too. It's an imperfect science at best. Again, sorry you had such a frustrating experience, but don't give up! I have total faith you can do it.

Joanna said...

Hi Leah, thanks so much for the extra advice! The good thing is that I'm pretty sure I understand how and why I messed this up, so next time I'll be more careful. And I do think there will be a next time, budget permitting, haha. I'm definitely one of those people who'd rather have a great steak every so often than a mediocre steak every night, but when I'm ready to splurge again I will keep all your tips in mind! Thanks again!

Leah said...

PS - I forgot to add that you were right about grassfed meats - they do cook faster. They're leaner.

Hope you're having a great time on your trip!