HOW TO COOK THE PERFECT STEAK
How would you like your steak?” Unless we’re gourmets, having to cook steaks to order for family and friends can be challenging. Even ordering in a restaurant can be daunting. How often do we play it safe by asking for medium because we fear saying the ‘wrong thing’ or because we’re not really sure?
The good news is that a little knowledge and confidence in our own preference can overcome any reticence and turn us into accomplished cooks and happier diners.
The following guide covers the six grades of cooked steak from blue to well-done, their key preparation times and the little-known yet very handy ‘touch test’.
A handy guide to cooking great steaks
The temperature at the centre of a piece of meat gives an accurate indication of the extent to which is cooked but there are other methods that dispense with the need for a meat thermometer. One is timing, the other is the touch test. Here’s how it works.
Hold out your non-dominant hand, palm up and relaxed. With the index finger of the other, gently prod the fleshy area between your thumb and the base of your palm. There is very little resistance. This is what raw meat feels like.
Now make a circle with that thumb and its index finger. The muscle at the base of the thumb tenses up slightly. This is what rare meat feels like.
As you repeat this process with the middle, ring and little finger, the muscle below the thumb tenses further each time. Miraculously, the feel of that muscle corresponds to the feel of a steak at its further stages of cooking: medium/rare, medium and finally well done.
So if you touch the steak as it cooks, and compare it with the feel of your other hand, you’ll know exactly when to stop cooking it. With a little practice anyone can become an expert steak chef.
There is also a ‘face test’. On a person of average build, the different feels of your cheek, chin and forehead correspond to a rare, medium and well-done steak. The face test, however, is not as hygienic as the touch test because while we all wash our hands before cooking few of us wash our faces.
The six degrees of “doneness”
Inevitably, the touch test is a rule of thumb so timings for cooking are approximate and based on a 1-inch-thick sirloin steak, at cool room temperature, placed in a hot pan.
Note, it is advisable to brush both sides of the raw steak lightly with oil before hand to avoid it sticking, and afterwards to rest the cooked steak for 3-4 minutes before serving as this improves the texture.
The touch test for blue steak is the same as for raw meat described above. Sear the steak for one minute either side in a hot pan and for a few seconds on each of the outer edges using tongs.
All but the outside of the steak will look raw. If you use a meat thermometer, the steak’s internal temperature will be less than 29C.
Gently press the tip of your index finger to the tip of your thumb. The flesh beneath your thumb will give quite a bit when prodded. This is what a rare steak feels like.
To achieve this, sear the steak on both sides for 2½ minutes and using tongs, sear the narrow outer edges for 10 seconds each. The inner two-thirds of the steak will remain blood-red. (Internal temp: 30-51C)
Lightly press the tip of your middle finger to the tip of your thumb. Notice how the flesh beneath your thumb feels a little firmer. This is what a medium rare steak feels like.
Sear the steak on both sides for 3½ minutes. When cut, the steak will range from brown on the outside to pink and moist with a narrow, blood-red centre. (Internal temp: 57-63C)
Bring together the tip of your ring finger and thumb and the flesh beneath your thumb starts to feel firm. This is what a medium steak feels like.
Sear the steak for 4 minutes on each side. Only the inner 25 per cent of the steak will remain pink and moist. (Internal temp: 63-68C)
For medium well-done, cook for 5 minutes each side. (Internal temp: 72˚-77C)
Placing your little finger and thumb together, the flesh beneath your thumb will become decidedly firm. This corresponds to the feel of a well-done steak.
Sear the meat for 6 minutes each side. It will appear dark on the outside and evenly cooked to a light grey-brown colour throughout and have a dry texture. (Internal temp: 77C +)
In addition to the six principal degrees of ‘doneness’, there are two others worth mentioning. Steak tartare refers to a finely chopped or minced raw beef steak often served with onions, capers and seasonings such as Worcestershire sauce and sometimes including a raw egg yolk.
The Pittsburgh rare steak, or ‘black and blue’, has recently come back into fashion. It is a steak that has been cooked momentarily at a very high temperature so that it is charred on the outside yet raw in the centre.
Its origins are uncertain but may lie with Pittsburgh’s steel mill workers in the early 20th century who are said to have cooked steaks on the side of the blast furnace or on a cooling piece of steel during their lunch breaks.
That’s one steak you would not wish to touch during cooking.
Source: The Telegraph Lifestyle