Smoke gets in your eyes
Nobody’s called the fire department yet; but eventually somebody probably will.
And when they show up, I’ll invite them in and offer them a taste of the best home-cooked steak they’ve likely ever had.
Last week I waxed rhapsodic about well cooked, freshly milled, Southern grits. I mentioned that I like them topped with sliced steak and a light pan sauce.
A few weeks ago, I read about a technique for cooking steaks at home. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart, but I was assured it would result in the closest thing to a piece of beef from a steakhouse that’s possible in your own kitchen.
The reason that restaurants get such good results is BTU’s (British thermal units). It’s the amount of heat energy needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree F. A home oven is usually around 7,000 BTU’s per burner, while one in a professional kitchen can be upwards of 60,000. That’s a huge difference.
So what’s a home cook with a Maytag to do?
The answer is cast iron, pre-heating, and my own addition, full surface contact (this creates a breathtaking crust).
You’ll need a cast iron pan, a cast iron grill press, some butter, and a hunk of cow that you’ve allowed to come close to room temp.
Take your cast iron skillet (if you don’t own one, run, right now, to your local retailer, and buy one — and get a Lodge brand; they’re the only ones made in America and are made with high-quality cast iron, history, and care), and put it the on stove. Turn on your range hood full speed. Crank the burner up to medium high, and walk away.
Yup, just walk away. For about 20 minutes (I told you this method wasn’t for fraidy-cats).
When the skillet is so hot that it’s smoking, getting a little whitish inside and frankly starting to scare the heck out of you, heavily, heavily, season your steak with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
Drop a tablespoon or so of butter into the pan. It will smoke and darken almost instantly, but don’t worry, you want this. Then set your meat onto the smoking, buttery inferno, and cover it with the press.
Because the temp of the pan is akin to the surface of the sun, it needs to be flipped after only about 3-5 minutes. At that time, put another pat of butter in the pan, flip and re-cover with press. Leave it for another couple of minutes and remove to a warm plate. Lightly cover it with a piece of foil to keep it warm, but make sure there’s plenty of room for the steam to escape, so that you keep that wondrous crust you’ve bravely created.
Now is a good time to open a door, and watch the billowing smoke roll out of the house (this is the point in which I fully expect the fire department to show up).
Turn down burner to medium, add 2 cups of sliced mushrooms to skillet, and season with salt and pepper. Toss them around in the fat that is left, jiggle them until they’re evenly covering the pan, and let cook for a bit before stirring. The water that is released from the ’shrooms will pull up all the brown bits which will attach themselves to your veg. When the mushrooms begin to brown, add half an onion, chopped.
When the onions are golden, pour a half cup of sherry, Madeira or red wine into the pan. Cook until the wine has evaporated, then add a couple cups of beef stock and let reduce until it’s thick and glazy (about one cup).
At this point, take the pan off the heat, and stir in 2 tablespoons of cold butter (this is called mounting, and will result in a glossy, silky sauce). Taste for seasoning, and you’re done.
Thinly slice the rested steak and spoon sauce over it.
After your feast, your kitchen will be a mess. Also, the house will smell like a steakhouse, as well as your clothes, hair, and any bystanders.
But it is soooo worth it.
Thanks for your time.
Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.