Getting that Perfect Steak Crust
I have seen one too many gray steaks on social media, looking like they have been boiled in a pot. There are a few basic steps you can take to making your meat look perfect.
Most importantly, how thick the steak is cut, and the amount of marbling in the steak will dictate how accurately you can cook the steak and how much it caramelizes in the pan. With a thicker steak, the margin of error is greater for getting that perfect temperature, and when you have more fat, there will be more of it rendering, that rendered fat transfers heat and caramelizes the meat, as opposed to it "steaming" itself.
Here at Frankie's Free Range Meat, we cut our steaks thick enough for this, and if the steak is a bit too lean, you can always baste the outside with tallow (if you aren't pan searing), or any type of fat, clarified butter is great too.
Initially, you want to dry your steak out on a rack in the fridge for 1-3 days. When the outside is dry, it crisps up a lot easier. This step isn't 100% necessary, but is a nice touch.
What we definitely want to do is season the steak at least 1 hour before cooking, a natural sea salt preferably, this can also be done several times in advance to layer the seasoning. IE once lightly at 24 hours, again at 2 hours, again at 1 hour.
For the pan, carbon steel or cast iron are ideal, stainless steel and ceramic can be used as well, you just want to be careful to avoid pans that emit carcinogens, such as non stick, aluminium, certain other coatings.
Pre-heat your pan on medium-high for several minutes, if the pan is too hot the steak will obviously burn, if its not hot enough, the steak will "steam," and it will be almost impossible to get a nice crust.
There is a lot of conventional cooking wisdom that you shouldn't move the steak, leaving it for several minutes on each side. That can work, but its hard to do without a perfect heating surface, which most people don't have.
So by frequently moving our steak around the pan, and flipping every 10-20 seconds, we are able to evenly brown the outside. This works well for several reasons:
1. The pan is constantly losing heat where the steak is placed, by shifting it around you are exposing the steak to frequent high heat.
2. If the steak stays on one side too long it will not brown or cook evenly, if we flip it constantly, we are able to control the rate it is browning.
3. Internal cooking is reduced, as the steak has time to diffuse heat out of the center when flipped often, this allows you to finish it in the oven to a perfect temperature.
As soon as the steak is a deep brown on both sides, we take it out of the pan, back on to a rack, and put it in the oven. Depending on how fast you want to eat, you can broil it, or put it anywhere from 300-400 Fahrenheit. Use an instant-read or probe thermometer to take the temperature. 115 for blue rare, 118 for rare, 123 for medium rare, and 127 for medium
Most people prefer grass fed meat cooked to a rarer temperature, as it tends to get very tough when cooked well done. People are used to the unnatural tenderness of grain fed beef, which is because the animals are very inactive living unhealthy lives. By sourcing grass fed, pasture raised, and free range animal products, you are getting a superior flavor, more nutrition, and supporting happier animals.
- Frank Tufano