Raising the steaks
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There is one great secret about steak. This is it: start with a great piece of meat. I will always go for something that has some dry age, which lends a more developed flavour and a slightly more tender finish.
Dry ageing basically allows moisture to evaporate from the joint and allows enzymes to start breaking down muscle fibres and connective tissue. It can be hung or placed on a rack for four to six weeks. The meat can lose up to a quarter of its weight in the process, which is why dry aged costs more.
Wet ageing is a different process, where meat is aged in a Cryovac bag for a number of weeks. There is no benefit to this. If anything, it can make the meat sour.
My preferred cut is a rib eye. I like the fact it cooks on the bone, which helps retain moisture and gives the family something to gnaw on.
The most frequent question I get from friends and diners is how to cook a piece of steak. There’s no foolproof recipe or technique. You have to be responsive to the cut, because there are so many variables – how long it’s been aged, the cut, the heat of the barbecue itself.
As a rule, salting the meat and bringing it to room temperature for an hour before cooking is a good start. I always cook on coals. When I cook the meat, I always ensure that there is an even spread of heat from the coals, with no cold spots. If you’re cooking on gas, make sure the barbecue is preheated and incredibly hot.
Turning is a contested area. It could be argued for days. I am a multiple turner. I turn the meat every two minutes or so, because I like a good even crust on the meat.
The important thing is to get to your preferred level of doneness. The French have the word “cuisson” for this, which is a nicer way of saying it.
If I want a medium-rare steak, I will cook it until it’s rare and then rest it until it cooks further. If I cook a steak for 10 minutes, I will usually rest it for a further eight to 10 minutes. It’s not a bad rule to rest for as long as you cook. I apply the same rule to roast chicken. People worry about the meat getting cold, but you can always throw it back onto the heat briefly before serving.
Everyone’s got a preferred accompaniment to meat. Mine is horseradish. I usually grate it before spiking it with mustard and whipping cream. The fresh horseradish gives you the heat and also the flavour.
The primeval urge to cook over burning embers is a treat (when I have the time), otherwise I crank up the gas barbecue in a flash.
– 1 x 600-800g rib eye
An hour before you wish to cook the meat, season both sides with plenty of sea salt. Leave the steak on a dinner plate covered with plastic wrap to come to room temperature.
Meanwhile, prepare your barbecue. If you are using wood, start preparing your fire. If you are using wood or coal, ensure the flames have subsided. A bed of hot coals is the ticket.
Pat dry the steak and brush with the bare minimum of oil. Place on the hottest part of the barbecue. As the steak sputters and smokes, the outer fat may render and cause fat flares, so move the meat away from any flames. As you move the steak about, check the underside from time to time as it cooks. A dark golden crust is desirable. Once a good crust has been established, turn the meat and continue to cook until a crust forms on the other side. Once this has been achieved, turn the meat every two minutes or so until cooked to your desired doneness.
If in doubt, take it from the heat to rest for a few minutes. If it seems a little underdone for your liking, you can always cook it a little more.
– ½ a piece of fresh horseradish
– 2 tsp Dijon mustard
– 2 tbsp cream
Peel and finely grate the horseradish until you have about two tablespoons of tightly packed horseradish.
Using mortar and pestle, pound the horseradish with a generous pinch of salt and sugar until it becomes a paste. Add the mustard and cream and stir until combined. Transfer to a serving bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve.
2013 Natalino del Prete Anne negroamaro, Puglia, Italy ($29)
– Campbell Burton, sommelier, Builders Arms Hotel
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 21, 2015 as "Raising the steaks".
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