Sunday, June 28, 2009

A simple steak (ruined)

I don't eat a whole lot of beef, as you know if you've been reading a while and paying attention, and even less as a big slab of meat. I recently finished the last piece of the half a tenderloin I bought last November. (It froze quite well and that last piece seemed just as good as the first.) That worked out well so when I saw a good deal on sirloin yesterday I bought one to have it around just in case a good use turned up.

Meanwhile, I'm trying, only two years behind the curve, the Zuni Cafe roast chicken recipe. You probably already know about it, but it's a very simple preparation that relies on simple straightforward seasoning and careful cooking to get the most out of the meat. It's an interesting approach that I haven't often taken, but I find philosophically pleasing. So when I saw a Good Eats recipe for sirloin that is similarly humble in seasoning and complicated in technique, I thought I'd give it a try. It should be good for honing my skills at the very least.

Sirloin Steak
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown

Prep Time: 2 min
Inactive Prep Time: 5 min
Cook Time: 16 min

Level: Easy [says you]

Serves: 4 servings

* 1 1/2 pounds sirloin steak, 1 to 1 1/4-inches thick
* 2 teaspoons olive oil
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven on broiler setting. Make foil 'snake' out of aluminum foil to use to keep oven door slightly ajar so that broiler won't turn off if it gets too hot.

Brush steak with oil and salt and pepper, to taste.

Place a piece of foil on the bottom rack as a drip pan. Place another rack in the position above this and put the steak directly on this rack.

Cook steak in this position for 5 minutes. Flip steak and cook for another 5 minutes.

Move rack with steak to top position in oven, moving rack with foil and drippings just underneath, and cook for 3 minutes. Flip 1 last time and cook for another 3 minutes.

Transfer steak to wire rack and rest for 3 to 5 minutes. The above times are for medium doneness. Adjust cooking times up or down as desired.

My steak was on the thin side and I wanted it medium rare so I cut a minute off of each of the first two steps and thought I did for the latter two, but I misremembered them as 4 minutes each. This is what happens when I have the recipe displayed on the computer screen in the other room when I'm trying to cook in the kitchen.

It looks passable on the outside, I guess, but it's well done--just about ruined. I don't know a lot about cooking steaks and I could use some advice here from those who do. Are those times obviously too long for 3/4" thick steak? Are there warning signs I should have been looking out for? I did notice a good bit of juices accumulating on the foil under the meat, but it was mostly grease so I figured it was OK.

It's edible in a pinch, but not presentable. Still, I can tell that the flavor would have been good if I hadn't left it in the oven too long. And that's without marination, added fat, spice rubs or the like. There's some promise here, but I may ruin a few more steaks before I get the hang of it.

As for the Zuni chicken, I'm going to start the temperature low and the cooking time short before I start checking it. Better safe than another ruined dinner.


kat said...

This is why I let Matt cook the steaks around here. He seems to just be able to tell by touch when they are perfectly done.

billjac said...

It just takes practice, I figure. If I'm serious about learning to cook steak (and I'm actually pretty sure I'm not), I need to learn the signs of different levels of doneness and how to adjust for an individual piece of meat. It's a serious area of expertise I'm sure.

LaDivaCucina said...

I use the poke the finger and see if its done method. This takes practice. If you poke the steak and it goes well into the meat without much resistance, you know it's pretty rare. As you'll get less resistance the longer it cooks, you'll know you've overcooked it. I would poke with a finger and then cut into the meat until you learn this easy method!

billjac said...

That sounds easy enough. At least if I'm working on the stovetop where the steak has easy poking access instead of this silly pretend-my-oven-is-an-upside-down-grill method. Maybe I should stick with that for a while.

Russell Hews Everett said...

Hmm steak advice.

One thing I do (inspired from what I hear the Zuni Cafe does with its roast chickens) is use salt. LOTS of salt. Do a quick salt cure by dredging the steak in salt to the point of where it looks like a saltlick. The key is timing. For a 1/2" to 3/4" steak let it salt 15 minutes, then wash all the salt off. Dry the steak, then pepper, olive oil, and a bit less salt than you'd normally use. Even 15 minutes in the cure helps keep it moist and juicy, and this helps make sub-par cuts taste like a million dollars. For thicker steaks go longer, I did some Spencer steaks (rib-eyes) that were about 1 1/4" thick this last weekend, gave them a half hour or so, came out perfect. I almost always grill them though, because I like the wood smoke and grill marks.

As for doneness, you can use an instant read thermometer and shoot for 130-135 for medium-rare. Or you can do the fingertips test which I quite like.

Remember to rest it for 10-15 minutes and that carryover heat will cook it another 5-10 degrees.

Also, steaks are not about dieting or healthiness, so throw a pat of compound butter on it while it's resting...

billjac said...

The salt cure is a really interesting idea. I can see how it would add flavor, but how does it keep the meat moist? I always thought brining kept meat moist by supplying water for it to soak up and the salt just added flavor. I don't see an obvious mechanism, especially one that could work in just 15 minutes.

I'm making the Zuni chicken tonight. I didn't expect the dry brine to keep it juicy but I sure do hope it does.

Russell Hews Everett said...

There's an explanation of the process here The whole saltlick steak thing has been causing forum discussions for several months over at The Virtual Weber Bullet

billjac said...

That's interesting stuff. I'm not entirely convinced by the explanation, but I don't have to know exactly why it works since most everyone agrees that it does. I'll give it a try next time I'm in a steak mood.

LaDivaCucina said...

I've heard about the salt method too....