Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The best way to pan-fry a steak

Okay, this may not be the best way, but this is the way I always do it, and it always produces a beautiful, tender, mouth-watering steak.  And I have a feeling once you give it a try, you'll find that there is no reason to head to the local steak house when you can make a fabulous dinner at home in under half an hour.

Here's how you do it.

A great pan-fried (or even grilled) steak begins with a great steak.  But you already knew that, right?  While I am always an advocate of buying what you can afford, I don't skimp when it comes to steaks.  You can always dress up cheap cuts of beef , chicken, and pork by braising and slow-cooking, but not steaks.  If you pan-fry a tough steak, you will just end up with a tough steak that tastes like shoe leather.  My favorite cuts of steak are Porterhouse, T-Bone, Rib-eye, Top Sirloin, and New York Strip.  And, of course, the filet mingon.

Once you find what type of steak to buy, you want to look at the marbling in the steak.  If the steak has little or no fat in and around it, it is a lean cut of steak, but it will not be as flavorful.  The best steaks to buy are the cuts with a good bit of thin streaks of fat running through it.  As the steak cooks, the fat melts into the meat and produces lots of flavor.  But on the other hand, you don't want to buy a steak that has a lot of thick strands of fat, because these won't melt.  Then you're just left with a steak that has a lot of grisly fat.  Yuck.

Size also matters when you are pan-frying a steak.  A thin cut of meat dries out too quickly, so look for a steak that is at least an inch thick.

Here is a handy chart for getting to know the best cuts of steak.  You may have to click on it to enlarge.

A good steak requires little preparation before frying.  I always bring the steak to room temperature for about 30 minutes to an hour before frying.  Why?  A cold steak will seize up when frying, making the steak tough.  So remember, bring it to room temperature.

While there are a number of steak seasonings on the supermarket shelves these days, I don't buy them.  Sometimes I make my own rubs depending on the recipe I am making, but for the most part I just use kosher salt and pepper.

But before you season your steak, you want to dry it on both sides completely with a paper towel.  If you fry a wet steak, you just end up steaming it.  This produces a gray slab of meat that doesn't brown no matter how long you fry it.  Again, yuck.

Now there is some controversy over whether to salt and pepper your steaks before or after you fry them.  I personally salt and pepper them about 15 minutes before frying them, wiping off any excess moisture before frying, since salt does tend to bring water to the surface of the steak.  But if you prefer to season your steak after frying, then go head.  Don't lose any sleep over it.

Just remember to use kosher salt, please.

High heat sears the surface of the steak, charring the outside of the steak while keeping the inside moist and juicy.  So don't be timid; fry the steaks at medium-high to high heat.  Just add a little bit of butter and/or olive oil before adding the steaks to the skillet.

A quick word about the type of skillet to use.  Just use whatever kind of heavy-bottomed skillet or frying pan you have.  I tend to use my cast-iron skillets a lot when frying steaks.

I add the steaks to the pan top-side down first for purely aesthetic reasons.  The steaks turn out pretty this way.

But once you have put the steaks in the pan DO NOT TOUCH THEM until you are ready to flip them over.  I repeat: DO NOT TOUCH THEM.  Just let them be, they are fine.  Don't fuss over them.  Just allow them to sear and form a nice charred crust.  If you touch and fiddle with them too much, you interrupt the browning process.

Sear them on one side for about 5-10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the steak.  I always know it is time to flip when some of the juices come to the surface of the steak.  Using tongs, flip them over to sear on the bottom.

Again, while they are searing, DO NOT TOUCH THEM.  Sear for another 5-10 minutes.

You can test for doneness one of two ways.  You can use a meat thermometer, or you can do the finger test. If using a meat thermometer, use these guidelines:

Rare: 120-degrees F
Medium-Rare: 125-degrees F
Medium: 130-degrees F

Anything above this is medium-well to well done.

If using the finger test, press the middle of the steak with your finger.  If the steak feels soft, it is rare.  If the steak feels firm, the steak is well-done.  If the steak feels a little springy, you know it is medium.

No matter how you like your steak, remove it from the pan a few minutes before it is done.  Yes, this seems counterintuitive, but trust me.  Don't cook it all the way in the pan.

After you have fried the steak to your liking, remove from the pan, place on a plate and tent loosely with foil for about 5 minutes.  This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the steak, and the steak will actually continue cooking.  The internal temperature will rise about 5-degrees, which is why I told you previously to not cook the steak to doneness in the pan.  That could potentially lead to a medium-well steak when you wanted a medium.

And there you have it.  A perfectly pan-seared steak.  Serve with your steak-house favorites such as a baked potato and steamed vegetables.

And you probably saved yourself a lot of money in the process.


PiNG aka Patti said...

I will have to bookmark this page for the next time we buy some steaks.

Tom Murray said...

The only thing I see different here from what I usually do, is covering the steak on the plate with tin foil for five minutes before serving. I am anxious to try this to see the results. Thanks.

collin cottrill said...

thank you so much, very very helpful. had the cast iron skillet out and the olive oil already. and I have the salt. but all the tips you gave are great.

mommyme said...

I live in So Florida and this method beats standing at the grill in hot and humid temperatures. Can't wait to try it tonight. Thanks for all the great tips.

Chris O said...

Just cooked my first steak doing this. Turned out PERFECT.

sup2069 said...

First time frying steak! Turned out better than the grill, steak was super juicy and right border line medium-rare/ medium. Added some soy sauce and ate alongside with eggs. YUMMY!

Shannon Green said...

Ok I have been cooking for years and sometimes I feel like I have forgotten more than I have ever learned that being said thanks for the room temp reminder

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