Since primitive man first cooked his meat over an open fire, the tradition of grilling meats has been evolving. Thick cuts of beef served with rich accompaniments enhancing the flavors of the meat - no meat eater could resist the call of such a scrumptious treat.
Luckily, the perfect steak is easy to make. All you need is a few basic ingredients and less than an hour to make a meal that any high-end steakhouse would be proud to serve. Click through to find out how to serve tender steaks topped with sautéed mushrooms and a buttery béarnaise.
There are endless variations on how to serve steak and as such only a single (delicious) variation will be covered in this particular article. Every time I prepare steak, I try a little something new and usually am delighted with the results. If readers have other great preparations chime in with comments and share your secret mojo with the rest of the Weekly Geek audience.
The three components below combine into something truly greater than the sum of the individual parts. Usually when I'm making this I try to start work on all three at the same time. The meat is salted at the start and then while the grill is heating I work on the béarnaise and mushrooms.
To find the basis of a good steak meal, one has to look no further than the name itself: steak. Selecting a good cut of beef is essential to the finished product. Personally, I'm a huge fan of the filet mignon, but other cuts can easily be used as well. So far I've also had some good experiences with porterhouse, sirloin, and T-bones.
A good, tender cut of meat will have a minimum amount of tendons and other connective tissues in it-- giving the finished steak a melt-in-your-mouth texture and a softness that can all but be cut with a butter knife. Less-than-perfect cuts can be improved by vicious beatings (tenderizing to the common man) or aging to help break down this tough tissue. Many steak houses age their beef for 20+ days in a chilled environment to let these connective tissues degrade so don't be afraid to purchase your steaks a little early and let them rest in the fridge.
The preparation of the steak itself is simple - an hour or so before grilling take them out of the fridge and dust them with salt and pepper. The flavors of the salt and pepper will absorb into the outer layer of the steak giving a nicely seasoned result. While salt and pepper are being absorbed by the steaks, let them come to room temperature. Not doing this will mean the cool center of the steak does not cook evenly on the grill.
The grill itself can be any heat source. Many will argue the merits of charcoal grills and the subtle flavors they can add, but for my money propane or even electric works so long as your chosen grilling surface is as hot as possible. Charcoals end product might be fractionally better, but dealing with charcoal is a mess and can take away from the spontanious cooking a gas grill or cast iron pan with a lid on the stove.
To my palate, the perfect steak is a nice medium rare and needs a high temperature to sear the outside while not overcooking the tender middle. Once the steaks are situated on the grill, I've found the best approach is to touch them as little as possible. Approximately halfway through the grilling process I flip them and leave them alone until they are ready to be taken off the grill. How long you should grill your steaks is highly subjective and something that takes experience and finesse to get right. Thicker steaks will need to cook longer, at slightly lower temperatures, as fatty meat is a surprisingly good insulator.
My biggest cue thus far has been texture. Raw meat is very soft and it gets progressively more firm as it cooks. You can check the "done-ness" factor by gently prodding the middle of a steak and feeling how much resistance is offered. Alternatively a grill thermometer can be used to measure the temperature of the center of the steak, aiming for 130-150 degrees depending on if you want your steak more on the rare or well done side. As a final effort you can always slice into one of the steaks for a quick peek at the center.
Once the steaks are done be sure to let them rest for a few minutes off the grill prior to serving. This lets the juices and temperatures equalize throughout the steak and gives Le Chef a few moments to delicately plate them with mushrooms and sauces.
While being of a fairly delicate flavor mushrooms themselves are a favorite of mine to pair with steak. The texture and flavor of sweet-sauteed mushrooms enhances the rich salty flavor of meat perfectly. Mushrooms stand well alone and I usually favor a fairly simple preparation. Baby portabellos are my favorite, but any type of mushroom will work beautifully so go forth and experiment.
After rinsing the mushrooms I slice them vertically (stems and all) and then saute them with a little minced garlic (or in the most recent go shallots instead). Once the garlic starts to caramelize I toss in a small extra bit of oil,vinegar, brown sugar, a pinch salt and pepper and let that simmer while the steaks grill.
Mushrooms prepared like this make an excellent side on their own, or with a little onion and bacon thrown in early on can make for a tantalizing main course.
The final point of the perfect steak trifecta is béarnaise sauce, a rich emulsion of egg and butter with tantalizing flavors of tarragon. A traditional béarnaise starts with a reduction of red wine vinegar and tarragon, but I personally like to slightly bastardize that and start my reduction with red wine and tarragon rather than vinegar.
The reduction itself is easy - simply put the ingredients together in a pot and let it boil down over a medium heat until a sludge of pure flavor remains. Add a stick of butter to this and let it melt in to form the béarnaise base.
In a glass bowl separate out two egg yolks and add a splash of acid (lemon juice or vinegar) and a pinch of salt to prepare for the emulsion. Whisk this together and then get the tarragon/butter mixture into a pourable container (Pyrex measuring cups work really well for this). Add a few drops of the butter to the egg yolk mixture and whisk well. When done properly, the egg mixture will change slightly in consistency to become slightly thicker and paler. Once this has happened, add a few more drops and re-whisk. Do this two or three more times until the emulsion has definitely started and the mixture has an even consistency. The butter should not be separated at all.
Once the emulsion is going strong start to pour a small but steady steam of the butter into the yolk mixture while whipping furiously. This step takes a little finesse and I actually failed the first few times I tried egg emulsions. Just go slow and don't be afraid to start over if it goes wrong. As long as the butter mixture is added slowly the mixture should continue to emulsify and get thicker as you go. As the butter is warm and liquid it will never become the gelatinous texture of mayonnaise (an emulsion of oil and egg yolk), but instead end up a thick creamy sauce ready to slather on steak.
And there you have it - three simple components ready to combine into the perfect steak. Pair this with mashed potatoes or grilled vegetables and enjoy with good friends. Chime in with a comment if you have another favorite steak preparation for Weekly Geek audience to try on for size.