What Did You Put on the Steak?

Last weekend I cooked for a party of friends, sharing some of my favorite dishes. There were two appetizers, a soup, and three entrées, each with a separate side dish to pair with it. Since some of the dishes had multiple parts, there was actually a total of fifteen separate components to prepare and cook. There are few things more enjoyable to me than preparing this kind of meal.

Let me admit up front that there was a little bragging going on in that last paragraph, and it has little to do with how we cook on a typical busy weeknight. But one comment from the dinner party stood out, which became the impetus for this week’s home cooking discussion.

“What did you put on the steak?" asked Sherry emphatically, with a broad smile of satisfaction on her face.

I replied, “Salt and pepper.”

Of course we went on to discuss why her steaks and mine didn’t taste the same. I realized that there were three or four reasons why the steak last weekend was so good. I’ll share. .

  1. Lots of Salt. I salt the steaks before grilling with Kosher salt, and use a lot more than most people would be willing to put on their steak. My estimate is about 3 tablespoons, maybe a little more, for 3 one-pound steaks. I also top with a few twists of fresh ground pepper.
  2. Very Thick Steaks. The steaks last week were Ribeyes, and they were cut at least an inch and a quarter thick. Between 1-¼” and 1-1/2” thick is a good size. It’s much harder to overcook a thick steak.
  3. High Quality Steak. These Ribeyes were from Central Market, a gourmet grocery with a meat counter equivalent to a stand alone butcher shop. Also, Ribeye itself is quite flavorful, as it has quite a bit of marbling (fat).
  4. Cook to Correct Temperature. Lately, I’ve been using an electronic instant read thermometer to test how cooked my meats are. These steaks were cooked to 125 degrees, and then after sitting for 10 minutes (another important step), probably ended up being cooked to 130-135 degrees – perfect medium rare.
In hindsight, I’m trying to remember if I drizzled a little olive oil on the steaks before they were cooked. I probably did, but not too much. The oil serves to keep the steak from sticking, more so than to add flavor. So maybe, OK, probably, there were three things on the delicious steaks.

This little discussion about simple steaks continues to reinforce a couple of my main themes about home cooking.

  • Find and Use High Quality Ingredients
  • Master Fundamental Techniques
Ultimately, there is experience and finesse involved in selecting, seasoning and cooking a dish that has four ingredients. Finesse might be another way of saying “Fundamental techniques, applied correctly.”

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