The Best Way to Cook a Steak

May 31, 2024
Dining & Wine
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At Twelve, a waterfront restaurant in Portland, Maine, the hottest seat in the house is right by the plancha, where you pick up a few tricks (and a little perspiration) while watching line cooks prepare steak after steak. On a recent visit, Everette Allen, the chef at the protein station, made about a dozen strip steaks in an hour.

He seasoned each slab with salt, white crystals visible on the red meat. Then, he seared the steak’s fat cap running along its side by holding it up with tongs perpendicular to the hot metal plancha. After browning both sides of the steak, hard and fast in its own sizzling fat, he transferred it to the oven to finish cooking.

When Mr. Allen placed the dish in front of me, I knew I was in for something special.

For those nights when a chef isn’t making your steak dinner — and when you don’t want to turn on the oven at home — a stovetop butter baste is the way to go.

The simple method, a classic French technique called arroser, or to baste, involves searing the steak, then adding butter and aromatics like garlic and fresh herbs, and tilting the pan to spoon the pooled butter repeatedly over the meat to gradually bring the internal temperature up to about 120 degrees. As it rests off the heat, the steak will continue rising in temperature to reach a lovely medium-rare. Butter basting your steak helps you achieve an even, rosy pink interior, juicy and full of promise, rather than a distinct red line in the center, which is often tough and somehow both hot and cold at the same time (like seared ahi tuna, and not in a good way).

Hannah Ryder, the chef de cuisine of Twelve, said butter basting works only when the butter is “hot and foaming,” so that its high heat can help elevate the temperature within the steak, as well as form a nice crust. If your butter isn’t foamy, she said, “you’re kind of just washing away that sear with flat butter,” which is watery. Another definition for arroser, in French, is “to water,” but that’s not what we want with steak cookery.

In fact, Ms. Ryder suggests listening for “the little popping of the thyme leaves,” a good indicator that your butter is hot enough for a proper baste.

Here’s one more tip: The No. 1 trick to cooking steak at home is hiding all of your smoke detectors. “No matter what, that thing will go off,” Ms. Ryder said. (Of course, put them back right afterward.) All this to say, you need high heat to cook a great steak at home. But that’s only half of it: You also need a gentler, more even heat, in the form of an oven or, as in this recipe, a tried-and-true butter baste.

When a seared steak is finished with a hot shower of fat, its center cooks gently and evenly, and its outsides develop a bronze crust infused with whatever you choose to add. In this recipe, ginger, garlic and herbs lend their aromas, and the ginger leeches out its sugars, which caramelize, making the pan sauce shiny and sticky. It’s an overall effect that a quick and hard sear alone cannot duplicate.

While the steak rests, raw asparagus can be stir-fried in the savory pan juices. A splash of soy brings you home, especially once served with white rice to soak up the beef’s buttery remnants, and a spritz of lime resuscitates the palate coated in fat.

This steak might not make you feel as if you’re in a restaurant, because you’ve cooked it yourself. But you’ll appreciate the taste, and the view. It’s the hottest seat in the house.

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