Imagine the scene… a lovely sunny afternoon spent relaxing and chatting with friends, you fire up the barbecue, bring out the steaks and ask the ill-fated question “How would you like yours cooked?”
All of a sudden the mood changes and you’re faced with a barrage of demands for every conceivable variation of cooked, ranging from ‘still mooing’ to ‘burnt to a crisp’! It’s enough to send even the hardiest outdoor cook running to the freezer to find the burgers.
It’s not that I’m suggesting that people shouldn’t have a choice about how they like their food cooked, far from it in fact as I’m a natural liberal and all for personal choice. The trick is managing the situation and giving everyone what they want, all served at the same time.
Personally, I find cooking steaks for a group of people my greatest culinary challenge, not because cooking them is particularly difficult, but because I like to get things spot on when I do.
So this is still one of my life’s challenges. I’ve read countless books and watched celebrity chefs demonstrate their greatness and I’m still a bit vague about how to deliver the perfect steak. As the years go by I find myself getting more tetchy when I hear or read about ‘How to cook the perfect steak’ and see images of a great lump of meat that still looks raw in the middle. That’s fine if you like it rare, but I think it might be a bit of a turn off for people who like their steak medium or well done.
I accept that, as I’ve just turned 50 I’m probably starting to morph into a grumpy old man, but while I can still be objective I thought I’d reflect on how to a cook a steak just so.
The tricky thing about steak is that you can’t actually see what’s going on inside while it’s cooking, so when it comes to cutting it on a plate I still find myself leaning anxiously forward to see just how close I’ve come to the desired outcome. I’ve cooked a few in my time but I still cringe if I haven’t got it quite right.
So with all that said I’ve developed my own way of increasing the accuracy of my ‘best guess’ and I thought I’d share it for everyone to mull over.
First, a few housekeeping rules. Your steaks should be reasonably thick, about an inch or so to ensure that the centre, if desired, is rare while the outside is cooked. Next you need to leave them out of the fridge for at least 30 minutes before cooking and lastly the steaks should be lightly coated in vegetable oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.
Now to the cooking, the key here is temperature. If you’re cooking the steaks ‘blue’, then maximum heat is required for about sixty seconds each side and the same on the fat at the edge. Use a pair of tongs for that bit.
Other than ‘blue’ you need a more moderate heat, because obviously you’ll be cooking it for longer. Once your steaks have been cooking for a few minutes you’ll notice small red spots start to form on the upper surface. At that point if you turn the steak over and cook it to exactly the same colour on the other side, your steak will be rare. Keep going without turning until the little spots get larger and start to ‘pool’, then turn it over and cook to exactly the same colour and your steak will be medium. Finally if you leave the steak cooking until the ‘pools’ start to dry and go clear, then turn it over and cook to the same colour then the steak will be well done.
I admit that this isn’t science, but it works pretty well for me. In my family we have a blue, a rare, a medium and a well done every time we have steak for tea. So all I do is pop the well done in first and then add the others one at a time, about three minutes apart to get them all ready at the same time.
Let them rest wrapped in foil while you get everyone to the table and there you go, easy!
Now then, what to serve with them. I love the traditional steak trimmings, peas, chips, grilled tomatoes and so on, but how about something a little different for a summer barbeque?
Drop a handful of rocket leaves into a white bowl then slice each cooked steak as thinly as you can and mix in with the leaves. Sprinkle over a few toasted pine nuts and drizzle over a mustard and tarragon white wine vinegar dressing, made using a light oil such as rapeseed rather than olive oil which in this instance, could be a bit heavy. This all tastes absolutely superb and the additional herb and toasted flavours add a beautiful simple depth to the steak and rocket salad. To finish, pile the salad on top of lightly toasted slices of ciabatta, done on your barbeque, to give a satisfying crunch to the ensemble.
Last but definitely not least, what drink to have alongside your plate. Red wine I hear you say! But hold that thought for a minute and let me suggest another option, a glass of chilled crisp white wine.
A nice crisp white wine in my opinion complements the flavours in this dish rather than making for a bold companion in the way that a red wine does. There are a couple of excellent wines that I would recommend that also are very good for sea food dishes but suit what we’re talking about here. Yearlstone Vineyard’s excellent white, Number 1 has a lovely zesty flavour, similar to a good German wine. An alternative suggestion from Rory at the Jolly Vintner in Tiverton (agreed after a bit of debate it has to be said) is a crisp French wine called Picpoul de Pinet which is similar to Muscadet but with less acidity. Both bottles are around the £8 mark and both extremely good.
Recipe for the dressing
The dressing for this dish is slightly sharp and bursting with flavour. For four people I used:
150ml of rape seed oil
50ml of tarragon white wine vinegar
Teaspoonful of Dijon mustard
Crack of salt and pepper and season to taste
For a whole host of ingredients and some great gift and recipe ideas, visit Iain at the Deli Shack, Tiverton Pannier Market, Monday to Saturday from 9am. Or find us online at www.presentsforfoodies.com