Why are their steaks so good?
Part of the reason steakhouse meat is so good is due to their access to specific qualities of meat. Your butcher will best emulate the restaurant access, your typical grocer will not.
The first trait to look for is thickness. A thicker steak allows for more coloring and crisping while the center is getting cooked correctly.
Second, look for marbling, the flecks of fat that permeate the meat, getting more in number as you go up in quality. Prime to Choice to Select is top down, and each step means specifically less fat content in the meat. Fat means flavor, whether beef, bacon or butter.
A restaurant always know what grade they’re buying, if it’s good they’ll tell you about it. Consumers don’t always know that. In general with steaks you get what you pay for.
There are also only a few cuts that yield quality steaks. Ribeye is usually king, with tenderloin (or filet) a close second, then a NY Strip, and Sirloin. There are made up cuts too, like flat iron or London broil. The latter used to be a flank steak, but now it is whatever the grocer says. Stick with the top four and you’ll do just fine.
The common cooking method
There is a simplicity to getting a good steak. Season with just salt and pepper, many kitchens keep a mix of four parts kosher salt to one part ground pepper. Restaurants will season more heavily than the home cook, don’t be shy. Ideally give the steak an hour to come up to room temperature, you can season before or after this.
Finally, you want it hot, really hot. A two inch steak will cook five for minutes per side on a high heat grill to achieve medium rare.
This will give a nice crust without too much charring and a good juicy interior. Last step, let the steak sit at least five minutes after removing from the grill. Heat forces the juice to move deeper into the meat, the resting time lets it relax and move juices throughout the steak.
A new player
There is another way to make a great steak that has been in commercial kitchens for a few years now. Even better, this is readily available for home use.
It is called ‘sous vide’ and is a technique to cook in a temperature controlled water bath. It’s hard to say where it started, for millennia people have put eggs and other food into hot springs to get a cooked product. But with the technology today you can precisely control the temperature and the cooking time. The device is an enclosed cylinder or rectangle with a small propeller to circulate the water, a heating element and a temperature probe. Set the temp, set the time, and it will circulate the water at the controlled temperature. Your vessel can be anything from a large stockpot to a bucket to an insulated cooler.
Restaurants will take a less tender cut like a sirloin, cook it at 125 degrees (just under medium rare) for 2 hours and get a very tender result. You read that right, two hours. With the controlled temperature the steak is tip to tip the same doneness. Finish for one minute in a really hot skillet or over high flame and you’re eating way above the pay grade for a sirloin with improved tenderness.
Cooking with water
Literally, sous vide translates as ‘under vacuum’. And the best way to use the process is by vacuum sealing your steak. Yes, you can use a zipper type bag, double bagged because the heat will make the bag softer and the zipper my fail.
Immersing the bag in water will squeeze out the extra air so the steak will stay below the water’s surface. You also want to bag one or just two steaks together otherwise they may slip and stack together, not allowing for even heat distribution.
Whichever path you take, this is what you package.
Spread evenly on both sides of each steak;
- 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
- Kosher salt
- Ground black pepper
Place in the bag on both sides of each steak;
- 1 sprig fresh Rosemary
- 1 Tablespoon slice of butter
Seal and cook in the sous vide. Sear the steaks as listed above, then let them rest for 5 minutes before serving. Aficionados of the sous vide process also know it exceptional for seafood and for custard such as burnt crème.
Like any good technique the only limit is what you can imagine!