Anthony Puharich has been in the business of premium meats for 19 years. Providing cuts for restaurants such as Quay, Aria and Sepia, while running the Victor Churchill retail branch, you can bet he knows the difference between a good steak and a great one. Here are his 10 steps to coming first place in the steak department.
1. Talk to your butcher
Puharich highly recommends asking your butcher as many questions as possible. Some things that should be high on your list of questions include: where their meats are sourced, how the animal was raised and whether it was grass-fed or grain-fed.
“A grill or a pan or a barbecue can't perform miracles. If you don't start with a good piece of meat, invariably when you cook it, it won't end up being a good piece of meat.”
2. Choose a cut
If you’re not too practised, go for a scotch fillet or rib eye (they’re the same but the latter is simply on the bone). “They’ve got a real good texture so they'll be soft and tender. And they're premium cuts of meat; it's harder to bugger up or stuff up a premium cut of meat,” explains Puharich. “But as you become more confident in terms of grilling a steak then you can start exploring other cuts of meat like rump cap or bavette.”
Your steak should be about an inch thick. Rib eyes and scotch fillets at that thickness should weigh somewhere between 250 and 300 grams. Too thin and it’s difficult (or impossible) to reach your desired level of ‘done-ness’. Too thick and you might burn the outside of the steak trying to get the middle just right.
3. Choose a method
“We live in a great country with great weather generally, so it's nicer to be outdoors and cooking on a barbecue. For me, the ultimate in terms of getting the very best out of a piece of meat is cooking over wood or charcoal.” However, a gas stovetop will serve you very well. But make sure you have a good quality, heavy-based cast-iron pan, which distributes the heat evenly.
“If you have to cook over electric, then I'd encourage you to cook your steaks over a barbecue because electricity struggles to get the proper, good, consistent heat.”
4. Prep your steak
Give your steak 20 to 30 minutes to come to room temperature. “That'll do one really important thing and that is: allow you to cook your meat more evenly. You won't get a cold spot in the middle of your steak which the heat has struggled to penetrate to.”
Puharich is in the habit of oiling the steak instead of the heat element. While it’s not as important when you’re cooking over a pan, it has the advantage of minimising flare-ups over a barbecue. He adds a bit of salt at this stage too.
5. Turn on the heat…and wait
Stretch your patience and heat your pan for 10 to 15 minutes before you start cooking: “It's important to get it piping hot, because you want to create that beautiful, beautiful thick caramelised crust on either side of the steak.”
6. First one side…
“In my opinion, the best level of done-ness in terms of getting the most out of a piece of steak in terms of tenderness, juiciness and flavour is medium-rare,” says Puharich. To get there? “As you start to see it start to smoke up, turn the gas back a little bit somewhere between medium and high and throw your steak straight on there.”
“You can lift it to make sure it's caramelising nicely, but after three or four minutes you should have that beautiful, nice caramelised crust on one side.”
7. Then the other…
Show restraint: “You see guys around a barbecue, with a beer in one hand and a pair of tongs in the other, who are constantly prodding and flipping and turning the steak. In my book, it's kind of a cardinal sin because it releases all those juices and those flavours which you want to be locked into the meat.”
Again, this side should need three to four minutes for a medium-rare steak.
Check by pressing your finger against the surface of the steak as it cooks to get a feel for when it’s done. Puharich concedes that telling how done a steak is takes a bit of practice and experience, but you’ll start to get a feel for it: “You want a certain level of resilience. You don't want it to be too soft because then you know your meat is a little bit underdone and not cooked through, so more on that rare side. If the meat’s very firm to touch then you've overcooked it, and it's more towards well-done.”
This is what Puharich calls “one of the forgotten steps” of cooking a steak. Set your steak aside and cover loosely with foil. A general rule of thumb is to rest your steak for half its cooking time. “[This] relaxes the piece of meat and allows the natural juices to disperse evenly throughout the fibres, so you get that much more juicier, more tender piece of meat.”
Season again if you feel it needs it. But otherwise, appreciate the flavours you’ve just coaxed from your cut.
“I prefer to leave them on the side and let people choose if they want a sauce or a condiment or a mustard or a horseradish cream,” says Puharich on complementing a steak.
“If you’re making a serious investment in a piece of meat - which nowadays you have to, because a good piece of meat costs a decent amount of money – wouldn’t you prefer to taste the natural flavours?”
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