Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cooking School 101 or Get Your Ass in the Kitchen!

I'm a little obsessed with cooking. For a short time (about 2 hours), I actually dreamt of going to culinary school. Do you know how much that costs? I could go to a real school for less! I thought cooks were blue collar gents just trying to get ahead. I had no idea they had that kind of bankroll to educate themselves in a profession that would not allow them to pay off any student debt for decades. They're not lawyers!

Instead, I prepare glorious meals at home in a kitchen smaller than my last apartments closet. It hasn't seen a renovation since the place was built (1932). Ok, that's not true. Apparently, they updated some things in 1992. I'm assuming that's when my fridge and stove were bought second hand. Counter space is minimal at best, and is made worse by the fact that I can't seem to buy olive oil or vinegar or balsamic short enough to fit in the cabinets.

Recently, on a night out with the gals and guys, the subject of cooking came up. Everyone expressed the desire to learn to cook, or get better at cooking, or simply start cooking. Finally! Something I already did and didn't fuck up too frequently. Score one for me! The most common skill/meal mentioned to improve or learn was steak. That's it. Just steak. Not Steak Diane or Beef Wellington or Fillet Mignon. Just a plain old steak. Score two- I can do that!

Here is how to cook a steak:

1. Decide what you want to make. Check the free flyer's that land in your mailbox for what's on sale. Many grocers put that info online as well. This is a great place to start and you won't pay an arm and a leg for something you may mess up anyway. The following chart is great for figuring out what is what and how to best prepare it:
So, you found out there's a special on Strip Steak, T-Bone, Center-cut Fillets, etc. Awesome!

2. Buy a quality piece of meat (hee hee). Skip the pre-packaged cases and walk right up to the butcher. If you shop at a grocery that doesn't have a live butcher, leave immediately! Did you never wonder where the meat was coming from? How long it had been there? If there is no butcher, chances are it was shipped from another store that has one. Gross. Grab a number and check out the available cuts of your desired meat (hee hee- final one, I promise). What are you looking for? Well, that depends. The flesh should be red, not brown. The fat should resemble marble, not thick sheets. If you're not sure which one looks best, ask the butcher. That's why he's there. He wants you to get an awesome steak and continue to shop with him in the future. I prefer Strip Steaks or Center-cut Fillets myself. They also seem to go on sale at Whole Foods or Central Market at least once a month. These are also fairly lean cuts of meat, so they won't take too long to cook and won't make you feel like a haus for splurging in the first place.
[side note: Here's a trick I use: Ask the butcher to split the steak for you creating 2 fillets. That's two meals for the price of one, and it makes for a better portion size.]

3. So, you've picked out your beauty, paid for it, and are now at home. Transfer one of your steaks to a freezer bag if you won't cook it for more then 3 days, otherwise, leave it in the butcher paper and place in freezer.

4. Tools: Do you have a grill pan? No, how about a large skillet? Great! Grab that bad boy and put him right on the stove, cranking up the heat to medium high. You must work with a hot pan, or all is lost. While your at it, turn your oven on to about 300. You will also need: tongs, a sharp knife (gotta love those Santoku's!), and a table spoon. For a basic steak, you will also need: olive oil or vegetable oil, salt, pepper, butter, Worcestershire sauce. I also like to throw some onions or shallots in the pan as well, so grab too.

5. Marinate. Sprinkle both sides of your steak with salt and pepper. If you don't add salt, you will be sad later. At least a pinch of both, but no more than 1/2 teaspoon. If you are grilling your steak on a BBQ or grill pan, skip this next step. Take a shallow baking dish or freezer bag. Place your seasoned steak in said dish/bag and add several shakes of Worcestershire. The goal is to lightly coat the meat, not drown it. Gently massage the steak to embed the seasoning. Not to vigorously, or your will break apart the good fibers in the steak. Set aside.

6. Add a bit of oil to the pan- about 1-2 tablespoons. You want the bottom of the pan to be lightly coated. Julienne the onions or shallots- cut into small strips. Set aside. Your pan and oil should be pretty hot. Take the steak out of the marinade (don't throw that out yet), and place in the pan. For best results (i.e. not getting burned), lay the steak away from you. That sizzle is good! Cook each side about 2-3 minutes. You want to get a nice sear on each side (browned but not blackened). With your tongs, lift up the steak to sear the edges.

7. Add the rest of your marinating liquid and scrap up all the goodness from the bottom of the pan. Depending on what kind of pan you have, use the tongs (stainless steel) or a wooden or plastic spatula (non-stick surfaces). Add your shallots/onions and cook about 1 minute. (Grillers- skip steps 9 & 10).

8. Here's where the butter comes in. Add1-2 pats of butter (depending on size of meat) and baste the steak. Bet it smells good! (Wow, this recipe is coming out a bit cheesy, no pun intended).

9. Grab your skillet and stick it in the oven. You'll leave it in there for anywhere from 5-10 minutes depending on how you like it cooked. This is also the trial and error portion of steak cooking. How do you know when it's done? My favorite tip comes from Gordon Ramsey (seriously, if you have BBCAmerica, you must watch The F Word . It is genius. Go DVR it right now, I'll wait). If you want rare-medium, poke two fingers into your cheek. For Medium-well, poke your chin, and for Well poke your forehead. That spring you feel should mimic the spring you get from the steak. Feel free to pull the steak out half way and poke it. This is a good time to baste again or flip over.

10. Your steak is done. Yea! Pull the skillet from the oven and set the steak on a cutting board. Leave it alone! Go have a smoke, or play with your cat/god/kids. Put together a salad or finish whatever side you were cooking as well. Let it sit for at least 5 minutes. This traps the juices and goodness inside. When you're ready, slice the steak following the grain. If it is hard to cut, your cutting against the grain. It should be easy, like butter. Spoon over any gravy left in the pan and voila! You have just cooked an amazing steak. Congrats!
I hope this helped some of you, or you at least found it amusing. Others are probably telling me I'm wrong, they have the best steak recipe. Great, let's hear it! I'm always looking for new bells and whistles to add. The most important thing is that you are using your kitchen for something other than a pizza snack bar or condiment room. Try it out, and let me know how it goes! If I've learned anything from Amy Sedaris , it's that you don't need to be a professional to through a killer party or that a "Fuck It Bucket" is always a good idea.

More tales from the kitchen to follow! What do you want to hear? Questions?


  1. Damn it, I commented and forgot to type the stupid Captcha.

    I've never cooked a steak because it seemed too intimidating. I'll give it a whirl and let you know how it goes.

    I cook lots of other things. I love to cook. Just rarely do I cook meat other than fish.

  2. I use this trick for telling the doneness of a steak. Works like a charm (when I'm grilling sober).

  3. Okay Jay, so I totally tried that trick. Maybe my hands are too muscular (no laughing please), or I'm doing it wrong; but I couldn't tell a difference between medium and medium well. I'm going home to practice and will not leave until I have mastered this new art!!

  4. I know I'm a vegetarian and I don't cook meat, but I do know about food saftey. Probably not a good idea to re-use marinade after it has touched meat. Its like E coli soup. Just get more sause from the bottle:-}

  5. yes nightmer, it is not good idea to re-use marinade after it touches meat.

  6. I agree if the marinade is for chicken, fish, or pork throw it out; but for beef that's been sitting in it for less then 5 minutes- no. I can't tell you how many times I've seen chefs employ this technique. Once added to the pan, it is quickly brought to a boil killing off any bacteria. You should never store used marinade for any length of time and reuse it for another piece of meat.