It’s probably the most instinctive food we eat, taking us back to our days as hunter gatherers, there’s almost something Pavlovian in it. Long a treat and a sign of socio-economic standing, steaks are readily available to us in any supermarket and almost any restaurant (in one form or another). The problem is that even the best ones from supermarkets aren’t all that good, they’re from cattle reared expressly to get fat and to be slaughtered on an industrial scale to meet the demands of consumers. As a result the flavour, even of the best marbled ones, isn’t all that great nor is the quality. They’re fine for use in dishes where flavour comes from other places – think steak sandwiches, salads, tagliata, or steak with fries and a peppercorn sauce – but don’t make for great steak steaks.
When you’re buying steak you want it to be aged, not the bright red of newly butchered meat, it may make it look fresh, but it tends to guarantee a lack of flavour. As beef ages it takes on a darker colour and the flavour of the meat develops as the protein breaks down, this gives flavour and makes the meat tender. The real flavour though comes from the fat. The fillet may be considered the Rolls Royce of cuts, its certainly the most tender, but it’s a lean cut and thus has a mild flavour. For real flavour you want something more fatty, Sirloin is good, but better yet is the ribeye. With its eye of fat, two textures of meat and fat marbled beautifully through it, it makes for the perfect piece of meat for a steak.
It maybe pricier, but buying from a butcher (even a supermarket one) is far better than buying the pre-cut pre-packaged steaks. The price goes up, but the quality does too, and does so exponentially. The meat tends to come from better cows, that have had better lives and then been hung properly to develop the flavour. There is the additional benefit that spending more on meat means that you may eat it less, which is better for your health, the health of the animals and it’s also far better for the environment. https://londonlamppost.com/recipes-from-an-italian-butcher
The butcher is also cheaper than steak in a restaurant. Steaks in restaurants, even poor quality ones, are far from reasonably priced these days. In true steak restaurants like Hawksmoor top quality steaks can run you £45 or so for one, even more for large sharing steaks. These steaks are of course superb (in the main), but other than being expensive, they’ve also had the added downside of raising the prices of poor steaks to the unjustifiable £25-35 range even in otherwise decent restaurants. It’s got to the point now that it’s not worth ordering a steak in a restaurants except in a few places that do noting but steak. This is especially the case when for about the same as one O.K.ish steak in a restaurant you can get two thick, beautifully marbled, flavour packed steaks from a butcher that you can cook at home just as well, if not better than. A personal favourite is the Glenarm ribeye air dried for 42 day in a cave lined with Himalayan salt available at Fortnum and Masons two come in around £25-30, where for one in Fortnum’s restaurant 45 Jermyn Street will set you back £42.
When cooking your steak keep it simple. Many top chefs will have you melt butter with rosemary and garlic in a hot frying pan before adding the steak and then basting it in the butter as it fries. Don’t get me wrong, this makes for a wonderful steak, but if you have a well hung well marbled steak it’s not worth doing, it gets in the way of the natural flavour. Save this approach for less flavoursome cuts and leaner cuts.
Instead go basic with your steak (preferably a ribeye or sirloin that’s about 2cm thick). Take it out the fridge at least an hour before you plan to cook so that the meat can relax. Give the steak 10 minutes in the oven at 100-120C, turning halfway through. This helps the fat to start breaking down releasing its flavour. Mean while heat a heavy cast iron frying pan on a high heat until it starts to smoke. When it’s smoking, rub the steak with sea salt and a little olive oil and place in the pan immediately. Fry the steak for a minute and a half on each side for rare and an additional 15-20 seconds per side per degree of cooking after that. Take the steak out and rest on a plate or board for 5 minutes or so. You’ll have a steak that’s beautifully seared on the outside, rare in the middle and the fat translucent, rendered and delicious. Serve with a rocket and Parmesan salad dressed with tarragon, olive oil, and a squeeze of lemon juice.