Food & Drink

How to Pan-Sear a Steak

In his cookbook, Momofuku chef David Chang distills the art of cooking a steak into koan-like simplicity: "Season It. Sear It. Roast It. Bake it. Rest it. Slice it. Eat it." With apologies to the chef, and a nod from his co-author, Peter Meehan, here’s our answer to the ultimate cold-weather culinary dilemma.

Illustrations: Tobatron

Warm It.
Before your meat cooks, it must warm. Even if you like your meat rare, it’s basic steak-cooking wisdom to start with a room temperature piece of meat to ensure the thing cooks evenly and predictably. Oh, and while you’re watching your meat lose its chill, heat your oven to 400 degrees.

Season It.
Get your cast-iron skillet (Gilt MAN Essential #10, by the way) good and hot, and salt the hell out of the steak (“like you’d salt a sidewalk in New York in the winter,” Chang writes). Then throw on some—but slightly less—freshly ground pepper.

Sear It.
The following times are for a steak at least an inch thick, around two pounds in weight. With a hot pan and steady heart, throw your meat on the pan. Then leave it alone. Be attentive but hands off, like a good father at the playground. After two minutes, the meat should separate easily from the pan. Once it does, flip it. Do something else for two minutes. Anything but poking, prodding and jostling. After your second two minutes, lift the steak with tongs, then stand it up in the pan, fat side down—sizzling—for 30 seconds.

Bake It.
Put the pan, containing the steak, into the oven. Do something else for eight minutes. Stretching is always good. Crack a cold beer if you have one.

Baste It.
Put a mitt on your hand. (Trust us, you’ll only forget to do this once.) Take the pan from the oven and put it over a low heat. Add 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter, some thyme, a shallot, and three cloves of garlic. Tilt the pan—with mitted hand—at a 45-degree angle. Using a spoon, pour the butter pooled at the bottom of the pan onto the steak. You should now be salivating. That’s fine. Just don’t do it over the steak. Instead, keep basting. Do this for two or three minutes. Poke your steak. If it feels like the flesh from the web of your thumb when you’re making a gentle fist—you know the kind, like when someone’s a jerk-off and you illustrate that with a certain hand motion—it’s medium rare. Now would be a good time to take it off the heat and put it onto a plate. Cooking a nice steak any further is a sign of insufficient moral fiber.

Rest It.
Sometimes cooking a steak is like dating a girl in college, when she’s great but you’re immature and not ready to settle down. Sometimes, that is, you have to walk away and let it rest. Thankfully, steaks don’t go on to date other people. Don’t worry, after ten minutes, your steak will still be there and the juices will have been absorbed by the meat. And you two can finally get down to business.

Slice It.
Cut the meat from the bone. Cut your steak into half inch thick slices. Put these slices onto a plate. Gently reheat the pan and pour some of the fat/butter/garlic deliciousness over your steak.

Eat it.
Self-explanatory, but best done with gusto.

Adapted from the Momofuku Cookbook, by David Chang and Peter Meehan, $40.

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  3. Justin says:

    What kind of steak?

  4. Michael says:

    typo: “After your second two minutes, lift the hold the steak with tongs, then stand it up in the pan, fat side down—sizzling—for 30 seconds.”

  5. Huai says:

    no cooking oil?

  6. jimmeh says:

    I like the sense of humor in these articles.

  7. Jeff says:

    What about preparing the meat before searing it? I’ve heard that you should wash the meat with water (to remove any bone flecks as well as the outer “film” that accumulates during storage) and then blot it dry before seasoning. I’ve also rubbed on some olive oil and had success, but I’ve heard mixed things about this as well.

  8. Andrew says:

    What are your thoughts about putting a lid on the skillet when Searing?

  9. Daniel says:

    At what temperature do you bake it?

  10. Richard says:

    Daniel – You gotta put it in the oven at the BROIL (or highest possible setting).

    Jeff – you can wash the meat with water if you want, doesn’t really make a difference. As far as oil goes, you need to use a high temperature oil or you will have unruly amounts of smoke from the sear and broil processes. I recommend grapeseed oil. Also, you should put your cast iron skillet in the oven to warm it up. Putting a cold skillet on the burner/range/coil/whatever is not as effective as putting a hot skillet on.

    And why are the instructions for a 32 oz. steak? That’s impractical. Also, skip the shallots, butter, etc. That’s stupid and overpowers the taste of meat…we’re making steak here, not a roast. Stick with salt and pepper. Float some garlic butter on top of the steak before it goes into the oven if you must, but unless you have a super-hot oven, it won’t crisp and will dilute the steak’s flavor.

    Lastly, do not slice the steak before serving. What is the point of this…you lose juice and presentation. Cut against (perpendicular in this case) the grain as you eat for the softest, most melt-in-your-mouth bites. Use a ribeye steak.

    - Commercial Chef for 18 years, 12 years at Ruth’s Chris

  11. Richard says:

    Use a meat thermometer to get your steak to that perfect rare/med-rare.

  12. Timothy says:

    Just used this recipe with a top sirloin fillet. Served with garlic mashed potatoes and sweet peas. Delicious! Note: this might be too much cooking for a smaller steak. Be careful and adjust your cook times!

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