Forget cake. Let’s eat steak!
If I had to pick one last meal, I would have my dad cook me a steak. His treatment is simple and, for him, fool proof. When I was a kid I remember him making it in the oven under the broiler and only venturing to the charcoal grill during nice weather. Nowadays he’s got a big gas grill out back that I think he uses year-round.
Being a Manhattanite, I’m limited to the oven. And until I read an article in the New York Times some years ago and discovered Mark Bittman (How to Cook Everything), I had been unable to duplicate Daddy’s perfectly charred-on-the-outside, pink (or bleeding!) on the inside results. (Keep in mind, my dad would probably throw a person out of his house if they asked for a well-done steak. He spent part of his childhood in France and used to eat something they call “Bleu” for blue. As I understand it, this is a hunk of meat just barely warmed on the outside, so rare you can still see any blue stamp of quality approval certifying the meat passed inspection.)
Anyway, I digress. As I recall, my attempts at cooking steak in my 20s fell flat in comparison to Daddy’s. I now realize I never got the timing right, and probably steamed or baked the meat rather than broiling it. My pan wasn’t hot enough and the surface of the meat never dry enough. Plus there’s the whole matter of choosing the right cut. For pan-seared steak, I personally like a bone-in ribeye because the bone helps retain flavor and moisture and the extra fat imparts flavor as well, but this recipe would work just as well for a T-bone, porterhouse, filet or New York strip. Flank steaks and some other cuts are better off being marinaded to tenderize them.
On to the recipe. (Note, for a little extra guidance, google “New York Times steak cast iron recipe.” You’ll find a few options that may clarify the thinking here. In my experience, trying about three times taught me how to work perfectly with my own oven.)
Lightly oil a cast-iron skillet. Put it on your top oven rack and crank the temp up to broil.
As the pan heats, unwrap the steaks and THOROUGHLY pat them dry on both sides using a paper towel. Make sure to sop up any liquid that accumulates on the surface you’re working on. I like to use a plate rather than a countertop or chopping board so that I can just pop the plate in the dishwasher and not worry about any contamination on my board or counter. When I was younger, I used to rinse all meat under running water before I cooked it, but then a pro told me that was pointless since any bacteria on the surface of the meat would be killed in cooking and anything inside won’t be helped by water on the outside. Really, splashing all that water around just creates the possibility of spreading bacteria around your sink.
The important part about patting the meat dry is to get rid of any surface moisture that would prevent the exterior from essentially carmelizing, meaning getting a nice char on beef or pork, or crispy skin on chicken.
Next, I stab the steak all over with a fork to tenderize it. (Honestly, I don’t even know if Daddy still does this, or if it works, but he used to do it and I always have. Now that I think about it, I wonder if creating the holes might actually release juices during cooking, which would be bad. Must investigate!)
Apply small smears of butter to both sides, as well as AMPLE salt and pepper. Under-seasoning is big mistake here. And here’s a thought I just had. Traditionally I have splashed the meat with liquid smoke, but I just realized as I typed – BAM! – that this adds moisture and may impede charring. Must eliminate and see what happens. In any case, I do recommend a sprinkle of lemon pepper for added flavor. Again, full coverage of all seasonings on BOTH SIDES of the steak. (Okay, maaaaybe I went a little overboard with the butter here.)
Now, the pan that has been heating in the oven should be smokin’ hot. Don’t add the steak before the oven reaches broil!
Then quickly open the door, slide the pan out and lay the steak in the pan, being careful not to splash yourself with the oil. Quickly slide the pan back in and close the door.
Here’s the tricky part. This really depends on your oven and the thickness of the steak. Bittman calls for three to four minutes per side. In my experience, the steak needs to be a little more than an inch thick for this to work. SET A TIMER! Don’ t estimate!
A novice won’t usually be able to detect perfect doneness without cutting into the steak, but please make only a tiny cut with the tip of a knife to keep too many juices from seeping out. Otherwise let the meat rest for five minutes before cutting to seal in the juices and maintain moisture. Et Voila: