Weird Science

13 Jul


Remember how you were always told in school that math and science were important in life?  Me, I didn’t believe it for one second.  I think my response was something along the lines of “yeah, whatever”.  But if I could, I would go back and tell my adolescent self to sit up and pay attention because, I swear, it’s true.

I use math in the kitchen constantly.  Want to scale a recipe up or down?  You’ll need to know your fractions.  Planning on putting a turkey on the table for Thanksgiving?  You’ll need to tap those times tables to figure out how much oven time Tom’s going to need.  That’s the easy side of things.  The science of cooking, I leave to the experts to figure out for me.

Like the folks at Cook’s Illustrated.  Thanks to them, I finally understand why I’ve never cooked a steak at home that is as good as ones I get at restaurants.  The answer is because I don’t understand how to make food science work for me.  As someone who loves a tender, medium-rare, slab of beef on my plate I figured it should be easy.  I was so wrong.

It’s not enough to just put it in a hot pan.  All that gets me is a charred exterior with an undercooked, bloody interior.  Or worse, with thinner cuts, a charred exterior with an overcooked, dry interior.  Neither of these are a good use of my food dollar.  So what’s the solution?  According to Cook’s Illustrated, I should be starting my steak in a low oven and finishing it on the stove.

The science of tender steaks as explained by Cook’s Illustrated:

“Our steaks spend a long time in a warm oven, yet taste more tender than traditionally prepared steaks, which can be tough and chewy.  The explanation?  Meat contains active enzymes called cathepsins, which break down connective tissues over time, increasing tenderness (a fact that is demonstrated to great effect in dry aged meat).  As the temperature of the meat rises, these enzymes work faster and faster until they reach 122 degrees, where all action stops.  While our steaks are slowly heating up, the cathepsins are working overtime, in effect “aging” and tenderizing our steaks within half an hour.  When steaks are cooked by conventional methods, their final temperature is reached much more rapidly, denying the cathepsins the time they need to properly do their jobs.”

Yeah, what they said.  Because it totally works.  Not that you have to remember all the sciency stuff.  Just remember to start low and finish hot.  See, science IS fun, and tasty too!

Pan Seared Thick Cut Steaks

Cook’s Illustrated

CI says, “Rib-eye or filet mignon of similar thickness can be substituted for strip steaks.  If using filet mignon, buying a 2 pound center cut tenderloin roast and portioning it into four 8 ounce steaks will produce more consistent results.  If using filet mignon, increase the oven time by about 5 minutes.  When cooking lean strip steaks (without an external fat cap) or filet mignon, add an extra tablespoon of oil to the pan.”

If using strip steaks, buy two thick steaks and cut each in half.  Rib-eye steaks should be cut in half and each piece tied with twine.

  • 2 boneless strip steaks, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 inches thick (about 1 pound each)
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 275 degrees.  Pat steaks dry and cut in half vertically to create four 8 ounce portions.  Season steaks liberally with salt and pepper; using hands, gently shape into uniform thickness.  Place steaks on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet and transfer to oven.

Cook until instant read thermometer inserted horizontally into center of steaks registers 90 to 95 degrees for rare to medium-rare, 20 to 25 minutes, or 100 to 105 degrees for medium, 25 to 30 minutes.

Heat oil in 12 inch heavy bottomed skilled over high heat until smoking.  Place steaks in skillet and sear until well browned and crusty, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, lifing once halfway through to redistribute fat underneath each steak.  If fond begins to burn, reduce heat.  Using tongs, turn steaks and cook until well browned on second side, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes.  Transfer steaks to clean rack and reduce heat under pan to medium.  Use tongs to stand 2 steaks on their sides.  Holding steaks together, return to skillet and sear on all edges until browned, about 1 1/2 minutes.  Repeat with remaining 2 steaks.

Return steaks to wire rack and let rest, loosely covered with foil, for 10 minutes.  Use pan to make Sun Dried Tomato Relish.

Sun Dried Tomato Relish

Cook’s Illustrated

I haven’t tried this relish yet.  But I think it would be a much better match for the steaks than the Red Wine Mushroom Pan Sauce.

  • 1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons oil packed sun dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Pour off all fat from skillet and return to high heat.  Add chicken broth and scrape browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Add pepper flakes and boil until liquid is reduced to 2 tablespoons, about 5 minutes.  Add any meat juices, tomatoes, capers, honey, olive oil, and lemon juice to pan and whisk to emulsify.  Remove pan from heat and add parsley.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Spoon over steaks and serve immediately.


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