February 16, 2012
How to cook a steak perfectly: low heat, long time

steak I.JPG

I just heard back from Jenny Cavaliere, the farmer in Oregon House who owns and operates High Sierra Beef (see the original story here). She tells me the new farm store is in the process of being fully stocked and that the best time to visit is in early March. The store is open Saturdays and Sundays until 3 p.m. We're already planning a trip. If you're thinking of doing something similar, be sure to bring along an ice chest to pack the meat for the drive home (about 90 minutes). That way, you don't have to hurry to leave Oregon House and you don't have to worry about spoilage.

Until then, I thought I would offer a few thoughts on a recent steak I cooked, a rib eye from Prather Ranch that I bought at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. It was nearly two inches thick and could easily feed two. Previously, I have written about the "cowboy steak" sold at Corti Brothers. Back then, I was using my time-tested method of searing the steak on one side in the pan over high heat on the stovetop, then promptly putting it in a 450 degrees oven to finish. The results were very impressive: a nice crust that brings out more meaty flavor, and perfect results inside -- a very thick steak cooked all the way through without burning the outside.

Well, now I'm using a better method, one touted by Nathan Myhrvold, author of "Modernist Cuisine," the $625 cookbook and publishing sensation for professional chefs in search of new methods and foodies grappling with a bad case of OCD. Myhrvold wants us to cook with low heat -- as low as your oven can get, which is usally about 200 degrees.

Steak II.JPG

But first start with high heat on the stovetop. Get the pan smoking hot and get a nice crust on one side of the steak. That takes about two minutes, but keep an eye on it. Turn the steak and promptly place it in a baking pan in the oven. Cook it for about an hour.

Actually, because of the thickness of this steak pictured here, it cooked for about 80 minutes to reach medium-rare (about 130 degrees). You'll need an instant-read thermometer to get it right -- the best one is the Thermapen (very expensive, but it's so quick and reliable you'll soon see that it's worth it.

OK, the steak is ready. Then it can rest for about 10 minutes covered on the countertop before serving.

There are a couple of key things to notice in the picture below. For a steak so thick, look how evenly it is cooked from the outside to the center. It is practically uniform. At higher heat, you won't see that. It will be more cooked closer to the service, and rarer in the middle. Also, there were almost no lost juices in the pan or, after slicing, on the cutting board. The steak ate beautifully. It was exceptionally tender, and the marbling provided even more flavor with low-heat cooking.

If you plan to visit Cavaliere's farm store -- or if you buy a great steak from one of our local markets -- give this method a try. Don't forget to use a good finishing salt before serving. For more on that, the book "Salted" by Mark Bitterman is highly recommended.


Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

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