Cooking as a whole can be super complex and difficult to get into thanks to how overwhelming it is.
Unfortunately for some, steak is no different. It is by far one of the better dishes however there is just so much that goes into any steak when it comes to preparing and cooking it.
How would you like your steak cooked?
It’s a question you are asked whenever someone cooks for you. It doesn’t matter if it is at a friend’s house or at a restaurant, the question is inevitable if you ask for a steak.
There are many levels of doneness, as it is called, that we will discuss soon. They range from being very cooked to being rather uncooked on the inside.
All are delicious in their own special way so it is down to you to decide which way suits you.
The easiest way to understand the levels at which a steak can be cooked is to compare it to a compass. You have your main four points, North, East, South, and West. However, you then have secondary points such as North West, and South East for example.
The same can be said about steak as you have Well-done, Medium, Rare, and Blue yet you also have Medium-well and medium-rare.
Even if you order the blue steak, the outside will still be cooked. It is only really the inside that changes in appearance, taste, and texture.
A blue steak will have seared edges with a very bloody center that melts in your mouth. While a well-done steak is consistently cooked throughout and will be more tough and chewy.
At any level of doneness, a steak can still be enjoyed. However, it can be tough to understand all of the different levels, so if you would like to learn more then read our article on the different levels of doneness.
How to check if your steak is cooked correctly
After deciding how you want to cook your steak, it is time to go about understanding how to get it to the perfect point. For this, there are two main methods that will help you get the perfect steak.
Before letting your steak sit idle and cook, you must sear all the edges and sides first. This consists of putting the heat as high as possible as you want to hear an audible sizzle when the steak touches the pan.
Timing The Steak
This is by far the easiest way to do it. Simple ensure that your pan is on the hob, or any heat source, evenly so that it is the same temperature all over, and cook for the specified amount of time.
After searing the steak all over, simply leave it on one side to cook until turning it over to cook on the other side for the same amount of time.
A well-done steak will take about 5-6 minutes per side where a rare steak will take 2-3 minutes per side.
The timing method does work but is unpredictable as steaks come in all shapes and sizes, and your heat may not be the same temperature as the person who recommends these times is.
The Finger Test
The finger test is really simple and if you have a hand, then it can be done! All it is is checking the tension of the muscle under your thumb while your thumb is in different positions.
If you have your palm facing upwards but your thumb relaxed then that muscle is how a blue steak should feel when being touched.
If your thumb is touching your index finger, then the muscle has the same texture and feels like a medium-rare steak.
If you are looking for the texture of a well-done steak, then touch your thumb to your little finger and the muscle will be as hard and tense as a well-done steak should feel.
if you use both of these methods together then there is no way your steak will not be perfect.
Salting A Steak
One of the main ways you can easily season a steak is to salt it. A lot of people say that using salt, pepper, and some olive oil will yield one of the best flavors imaginable, and I must agree. It is something I do myself whenever I eat a steak at home.
How Salt Adds Flavor
There is a common misconception that salt brings out the flavor in most foods, and while it is not true, there is some science to explain why people think that.
Salting any food will suppress the bitterness that you taste from it, allowing for your taste buds to perceive all the other flavors coming from the food.
On top of this, salt also gets rid of the flavorless moistures that foods will naturally have. This then makes the aroma of the food less diluted and more intense.
Not just the flavor of salt helps, but the texture does too! Salt acts as a natural tenderizer which makes the food have a better texture and a richer mouthfeel. Essentially, salt is your best friend when it comes to making gourmet meals at home!
How Salt Tenderizes Steak
When salt is applied to a steak, it acts as a form of ‘dry brining’. The salt will then draw all liquids and moisture out of the steak, get dissolved by said liquids, and then reabsorbed back into the steak via osmosis.
While the salt-infused liquids are inside of the steak, all of the protein cells will start to break down due to the salt, which then tenderizes the steak and improves the texture.
The Maillard Reaction: What is it?
While it may overwhelm you by its name alone, the Maillard reaction is quite simple to understand.
In essence, the Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction between amino acids and a reducing sugar, more often than not this reaction will require heat. It is most comparable to that of caramelization as it changes both the color and flavor of the food.
The reaction requires high heat before it takes place. If you were to cook a breast of chicken at 200F, then the chicken breast would look slightly cooked, despite being fully cooked. Whereas, if you were to cook the same bit of meat at 300F instead, the chicken will be brown and look how you would expect a cooked chicken breast to look. This is the perfect demonstration of the Maillard reaction.
When things are cooked at lower temperatures for a longer period of time, they do not get to experience the Maillard reaction. However, higher heat for a shorter period of time is ideal for the reaction to take place.
The Maillard reaction is to thank for more than just flavorsome meat, it is also responsible for:
- Caramel being made from milk and sugar
- The color of beer, coffee, maple syrup and chocolate
- The color of condensed milk
- The browning of bread into toast
- Self-tanning products
- The flavor of roasted meat
How (and When) to Salt a Steak
If you’re looking for the perfect way to salt a steak then you need to make sure your timing is right.
When reading any cookbook or online snippet, you will find thousands of different opinions on when to salt your steak, but there is one method that is proven by science!
So starting off, you will want to let your steaks rest until they are at room temperature. After this, salt them all over with whatever you have. Some people use normal table salt, however, if you’re feeling fancy you could always buy some Himalayan salt and up your steak game.
How to Properly Cook a Steak
While there is no determined way that is classed as the only ‘proper’ way to cook a steak, there are a few things you can do to make sure the steak is as good as possible.
Leave your steak to rest before cooking – If your steak is fresh out of the fridge when you put it on the pan, it can lead to uneven cooking as the muscle fibers are all tense. Allowing it to rest for just shy of an hour will get your steak up to room temperature and ensure that it cooks a lot nicer.
Salt and oil – While it is not for everyone, it may still be worth trying. While you wait for your steak to get to room temperature, or even after it has done so, rub it with your preferred oil and salt. Throw in some pepper as well if you want the taste the food equivalent of heaven.
Sear all of the edges – When going into the pan, make sure the heat is turned all the way up. When the steak touches down, you should be able to hear it start sizzling almost immediately. When a gorgeous crust forms on one side of the steak, flip it. Also, do not forget to sear the edges.
Baste with butter – It is worth throwing (or delicately placing) a decent amount of butter in the pan with your steak. This greatly improves the flavor and also helps with the cooking. Better yet, if you scoop the melted butter up with a spoon and then pour it on the steak, you will be well on your way to making the perfect steak.
Throw in some garlic and herbs – Cursh up some garlic, and throw in a sprig of thyme or your preferred herbs. Doing so will make the flavour of the steak so much more intense and delicious without compromising the natural steak flavor that some other methods seem to do.
How to Check if Your Steak is Cooked Correctly
When cooking a steak, or more importantly, when looking at recipes for a steak, everyone seems to rely on giving you timings for how long you need to cook the steak to reach a certain level of doneness.
While this may help them, every cut of steak is different and so are everyone’s pans and oven hobs. There are too many variables for the time to be accurate and apply to everyone. Thankfully you can use the finger test to see when your steak is perfect.
The finger test is almost as simple as it sounds. It is comprised of touching the steak and comparing it to how the fleshy part under your thumb feels.
To properly do this, you need to make sure you know where to position your thumb for each level of doneness. If you place your hand with the palm upright and relax your fingers, then the fleshy bit under your thumb will feel how a blue steak should feel.
If you put your thumb to your ring finger, the fleshy part will feel how a rare steak should feel. When you move one finger up and touch your thumb to your middle finger, you are feeling the same density as a medium-rare steak.
Moving one finger up, again. Touching the tip of your thumb to your index finger will feel like a medium steak. Last but not least, touching your thumb to your little finger will let you know how hard a well-done steak is.