I am a visually driven human being. That’s just the way I’m made. I don’t shirk responsibility for my failings, I try to force myself to strengthen up the left side of my brain, more math please, but. Visual and nebulous is just my default mode.
Back in my pre-pigs heyday of disposable income, I bought all sorts of gorgeous books on old-fashioned food ways and pastured and/or nose-to-tail meat methods. Research, right?
Guess what? Sometimes, those books are deep and worthy of their fancy wrappers, and sometimes they are just eye candy tapping into a trend.
What I needed was basic, workhorse tips and tricks, putting into words those adjustments that address the basic differences in the way grass-fed, dry-aged meats from heritage breed animals behave from the default commodity breeds of feedlot fattened, wet-aged cuts from the grocery store.
So, when I started digging around for deeper meat-cooking knowledge, this source is one I admit I dismissed because of its amateurish appearance, and repetitive content. Really, this could have been contained in a good brochure or pamphlet, but the information itself is exactly what was needed.
My prior steak approach was mostly informed by Alton Brown’s tutorial on ribeye. It is a great method that has spawned many variations and has rarely disappointed. But certain cuts, known for their serious flavor and tendency towards chewiness were not disappointing exactly, but I felt I was not nailing it consistently.
Even though my beef is 100% grass-fed, the meat has rarely required much special fussing, and mostly is fine in conventional recipes and produces the expected results.
But every now and then, the extra collagen in a cut due to the animal actually having a life with things to do and friends to do them with, calls for a different approach.
Very rarely, a roast may take longer to cross into the succulent zone than a flabbier grocery store cut that was mushy with retained liquid to start with. Low and slow, you cannot overcook a braised roast, but if you undercook it, the meat can occasionally be chewy. So, if you’re not satisfied with the texture of your roast, just cook it more.
Steaks don’t have that tweaking option. When you’ve made leather, there is no bringing it back to succulence. Steak can be an unforgiving, performance anxiety producing meal for some of us, and to make it more stressful, steak is expensive and comes with a lot of unrealistic expectations and pet peeves from your eaters.
With this in mind, I have officially switched up my default stove top steak routine for all steaks and chops to Stanley A. Fishman’s approach, and honestly, am much happier for several reasons.
This could be just me, but I have always hated the post-steak cooking smell that lingers in my house for several days afterward, so much so that steak is rarely a dish I would cook at home.
Following this gentler method, my steak’s exterior has plenty of satisfying crust, the house doesn’t stink and the process accommodates the range of variables that are an inevitable part of grass-fed beef; breed, grass, season, aging, processing details, quality of finish – all things you really can’t know for sure unless you buy directly from the farmer who raised it.
Steak is one of those subjects people have strong feelings about, and you may be unwilling to switch up your ways, and simply blame it on the meat. But I assure you that the muscle fibers from breeds developed for fast growth and kept tightly confined are different from those of slow-growing breeds allowed free range their entire lives.
Add also the difference between wet-aging, the method favored by big packers to retain the liquids in the meat and keep the weight up, and meats dry-aged where excess liquid is allowed to evaporate prior to cutting and wrapping, and it is inevitable that some tweaking to the cooking method would be helpful.
Mr. Fishman recommends a couple of additions to your pantry in addition to your grass-fed steaks.
- Good quality, unfiltered extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic. Being so little processed, the natural tenderizing enzymes are still present in the oil, so it acts as a natural marinade for meats. There is no good substitute. In Pittsburgh, Olive and Marlowe has a delicious Olio Nuova which is just about as delicious and irresistible as olive oil can be. It is a limited, more seasonal and delicate edition, because the filtering process gives olive oil shelf stability. Available in the fall, I snagged some and am storing in the freezer to keep me stocked all year. You can get yours from me as an add-on to your beef order, or from Olive and Marlowe.
- Natural, unrefined sea salt (I confess – I used Morton’s kosher and it was fine)
- Pastured organic butter, beef tallow, home rendered lard, your unfiltered extra virgin olive oil, or extra virgin coconut oil. I use Organic Valley pasture butter, or Kerrygold. In this case, you do not want a butter with a strong cultured flavor.
- A solid cast-iron skillet, or at least a heavy bottom pan without ridges, and definitely not one with a non-stick finish.
Choosing your steak: Any steak can be adapted, boneless or bone-in. Options range from the more commonly available Sirloin, Ribeye, New York Strip, Filet, T-Bone, Porterhouse, Delmonico, or other less common cuts such as Chuck-eye, Spencer, Flat Iron, Tri-tip, Flank or Skirt.
I prefer a thicker steak, about 1-1/4″, though it is okay to go thinner, no less than 3/4″, and anything over 1-1/2″ is unnecessary.
Of course I recommend you try purchasing cuts direct from the farmer who raised it, or from a local nose-to-tail butcher shop if you are lucky to have one. Do try to find grass-fed beef that was raised in the United States, as much of what is available in large chain grocers is being imported.
I think the place most people go wrong with steak cooking in general is the handling of the meat beforehand. Never, ever, ever microwave a steak or hamburger to thaw. Seriously. Never. If you absolutely must rush, you can put your sealed package into a bowl of cool water to thaw, but ideally, allow the steak to thaw in the refrigerator.
The night before you plan to cook the steak, coat all sides with your magical unfiltered EVOO. Two tablespoons should be plenty. Place in a glass bowl and let sit at room temp for about an hour, return to fridge.
At least one hour before cooking the steak, remove from the refrigerator and bring it to room temperature. THIS is where we often go wrong in our hurry. Cooking a cold steak will yield tougher meat.
Heat 2 tablespoons of your pastured butter or unfiltered EVOO in your frying pan over MEDIUM heat. Yes, medium.
When the butter is hot, bubbly, and slightly smoking, sprinkle your sea salt lightly over both sides of the steak, then place the steak in the pan.
Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, turn gently using tongs and cook for another 3 to five. I like my steak rare – med rare, the three minutes is perfect for a 1-1/4″ thick steak. If you want really rare, 2 minutes per side should do it.
Remove to your plate and allow to rest before tearing in, You should have a nicely browned, juicy, tender steak packed with real beef flavor. Another money and calorie saving tip – after allowing the meat to rest, slice your steaks and serve on a platter.
You will thank me after dinner, and the next day and maybe even the next when your steak dinner is a delicious memory in your head, not a rancid smelling odor lingering on your clothes and your kitchen.
Okay, spill. What grass-fed meat tips and tricks do you have to share?