Ask Peter: Cooking perfect steaks
I am confused about cooking steak and chops. Many chefs recommend searing the meat in a very hot, heavy pan and then transferring it to the oven to finish. Is there a guide as to how long the steak or chop is left in the oven? And at what temperature? Do you think this is a better method than cooking to desired doneness on the stove top before resting the meat?
With thanks for your help, David.
This is a question which understandably, is quite perplexing for many cooks. There are so many opinions of the best way to cook a piece of protein and even a look on the internet doesn’t make it any clearer. Trust me — I’ve just been checking out what chefs all around the globe think and I’m none the wiser.
In restaurants from Auckland to Anchorage there are chefs who swear that the best steaks ever are those cooked over a fiercely heated Josper grill which has temperatures set between 350C and 400C. On the other side of the fence there are those who prefer to cook a steak sous-vide (in a vacuum sealed bag) in less-than-simmering water set at 60C for a much longer period of time.
Then there is my father Bruce who cooks a most delicious steak over his wood-fired barbecue once it’s died down. Neither he nor I would have any idea what temperature it might be. He can also cook a mean steak in an electric fry-pan or under the grill of the domestic family oven.
What’s important to Dad is the degree of doneness, and the ability not to stew the meat while cooking it.
Needless to say, there are many ways to cook your steak whether it be beef, pork, lamb or chicken, and even tofu. The most basic of rule is that the lower the temperature, the longer it will take to cook. But bearing that in mind, you also need to consider the internal temperature of the protein before you begin cooking it — a steak straight from the fridge will take longer to cook than one at room temperature.
It’s always much better to bring your meat to room temperature before cooking it — just as I explained recently regarding a turkey. Fish is one protein that is best cooked from chilled, although a mighty thick tuna or hapuka steak does benefit from being brought out of the fridge 20 minutes before cooking it.
Another important factor is the thickness — a 3cm thick steak will take around twice as long to cook to the same done-ness as a 1cm thick steak, which surely makes sense. In the case of a really thick steak it is even more important that you bring it to room temperature before cooking it or you run the risk of burning and drying out the outside, while having the inside raw and cold which is never good in anyone’s books.
I am quite partial to searing in a pan before cooking in the oven. I once saw Heston Blumenthal prove on a TV show that searing meat on the outside at high temperature doesn’t make it juicier — because in fact cooking at high heat causes moisture to evaporate and makes it drier. Cooking at high heat, however, does caramelise the protein and makes the meat taste “more delicious’’.
Here’s how I’d cook a 2cm thick pork chop or sirloin steak that has a decent 5mm or more of fat running along it:
- Take the meat straight from the fridge and cut the rind/skin into strips 3mm apart with a sharp knife or serrated knife along the grain — this will help it crispen slightly and also help some of its fat disperse when cooking.
- Season liberally with coarse salt (no pepper, as it will burn). Leave, covered with cling film, on a plate for 20 minutes at room temperature.
- Rub olive oil all over it quite liberally then cook over a medium high heat in a heavy based pan or non-stick pan until very golden brown on both sides.
- At this point you have 2 options. Place the pan in an oven set to 180C (if the pan is ovenproof) and cook for 3 minutes for a medium steam, or 6 minutes for a pork chop. Once done, remove the pan, keep the meat in it for 10 minutes to rest and then serve with the pan juices drizzled over it. Alternatively, keep cooking on the stove top for another 3 minutes for steak or 8 minutes for pork (turning once halfway through). Once done, turn the heat off and leave to rest with a lid slightly ajar.
Hopefully this will help you — but to be honest, as Dad says, just do what feels right!
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.