We had the best steak we've ever eaten in our own home the other night! The flavor was fantastic! And all it took was a few secrets: secrets that you, too, can use to produce the best steak you've ever grilled! Because, I'm going to share with you what I've learned. And if you're wondering just what those secrets are, they have to do with: dry-aging, salting, and compound butter.
Have you ever eaten out at a fancy steak house, and wondered why the steak you grill at home never tastes quite as magnificent as the one you got at that expensive restaurant?
The first thing you need to know is that the grade of beef that is served in expensive steak houses is different than what we buy in our local grocery stores. Most of the finer steak houses and hotels offer Prime beef, which is not , for the most part, available in most grocery stores. You CAN find it, but only 2% of all beef produced in this country is designated as Prime. Mostly, you find Choice beef, not Prime, for sale at your local grocery store.
There are two things that set Prime Beef apart from Choice: marbling and maturity. Prime beef is more heavily marbled, and, more fat = more flavor. Secondly, Prime beef comes from younger animals. Less maturity = more tenderness.
Prime beef is more expensive than Choice. Much more expensive. But it honestly is worth the money! Unfortunately, my husband and I have champagne tastes and a malt liquor budget. So, we decided to see what we could do to a Choice cut of beef that would give it its best hope of tasting like a Prime steak. What else do steak houses do that makes their steaks taste so great?
Other than using prime beef, expensive steak houses will typically use beef that has been dry aged. Here's what we learned about dry-aging. Dry-aging steaks gives them a better flavor and texture. When moisture evaporates from the beef through the process of dry-aging, the fat becomes more concentrated. We also learned that dry-aging triggers the breakdown of muscle proteins in the beef, giving the steak a dense, more tender texture. The peptides and amino acids that form as the muscle proteins are breaking down impart a smokier flavor to the steak.
Because of an article we read in Cooks Illustrated, we wanted to try dry aging our beef at home. We bought 3 really thick T-bone steaks, Choice grade, from Costco. When I say really thick, I'd estimate they were about 1 1/2" in thickness. We wrapped the steaks in cheesecloth to prevent excessive dehydration, and put them on a rack (for air circulation) that had been placed inside a jelly roll pan, placing them in the bottom of the fridge, which is the coldest part. (Yes, one challenge you might find - it was a challenge for me, at least - is cleaning out the real estate in your fridge to make room for a cookie sheet filled with a single layer of moo. So, that could be something to plan/work around.)
Next, we left them there for 4 days. Not a quick fix meal. So...something else to plan around. But, hey, it gave me all week to look forward to eating them.
The next step we took was called "salting". Which is exactly what it sounds like. Why do this? Well, when salt is applied to meat, it draws the juices from the meat to the surface, initially, but then, the briny solution that forms from the meat juices + the salt itself gets drawn back deep down into the meat. This imparts that wonderful flavor all the way down into the depths of the steak. The steak surface benefits as well, as a nice crust is formed while the steak is cooking. As you will see, we sprinkled our steaks liberally with kosher salt. Steaks need to be salted about 1 hour prior to cooking. About 3/4 of a teaspoon of salt per 8 ounces of meat will do nicely. Take the steaks out of the fridge, remove and discard the cheesecloth, and apply the salt evenly over the surface, and let rest at room temperature for an hour before grilling it. Immediately before grilling our steaks, my husband rinsed the salt off the surface, and then patted them completely dry with paper towels.
We grilled those steaks to a temperature of around 133º, and then took them off the grill. This produced the steak you see here, which we would call medium rare. The temperature of the meat rose to 140º after coming off the grill.
The third thing we did was use a compound butter. Compound butters are nothing new: James Beard was recommending them back in the day. My Mom used to make a garlic butter for the steaks we ate nearly every summer Saturday night when I was growing up. (Those steaks that on their own tasted of lighter fluid, but when doctored with Mom's garlic butter? Mmmmm!) And you can make one as simply as smashing up a garlic clove, and putting it in a half a stick of melted butter, the way my Mom did it. And that will be fabulous. Or you can try something like what I did last night, which was sautéeing a minced shallot with some thyme and pepper and a minced clove of garlic thrown in at the last minute, in a bit of butter. Let that cool to room temp, and then mix it in with a half a stick of softened butter, and put a blop of that on each steak. It's not an exact science. I'd encourage you to try whatever you think your family might enjoy, in terms of which herb you like. Parsley would be fantastic, too. Or chives. Or rosemary.
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How do you like your steak?
How about the perfect bottle of wine to accompany these succulent steaks? I have the very thing! A wine tutorial for choosing the perfect bottle for this very recipe.
Saturday, February 4, 2012
Expensive Steak House Taste at a Fraction of the Price
Expensive Steak House Taste at a Fraction of the Price