This first post is for both of us. For me, this is practice in steak cooking (dinner) and a chance to pay closer-than-usual attention to the whole process. For you, I hope this to be something of a cooking lesson, and inspiration. Good food needs little time, little effort, and little money. The steaks today are beef short-ribs. This is a well-marbled (fatty) cut that comes from just below the prime-rib section of the cow. Whereas the latter, considered on a human frame, is the section of the rib cage extending from our spine to below the arm pit, the short rib section consists of the ribs that form our chest, lying under the pectoral muscles. Just as, for those of us who keep off our butts, our pectoral and latissimus muscles are fairly active, so it is on a cow. And, being four-legged, cows are essentially in a push-up position 24/7, so imagine the required strength. This constant use toughens the muscles, but intensifies their flavor. As a result this cut is often cooked for hours in liquid. The technique, called braising or stewing (finicky difference), allows the muscle proteins to shorten and separate, the fat to render (melt), and the connective tissue to change from collagen to soft and sticky gelatin. The proper result is delicious, but the meat is, in a sense, overcooked. I like medium-rare. Since I didn’t have the time for a stew, or the money for a more traditional steak cut, I cooked the short-ribs as steaks. I found them at $6/lb., so I got a pound. This is cheap, fast food. Forget about instant ramen, fellow students. Here’s the process. Quick and dirty, the following is the Maillard reaction at its finest. My notes will end the post. What you’ll need:
- Oven and range
- Sturdy pan (cast iron or carbon steel is best)
- Sharp knife
- Meat thermometer (optional but recommended)
- Bone-in short-rib(s)
- Preheat the oven to 275°F.
- Remove meat from the bone. Most likely the only connecting tissue will be a thin membrane that you can easily rip by hand. If there’s ‘excess’ fat (no such thing), leave it on. Once boneless, find the second layer of connective tissue and separate the remaining meat at this division; the pieces should peel away from each other. You will have two squat rectangles of meat. These are your steaks. Notice the direction of the muscle fibers; when you’re ready to eat you will cut the steak perpendicular to the fibers.
- Wrap the steaks loosely in foil. This will protect the steaks from roasting as they heat up in the oven.
- Put steaks in the oven. Since they’re in foil, they can go directly on the rack. Give the steaks roughly 20 minutes, then begin checking on them every ten.
- Pull the steaks out when they reach 125-30°F. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can use your hand as a reference. When relaxed, the muscle on your palm beneath the thumb is soft like a rare steak. If you touch your thumb and pointer, it toughens. This is medium-rare. Thumb to pinky represents well-done.
- Rest the steaks. Unwrap the foil and let them sit on the counter for roughly ten minutes. They will rise a few degrees, then, as they cool, the muscle fibers will relax, allowing the juices to remain in the steak.
- While the steaks rest, heat your pan on medium heat. Once you can tell it’s hot, fill pan with oil to a couple millimeters depth. Increase the heat to medium high, so that the oil begins to give off smoke.
- Salt one side of your steak. Be liberal, but if you’re cautious you can wait to salt the steak after slicing. Push the salt in, then lay the steak in the pan so that the farthest edge of the steak from you is the last to touch the pan. Press the steak down with your hand or your knife; this will ensure the whole bottom surface browns. You can flip the steak only once, or as many times as you like, just make sure both sides get a golden-brown crust. Also, make sure to salt the second side before you flip.
- Let the crust cool before you touch the steak. Once ready, slice thinly, against the grain. Try a different angle if the muscle fibers run parallel to the plane of your cuts.
- Eat! Straight off the cutting board with your hands is best.