This well-flavoured steak needs to be cooked carefully, and rested properly to ensure it is not chewy. Cut from the large back muscle attached to the spine, opposite the long thin fillet steak, it has a bigger, beefier flavour than fillet or rib-eye steaks, meaning it is more suitable for highly flavoured sauces, including those with onion or a small amount of chilli.
Fresh and frozen steaks are available year round from butchers and supermarkets, and from specialist web-based retailers.
Choose the best
Unquestionably, beef steaks are more tender and most delicious when the carcass has been well aged under controlled conditions. Three weeks, 21 days, is an accepted minimum but developing techniques have extended this to well over 30 days. Aging meat in caves made from blocks of Himalayan salt, which appears to control unwanted bacterial action, gives extended ageing time. Look for ageing information on labels and expect to pay more for maturer steaks.
The best beef will have a definite dark red colour, indicating it is the more likely to have been nicely aged. Beef that is pale and pinkish is usually too little aged and thus likely to be tough and lacking in flavour; this is specially true for steak cuts. The fat on steak should be firm and creamy-white rather than yellow. The very best breeds of beef produce steaks that have streaks of fat throughout the red meat, which then add further succulence and flavour. Sirloin steak is very much better for being well-aged and if there is a clear marbling of fat throughout the flesh.
Choose steaks that have been cut evenly thick or thin, which makes cooking more reliable and eating much more pleasurable.
Fresh steak should be refrigerated for several days only. They may be bought frozen or frozen at home, in which case use them within a month or so and defrost very slowly, ideally in a refrigerator overnight. Vacuum-packing further extends life, for months as fresh meat and up to a year for frozen steaks.
Most cooking details on pre-packed steaks suggest wildly exaggerated cooking times. Provided the steak is at room temperature, the pan is properly heated and the steak is about 2cms or more thick, two to three minutes each side and a resting time of at least three minutes should produce excellent results.
It’s often suggested that steaks should be lightly coated with olive or other oils before cooking but this tends to create unwanted smoke; using a heavy, non-stick pan is a better plan but an ordinary pan at high temperature is unlikely to stick. Seasoning is best added after cooking, while the steak is resting.
It is very important to keep the cooking temperature high; too low a temperature encourages moisture to escape, which means the steak will stew and toughen. Equally important is NOT to turn the steak constantly which makes timing impossible to calculate - once is enough. Avoid pressing down on a steak as this expresses moisture.
A reliable traditional test for cooking a medium-rare steak – cooked through but with a nicely pink interior – is to watch carefully for the first globules of blood to appear on the upper surface. Turn the steak immediately and cook until the same thing happens again; remove onto a warm but not hot plate and let rest for three to five minutes before serving.
Resting time is as important as cooking time, as this allows the juices brought to the surface by the high cooking heat to sink back into the flesh, which also relaxes and becomes more tender.
Experts in the meat trade suggest a steak should rest for as long as it has been cooked.
In the end, only careful observation of your technique and the results can teach you to cook steaks the way you like best.
Watch our video on how to cook the perfect steak: