As with almost any other endeavor, a healthy amount of self-awareness is crucial when it comes to cooking. My blind spot has been, and I suspect will always be, meat.
If I could tell you exactly why, I wouldn’t be making this confession in the first place, but I suspect it mostly boils down to inexperience and, therefore, lack of confidence. When you’ve had everything from flaming chickens (grill and oven!) and fat splatters to unpleasantly overcooked and questionably undercooked food, it can kind of mess with your head.
So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I began a foray into steak. My first attempt at pan-frying a large sirloin steak was messy, to say the least. And thanks to the massive size of the cut (enough for four, according to the recipe) and the inevitable hot (and not so hot) spots you find in cast iron, the cook was uneven — completely gray in some places and practically raw in others.
I’m not one to admit defeat that easily, so I immediately jumped to my next attempt: a recipe for low and slow steak we previously published from “Modernist Cuisine at Home” in 2012. On paper, it seemed to allay all my fears.
To keep the meat from overcooking while you sear it, freeze it for half an hour first.
To prevent an uneven finish, cook it at a low temperature for almost an hour in the oven.
So, yes, there’s a trade-off. If time is of the essence when you’re cooking steak, then this probably isn’t the recipe for you. If, however, you’re OK with that commitment of mostly inactive time to get perfectly cooked meat without the hand-wringing anxiety of managing a pan-fried steak, then come along with me.
Tasters marveled at the superior texture of the steak I got in this two-pronged approach, with the rosy medium-rare reaching from beautifully seared edge to edge. It was fantastic out of the oven, and leftovers would make an excellent sandwich.
The original recipe called for a brush of melted butter on the steaks after cooking, which you can still do if you prefer the simplicity of flavor and fewer dishes to wash. But for extra oomph, I cribbed a rosemary-flavored olive oil from another archive recipe to replace the melted butter. And since I had a hot skillet with a slick of oil in it anyway, I threw a couple of lemon halves in to sear (if your cast-iron skillet is well-seasoned, a few minutes of the acid should be fine, although I preferred using a small nonstick pan). The pairing channels Italian Florentine steak, and the combined pop of the herb oil and citrus juice complemented the meat extraordinarily well.
As long as you have a trusty instant-read thermometer — one with a probe that you can leave in the meat while it cooks is especially helpful — this is a recipe you can easily conquer. If I can do it, then you definitely can, too.