Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Steaks in a Pan: Not For the Plebes

Meat-loving apartment-dwellers, when not fantasizing about rooftop grills and indoor ventilation systems, are often at an impasse when it comes to preparing steak. Pan-frying steaks might seem a little plebeian, an unfortunate last choice, but it’s not. Remember that some of the most classic French steak presentations – steak au poivre, for instance, or steak with shallots- are cooked in a pan. An added benefit is that the cuts the work best in a pan- skirt steak and hanger steak- are also some of the cheapest.

Eschew the fancy cuts of meat— the strip steak, the filet mignon, the rib-eye. Instead, head to a serious butcher or quality meat store and buy prime skirt or hanger steak. Prime skirt tastes far better than regular grocery-store meat, and, because the cut is so inexpensive, will probably cost the same or less (around $10/pound). Then, take the money you save over a few preparations of the stuff and buy a suitable stove-top steak pan. Make sure it is heavy cast iron, such as Le Creuset or Lodge. The pan matters- make sure it is heavy.

How you cook the steak is up to you. Steaks should be at room temperature, pre-seasoned with salt and pepper. I like a mixture of butter and oil over low heat, turning once and removing when fairly rare (red at the center). Low heat allows a caramelized crust to form, enhancing the flavor and prolonging the time in the pan without overcooking. Others prefer searing heat and very short cooking time, which creates a thicker, tougher crust that traps more moisture inside for exceptionally juicy steak. Either way, you can use the remaining fat in the pan to prepare a sauce. Try adding minced shallots, waiting for them to caramelize, and then deglazing the pan with red wine- in other words, using wine to loosen all the bits that stick to the pan. Reduce for a minute or two and you will have a beautiful, simple sauce to spoon over your steaks.

One accessory that helps keep your stove clean is a splatter screen, which rests over your pan as you cook and prevents grease from escaping the pan. This simplifies cleaning and helps keep pan-frying simple.

With a good pan and some practice, you might not miss your grill so much after all.

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