cook's-illustrated

How To Make The Perfect Steak

I rarely cook steaks these days. Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing quite like a juicy, dry aged, 100% grass fed slab of meaty perfection. But let’s face it: prime cuts like steak are pricey. So when I throw down a stack of bills in exchange for the best meat I can afford, there’s no way I’m going to take my chances with an unreliable recipe. My mama didn’t raise no sucker.

Longtime readers know that back in the day, I was all about cooking steaks (and, well…just about everything else) sous vide. And sure—cooking with a temperature-controlled water bath guarantees a properly-cooked steak every time. But as many of you have pointed out, not everyone has an immersion circulator or stand-alone sous vide cooker sitting on their kitchen counter. (Really: I’ve gotten the message. That’s why the last sous vide recipe I posted was back in 2011, believe it or not.)

So: how do you perfectly cook a steak with basic kitchen tools? The answer is in the fabulous new cookbook by the obsessive food nerds at America’s Test Kitchen: The Cook’s Illustrated Meat Book!

Here’s the thing: it’s not about fancy pan sauces or marinades, folks. Instead, you want to highlight the inherent primal beefiness of the steak by cooking it to the proper temperature—end to end—and sealing the deal with a uniform sear on the outside. 

The key steps are to simple: season the meat with salt and pepper, roast it in a low oven until it reaches the correct temperature, and sear the steaks in a screaming-hot skillet. By following this technique, even novice cooks can whip up fool-proof restaurant-quality seared steaks at home.

Ready to make the perfect steak?

Keep reading

2

Spring Rolls

 

I had a couple hours free around lunch time the other day and thought it was the perfect opportunity to revisit the Springs Rolls I made last year. The recipe is from Cook’s Illustrated and when I made them last time it took me about 2 hours. That was way too long. So I made them again, actually twice this week and am proud to say I can now get them done in less than an hour, yay me!

 

1 tsp granulated sugar

1½ tbs fish sauce

Juice from one lime

1 tsp salt

3 oz vermicelli

8 oz medium shrimp, peeled with tails removed

½ cup grated carrot

1/3 cup chopped unsalted roasted peanuts

1 medium jalapeno, stemmed, seeded, and finely diced

1½ cups cucumber peeled & cut into matchsticks 1/8 x 1½”

8 8” round rice paper wrappers

½ cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, small leaves left whole, bigger leaves torn into ½” pieces

½ cup fresh cilantro leaves, loosely packed

 

Combine sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice in small bowl; set aside.

Bring 2 quarts water to boil in medium saucepan. Stir in salt and shrimp. Cook until shrimp are opaque, about 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer shrimp to small bowl. Stir in rice vermicelli. Cook until noodles are tender but not mushy, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain noodles and rinse under cold running water until cool. Drain again and transfer to medium bowl; toss 2 tablespoons fish sauce mixture with noodles and set aside.

When shrimp is cool enough to handle, coarsely chop.

Combine carrot, peanuts, and jalapeno in small bowl. Add 1 tbs fish sauce mixture; toss to combine. Toss cucumber in remaining 1 tbs fish sauce mixture.

Spread clean, damp kitchen towel on work surface. Fill 9-inch pie plate with 1 inch room-temperature water. Working one at a time, immerse each rice paper wrapper in water until just pliable, about 10 seconds; lay softened wrapper on towel. Scatter 6 mint leaves and 6 cilantro leaves over wrapper. Arrange 5 cucumber sticks horizontally on wrapper, top with 1 tablespoon carrot mixture, then arrange about 2½ tbs noodles on top of carrot mixture. Place about 2 tablespoons of the chopped shrimp on top of noodles. Wrap spring roll like a burrito. Cover with a damp kitchen towel; repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.

 

Peanut Dipping Sauce

¼ cup peanut butter

¼ cup hoisin sauce

¼ cup water

2 tbs tomato paste

1 tsp Sambal

2 tsp light olive oil

2 garlic cloves pressed

1 tsp red pepper flakes

 

Whisk peanut butter, Hoisin sauce, water, tomato paste and Sambal in small bowl. Heat oil, garlic and red pepper flakes in small saucepan over medium heat until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Stir in peanut butter mixture; bring to simmer, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until flavors blend, about 3 minutes. Sauce should have ketchup-like consistency; if too thick; add water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until proper consistency is reached. Transfer to bowl; cool to room temperature.

 

These are a great lunch or an appetizer and the Peanut Sauce really brings it all come together. I would like to find a recipe where the rolls themselves are a bit more flavorful but am very happy I cut my Spring Roll making time by half.

Your classic marinade … is to use a bottle of Italian salad dressing. And … the common thinking is that the acid — the vinegar in the salad dressing, or lemon juice, or red wine — is somehow tenderizing the meat. And you will read this in a lot of classic cooking manuals, that an acidic marinade will make meat more tender.

“It will, in fact, make the outer layer of the meat a bit mushy, but what it’s really doing is pulling moisture out of the meat and making it drier. And there isn’t really a great way to tenderize a cut that’s going to be cooking very quickly for instance on the grill, but you can make it juicier, and juiciness, when it gets to eating the steak, often is equated with tenderness once it’s in our mouth.

"So we use a salt-based marinade; you can use salt itself, you can use a salty ingredient like soy sauce, and then mix that with the garlic, with all the seasonings you want to use. And what you’re basically doing is, the salt penetrates very quickly into the meat and changes the structure of the muscle proteins, so that when the muscle proteins are cooked, they will hold on to more of their juices.”

- Jack Bishop on the myth of marinades

Photo credit: Larry Crowe/AP

Why Tempering Chocolate is Difficult, and How We Found an Easier Shortcut

Good chocolate right out of the wrapper has an attractive sheen and a satisfying snap when you break it in two. But if you melt the chocolate to use as a coating or for drizzling and try to use it immediately, it will set up into a soft, blotchy, dull-looking mess that melts on your fingers. Why the difference?

“Glutamates …[are] savory compounds; your taste receptors will pick that up and say wow, that’s nice and savory. But anchovies, in particular, they contain something else. It’s another compound called a nucleotide — and a nucleotide plus a glutamate basically is a savory explosion. It really amps up the flavor of the glutamates 20, 30, even perhaps 40 times. So if you’re tasting beef on its own, or soy sauce, or any of those glutamate-rich ingredients, your tongue will say wow that’s very beefy. You add something with nucleotides in it, say anchovies, and you’ll say this is the best beef stew ever. It tastes so much more meaty than meat.”

- Bridget Lancaster on why you might want to add anchovies to your beef stew

Photo credit: Stefania Pomponi Butler