Observe the humble grocery store steak. Cheap. Often thin and water-logged, limp and pretty pathetic-looking all around. Obviously if you want to enjoy some primo steak, you buy from a butcher, or at least from one of those fancy grocery stores with their own credit card line, but you’re near broke and you crave some steaky goodness. You turn to your local 24-hour grocery store, the one that’s a little sketchy, but wins out because of convenience every time, and you see that they have steaks on sale. You buy it up and think, “Well, I guess I’ll settle for this… it’s still taste steaky, right?” And you go home and fry up your meager portion of beef and long for the future where you have t-bones at your beck and call.
Well, my friends, life doesn’t have to be this way. You can transform your sad steaklette and give it a higher calling in life. You can actually cook your $4 grocery store steak and enjoy it.
The process involved heavily salting your steaks for at least an hour before cooking. The salt draws out the excess water in the steak, leaving you with tender juiciness when you cook it. I first read about the technique here, on Steamy Kitchen and it hasn’t failed me once.
It seems kind of backwards, to the under educated chef such as myself, that removing liquid from the meat would make it juicier. But this is because that when you cook a steak that’s full of water, you’re essentially steaming it. Your steak toughens up, and refuses to brown on the surface, and you end up with a grey, leathery mass of what could have been a nice dinner.
So. Declare to yourself that you have had enough with boring, tough grocery store steaks, and get yourself on the path to awesomeness.
First things first, you want to use kosher salt or fleur de sel, something with a coarse grain. You can get away with using table salt, but you get better results with bigger salt.
You want to coat – coat – your steak in salt, on both sides. Make it rain on those steaks. You could even use more salt that in the above photo — I undersalted on purpose because I ended up putting salty bleu cheese on top.
Once you salt your steaks you can go ahead and leave them to rest, or you can season further with some herbs and spices. I crush garlic and press it into the meat — about one clove split in half per steak — as well as adding thyme, rosemary, or a bay leaf.
Once you’ve got your steaks all dressed up, let them sit in the fridge or on your counter for one hour per inch of steak. I was lucky enough to find thick steak rounds in my store! They were about two inches thick, so two-inch steak, two hours. If you refrigerate your steaks, remember to take them out 15 minutes prior to cooking to adjust to a warmer temperature and relax.
Preparing for Cooking
After an hour or so of salting you should see a lot of water sitting around the steaks. All that used to be inside! Pretty nuts.
Before cooking, rinse off all the salt and seasonings from your steak and pat as dry as you possibly can (without squishing the steaks). A dry steak = a nice brown steak.
Cook the steaks to your liking. I use the skillet method because I’m not allowed a barbecue on my balcony.
Heat up a skillet — preferably non-stick so you can make a pan sauce later — to medium-high heat (a 7 out of 8 on my stove) and melt in about 1/2 tablespoon of butter and 1/2 tablespoon of oil. Mixing the butter with oil prevents the butter from burning easily, while still providing a nice, buttery taste.
Sear the steaks in the hot pan for about 2 minutes a side for medium-rare (for thicker steaks; thinner steaks only require maybe 40 seconds to a minute per side), and carefully sear the outer edges by propping the steak up with tongs. Let steaks rest for five minutes on a plate prior to eating.
Turn the heat down to medium-low on your pan. Create a pan juice by pouring 1/2 cup beef stock and 2 tablespoons red wine into the pan and scraping up all the tasty brown bits the steaks left behind. Bring to a boil, and pour into a bowl for dipping, or pour directly onto the steaks. Crumble bleu cheese on top if that’s your thing, and serve with your favourite sides — cheesy mashed potatoes, Caesar salad and lots of wine.
Why It Works
The salt you put on the steak immediately brings water to the surface. The water on the surface melts the salt, and it gets sucked back into the meat, flavouring the interior (don’t worry, only a part of the salt gets sucked in. You don’t end up eating a salt block). The salt gently relaxes, thus tenderizing, the meat. When you put even more stuff on top — garlic, rosemary, even round pepper — the flavours also get sucked into the meat. It’s pretty amazing!
So: go out, spend $12 on some meat, and create a steak that you would actually pay for in a restaurant. You will definitely impress the heck out of your friends.