Monday, 7 April 2008


In a tribute to one of my favourite blogging reads, Dos Hermanos, and to confirm my reputation as meat-lover par excellence, over the last couple of weeks I have been attempting to cook the perfect beef steak. You may assume that cooking a nice steak is as straightforward a process as cooking can get, but you'd be wrong. Only on my third attempt did I achieve something approaching the kind of result you'd expect from a decent high-end steakhouse, although I think I now know why the first couple of tries failed.

Attempt one went bellyup the moment I noticed the butcher in Dove's cutting the rump meat too thinly and I was too much of a wimp to say anything. I went through the motions anyway despite knowing it was all going to go badly, and of course it did - resulting in a pretty flacid piece of grey meat thanks also partially due to the fact I didn't heat up the griddle pan enough beforehand.

Try two was a slightly thicker slice of ribeye which I dutifully seasoned and brought to room temperature 20 minutes before I was ready to cook it, and patted dry with a paper towel. So far so good. But this piece of meat - from Hennessey's, also on Northcote Road - just wasn't up to the job either, being quite watery and and seriously lacking in tasty fat. It also still wasn't thick enough for my liking, so was difficult to get a good crusty char on the outside without the middle cooking through.

For my third and successful attempt, I was taking no chances. I hopped on the bus to Clapham Common and paid a visit to the brilliant M Moen & Son butchers whose window displays I had always admired but whose produce I had not yet sampled. Having now decided I would settle for nothing less than a steak on the bone, the only option available was bone-in sirloin, and even here the butcher took a bit of persuading to slice it as obscenely thick as I wanted it. Here it is, in its full glory:

I seasoned the meat well and brought it out of the fridge around 30 mins before I was ready to cook it, all the while preheating my trusty grill pan (dry, not oiled) to volcanic levels. The extractor fan above the oven and the wide open window in the kitchen was barely enough to contain the plumes of smoke billowing out of the hob.

After patting the seasoned meat dry, I re-seasoned and slapped it onto the heat. It sizzled and spluttered away very satisfyingly.

After around 2 1/2 minutes, I turned it over and was delighted to see some healthy strips of black char. The smell was also incredible.

After another 2 1/2 minutes I laid the steak on an oven grill tray and placed it inside a preheated oven on low heat. This was a tip I had picked up from the internet - to let the steak sit in its own juices, thus preserving the crispy char - and warm the meat to the middle while keeping the pink colour.

The results, even through the lens of my terrible cameraphone, speak for themselves. It was one of the best steaks I'd ever had the pleasure of eating, certainly up there with those on offer at Hawksmoor. Lovely crispy elements on the outside, juicy and fatty within, bursting with flavour. Fantastic. In fact I could see myself eating this on a regular basis, if it wasn't for two rather important factors. 1) There's probably enough cholesterol in this to sink a battleship and I'd quite like to make it through to Christmas without having a coronary embolism. 2) The steak itself cost £19 - you get a large quantity of good meat for your money, so this is not an unreasonable amount, but it's too much to justify on a regular basis. Which is probably just as well (see point 1).

That aside, I hope you can forgive me for feeling rather pleased with myself just at the moment, and perhaps in a few months time when I'm feeling healthy enough in body and wallet, I will make a return journey to Clapham Common for a second helping.


Anonymous said...

The perfect steak is something to be proud of! As you note, it's difficult to find the right butcher/right steak. I can recommend Chadwicks in Balham. Also in central london (dependent where you work) you should check out McKenna Meats, 21 Theobold road (awesome beef!)

Patrick said...

Chris how long do you pop it in the oven for and at what temperature?

Chris Pople said...

Good question! Sorry I wasn't clear enough. Pretty low temp - from memory, about 70 degrees, basically only just enough to warm plates. It's just to allow the meat to rest slightly without it getting cold on the outside. And I gave it about 10-15 minutes.

HughTower said...

When barbecue season comes around, I can heartily recommend BBQ-ing a chop taken from a single rib of beef. Prepare and cook in much the same way as the steak above (use lots of salt to cut through the fat), and when ready, take off the bone, and slice thinly to serve. Will feed 3-4 with bread, & watercress.

It's nothing less than amazing.

Chris Pople said...

Neil - I have lots of ideas saved up for the BBQ season. What I didn't plan on was that it would still be snowing in April :S

That does sound great though, and yes I imagine the smokey BBQ char would be even better than that from the stove. I just hope I can get the coals hot enough.

Anonymous said...

Haha. If i only knew monkey!

Anyway you cook a steak to perfection no doubt about that, and what a hunk of beef :D

I bookmarked this blog, looks as a good read.

Have fun on your journy!

Tiki Chris said...

Great post (nice steak too!). Londonist feautured this post as part of this month's London Food Blog Round-Up:

Guernican said...

You've done a pretty good job. A small cheat note: it can really help, in terms of juiciness, to give it a baste with melted butter throughout cooking. Just melt some in a separate pan and, every now and then, give it a little tip over the meat.

Trust me, it works.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know where in London you can buy a good bit of organic beef that does not come from a British herd? French, Argentinian, Australian, American, Brazilian: it doesn't matter. I know it is around, because you see it restaurant menus (Gaucho grill, Dollar in Clerkenwell etc).

(I'm foreign, so I don't want to get BSE, hence my reluctance to start eating British beef).

Chris Pople said...

Guernican - thanks for the tip. And funnily enough, I´m told this is how Peter Lugers in New York get their steak tasting so good.

Anonymous - I'm not about to recommend anything other than British beef. It's perfectly safe, tastes as good as any other in the world, and in terms of food miles and environmental impact there can be little worse than flying steak over from Argentina or Australia.

Anonymous said...

anonymous, being foreign is not an excuse for ignorance.....there is nothing wrong with British Beef these days.