How to cook the perfect steak
At Donald Russell, we have a wide variety of steaks, from tender fillet and juicy ribeye to lesser-known cuts like onglet or bavette. Whichever type you chose, proper cooking is the key. The difference between rare and well done is only a matter of minutes and cooking it wrong can ruin even the finest steak. We’ve asked our resident world-class Chef Eddie McDonald to talk us through how to get the perfect steak every time.
Types of steak
There are so many different cuts of steak that it would be impossible for us to go through them all. You’ll probably know a bit about the ‘big four’ - sirloin, ribeye, fillet and rump – but there will be some you’ll likely be less familiar with.
Cut from the ribs, Ribeye is distinctive for its ‘eye’ of fat and heavy marbling. This keeps the moisture in the steak making it deliciously succulent. It also carries the flavour straight to your tongue, meaning you get a big blast of intensely meaty flavour. Look for a creamy coloured fat which shows a grass-fed diet for the finest flavour.
The fillet is taken from a rarely used muscle. This makes it extremely tender with a mild, delicate flavour. Prized as the luxury cut, fillet is the go-to when you’re trying to impress. Ours have an unusually generous marbling which adds a depth of flavour and are cut from the premium centre of the fillet so each one is as good as the last.
Sirloin is a popular, versatile steak. A delicious balance between the intense richness of ribeye and the supreme tenderness of fillet, it’s a great all-rounder that consistently comes up as the nation’s favourite steak. With a distinctive strip of fat along the side, it’s a great compromise between flavour and tenderness. Ours are expertly ‘special trimmed’ to leave just enough fat and no more.
Rump comes from a well-used muscle, which means it develops a lovely rich flavour. It’s a distinctively beefy flavour that’s always popular with steak lovers. Ours are expertly cut along the muscle, leaving it free of external fat. This makes it a wonderful choice for anyone who wants to lower their fat intake without compromising on flavour.
The classic steak lover's cut. Named, unsurprisingly, after its T-shaped bone, T-bone has juicy sirloin on one side and tender fillet on the other. It’s a jumbo-sized steak that has the best of both worlds. When this is cut thicker, it’s normally called a porterhouse steak. Same delicious steak, with more of it.
Hanger steak is a little-known cut with a big flavour. Also known as Butcher’s steak because Butchers would often keep it for themselves rather than offer it for sale. While the public might prefer the sirloin or fillet, Butchers know that the Hanger is deliciously tender and packed full of a distinctively rich meaty flavour. Because of its niche popularity, it can be difficult to find on the high street, but it’s completely worth the effort.
Flat Iron Steak
Cut from the shoulder, near the prime ribeye, Flat Iron has a strong beefy flavour that’s great for marinating and adding flavoured rubs without having to worry about it being too strong to taste the steak. As well as being quickly seared and enjoyed medium-rare, Flat Iron can also be cooked ‘low & slow’ for fall-apart-tender meat that’s delicious in tacos or fajitas
A generous slab of juicy rib meat, kept on the massive bone for the fullest flavour. This is the only steak that customers have complained is too big! One for the steak lovers, it can be seared in a pan before finishing in the oven or cooked on the barbecue. A quick warning though: when you hold it, you will feel the urge to shout “yaba daba doo”. It can’t be helped.
What to look for in a steak
Marbling is the important thing to look for. While your instinct might be to look for a steak with as little fat as possible, this can mean a dry steak with little flavour. Look for long, thin lines of fat running through the whole steak. These will melt into the meat as you cook it and leave the steak succulent and full of flavour.
Look for a rich cream coloured marbling rather than a bright white. This comes from a grass-fed diet, which is generally superior in taste and quality.
Cows are meant to eat grass, but on a large scale, it’s often a lot cheaper and easier to feed them grain. This isn’t good for them as they struggle to digest the grain and will need medication to help them deal with it. This leads to meat which lacks the depth of flavour we want as well as causing major environmental issues.
Grass-fed beef has much better flavour, as well as much more nutritional value. It also affects the environment far less than the large-scale farming often seen in the USA. In fact, the grass that’s necessary for the farming helps to absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen in the same way trees do.
We think British beef is particularly good. The wet weather and moderate temperatures mean we can grow plenty of grass that’s packed full of goodness. This in turn leads to better beef. Britain also has stringent quality and animal welfare controls, so you don’t have to worry about that.
If you also live in Britain, then one of the major benefits is the lack of food miles – it has less distance to travel to get to you which means it’ll be fresher and have a much lower impact on the environment.
You might think that, when it comes to meat, fresher is better. It would likely be too tough to eat and not as tasty. Allowing meat to mature breaks down enzymes making the texture more tender and the flavour richer. This has to be done for just the right about of time in just the right conditions to stop the meat from going bad. An experienced Butcher will know exactly when it is ready and at the peak of its maturation. At Donald Russell, this is where we freeze it very quickly to ensure it reaches you exactly the way our Butchers want it to.
How to cook the perfect steak
Once you’ve chosen your ideal steak, make sure you take the time to cook it perfectly. If it’s frozen, you want to defrost it slowly – overnight in the fridge is best. Then, before cooking, take it out of the fridge about 20 minutes before cooking time. This allows it to come back to room temperature and will bring it up to a nice natural colour. This is known as blooming.
Once it’s a lovely cherry-red colour, pat it dry with some kitchen roll. Following the rule ‘dry meat, high heat’ will help you get a good caramelisation and help the flavours to start developing.
This process is known as the Maillard reaction, after the French physician and chemist L. C. Maillard. He discovered a reaction between sugars, amino acids and heat which browns the surface of food as it’s cooked, everything from steaks or roast pork to bread or pizza. As well as changing the colour, this creates an array of different, complex flavours.
To help this, pre-heat a heavy-based pan until it’s nice and hot. This will help the heat distribution and retention. Lightly oil one side of the steak before carefully placing it in the hot pan. Press down gently to make sure all the surface makes contact with the pan for even cooking. Then leave it. Don’t poke, press, prod or otherwise interfere with it until it’s time to flip.
Once it’s ready, take it out of the pan and let it rest. This lets the fibres relax and the juices settle so the steak will be deliciously succulent and juicy. Ideally, leave it on a wire rack, covered in tin foil. If possible, let it rest in a warm oven, around 60 degrees.
Before serving, season with plenty of salt flakes and a dash of freshly milled black pepper. Once it’s ready, slice against the grain with a very sharp, non-serrated knife. Serve it with your choice of sides. We would choose our Alpine Fries and a simple, classic steak sauce.