Paris mon amour! It feels so wonderful to be back in France for one month, you really appreciate a place once you’ve been far away from it. And concerning French gastronomy, I feel like I’m discovering it for the first time. Or more accurately, I probably took most of the flavors in French cooking for granted and had never felt much curiousity towards them, but having lived in Brazil for one year, I suddenly realized all the ingredients that I really missed on a daily basis. Like raspberries, which believe it or not are impossible to find in Brazil, or good and inexpensive dark chocolate, or spices and condiments like Herbes de Provence, Dijon Mustard and Piment d’Espelette. Espelette Chili is a variety of chili pepper cultivated in the South of France in the Basque Region that I loved to use to flavor everything, from meats and dips to salad dressings and soups, because it’s spicy but not so hot to the point that it will numb your mouth and deprive you of actually enjoying the flavor of the food, and it’s delightful because it brings a slightly roasted flavor to anything you add it to.
Apart from rediscovering French food, I’ve also learned to cook the perfect Sirloin Steak, or Faux Filet as we call it here, and it started with a huge fail. Let me start off by saying that meat is not what I’m best at, though I have been more interested in eating really good meat lately and trying more diversified cuts, so I’ve been polishing my skills in that area and have actually been quite successful at learning new tricks (including making ribs for the first time, but more on that in another post). Except for pan-cooking meat, which I always seem to get wrong despite meticulously following recipe indications and timings. The steak always comes out too chewy, too hard, too tough: there’s nothing sadder than investing in a good prime cut of steak and winding up with an overcooked piece of grey meat.
I wanted to cook a great steak for my parents on the first night we had dinner together in our home in Paris and went for a Sirloin cut. But once again the steaks turned out all wrong, tough and dry, so much so that my father left more than half on his plate. Ouch! It takes a failure to get it right the second time. I did some really thorough internet research this time and realized that 1) there’s more to cooking steak than just getting the cooking timing right and 2) the magic happens in the steps before and after cooking, when all I really paid attention to was the moment when the steak was in the pan. I tried it again and it turned out perfect this time around. Here are some tips that I’ve learned to get your pan-cooked steak right that you might find useful:
- Make sure the meat is not wet when you put it in the pan, or else it will simmer instead of “searing” and won’t get that nice brown, crusty exterior you want in a steak. Pat it dry with some paper towels before.
- Leave the steak at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before cooking: never cook it right out of the fridge, or else the heat of the pan against the cold meat will make it tough.
- Do not season with salt before cooking in a pan, otherwise it will release moisture in the pan. Add salt after cooking.
- However, do not skip on other great and flavorful seasonings, such as dried garlic, herbs, fresh pepper, etc. Rub the seasoning into the steak with your hands. You can also season the steak ahead of time and let it marinate in the fridge for a few hours for even better flavor.
- Make sure the pan is VERY hot: heat it for several minutes on medium-high heat (not on the highest level) before cooking the steak in a half-and-half mixture of butter and olive oil.
- Sear the steak for 2 minutes on one side, and DO NOT move it. Set a timer, do something else during those 2 minutes, then flip the steak and cook on the other side for 1 1/2 minute. Once again, do not move it until the end.
- Finally, after removing from the heat, place the steak on a cutting board, cover with aluminium foil and let it rest for 10 minutes for the juices to settle in the meat. If you cut it open immediately after cooking, the steak will loose most of its juicyness, and you don’t want that!
- If you slice the steak into strips, cut it across the fibers instead of along them: this will make them more tender and easier to chew.
Espelette Chili Sirloin Steak:
Makes 1 serving
One 1 inch thick (2.5 cm) Sirloin steak, between 6 and 8 oz (170-220g)
1 1/2 tsp Espelette Chili powder
1 1/2 tbsp dry herbs (I used a blend of Thyme, Marjoram, Rosemary and Oregano)
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp dry garlic
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tbsp butter
Salt to taste
1. Take the steak out of the fridge, pat it dry with paper towels and rub the seasonings (dried garlic, herbs and Piment d’Espelette) in the steak with your hands. Let it reach room temperature for 40 minutes.
2. Heat a cast-iron skillet or stainless steel pan on medium-high heat (do not set on highest) and let it get very hot for about 3-4 minutes. Add the olive oil and butter to the pan, then sear the steak in the pan on one side for 2 minutes without moving it. Flip the steak over using a pair of tongs and cook on the other side for 1 1/2 minute, once again without moving.
3. Immediately remove from the pan to stop the cooking, leave the steak on a cutting board and cover with aluminium foil for 10 minutes. This is the most important step for the delicious juices to distribute and set in the steak.
4. Add salt to taste and serve with a side of steamed asparagus.