Australia is lucky to have access to great quality beef. I wasn’t a huge fan of steak before I moved here – in my opinion, there were a lot better ways to cook beef. That might have been because the steak we get in Malaysia is often lacking in quality and just doesn’t compare to the grass fed, aged beef that is available here.
This recipe comes from one of my favourite cookbooks of all time, Damien Pignolet’s French. Ever since I first made his Raspberry Tart, I was hooked. His ingredients list is detailed, even telling you the specific size that something needs to be cut into i.e. 5mm dice, and his instructions are very specific so that you’re not left wondering what the author of the recipe meant. It’s a classic French cookbook that really pushed me to try difficult recipes and convinced me that french cooking is not that hard once you’ve practiced the technique.
Mr Pignolet says that this steak with shoestring fries and a simple green salad make a near-perfect meal. And I must agree. This recipe is now a dinner party staple. I make the full kilo of butter and freeze it so that we always have a simple, but impressive dinner option on hand.
It has a long ingredients list, but if you need convincing that it’s worth the effort, here’s an extract from the book:
Created by Freddy Dumont in 1941, specifically to go with sirloin steak, and served in the Restaurant Cafe de Paris in Geneva, this butter flavoured with herbs and spices was an instant success – so much so that it was almost impossible to get into the restaurant for years. The original restaurant still exists, and still has the butter on the menu.
- 1 kg soft unsalted butter
- 60g tomato ketchup
- 25g Dijon mustard
- 25g capers in brine, rinsed and roughly chopped
- 125g eschallots, finely diced
- 50g curly leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 50g fresh chives, finely chopped
- 5g dried marjoram
- 5g dried dill
- 5g fresh thyme leaves, lightly chopped
- 10 fresh Tarragon leaves, lightly chopped
- pinch of ground dried rosemary
- 1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
- 8 anchovy fillets, rinsed and finely chopped
- 1 tbsp good brandy
- 1 tbsp Madeira
- 1 tsp Worchestershire sauce
- ½ tsp sweet paprika
- ½ tsp Keen's curry powder
- pinch of Cayenne pepper
- 8 white peppercorns, finely ground
- juice of 1 lemon
- zest of ½ lemon
- zest of ¼ orange
- 10-12g sea salt
- Beat the butter on low speed in an electric mixer until creamy.
- In a separate bowl, thoroughly combine all the remaining ingredients before adding to the butter. Mix on a low speed in the mixer.
- Place a double thickness of foil 20cm in length on a workbench and place a third of the butter along the closest edge, leaving about 5cm free at either end. Roll into a long shape about 5cm in diameter, twisting the ends to seal. Repeat twice more, or until all the butter is used up, then refrigerate until set.
- Cook your steak, aiming to keep it slightly underdone and leaving 5-6 minutes for resting to allow the meat to relax. Top with Cafe de Paris butter and and place under a very hot grill until the butter is melted and slightly coloured.
It will keep for several months in the freezer, however it is best used within a few weeks - be sure to transfer the required amount of butter to the fridge a few hours before use so that it will melt readily under a hot grill.
Now, to the steak part. Everyone has an opinion on steak and how to cook it, but here’s what I have gathered from my many learnings on the subject – and my other favourite chef, Heston Blumenthal’s new book. Heston’s book is incredibly informative because he explains the science behind each step.
Most meats will improve with aging, though some respond better than others. There are two ways of aging meat, wet and dry. Aging allows the natural enzymes to break down the proteins, fats and sugars into smaller more flavourful units – helping to tenderise the meat and concentrate the flavour.
Dry aging is the traditional method and cuts are stored in a temperature and humidity controlled environment – the idea being that the conditions are ideal for enzymes to start breaking down the meat and to prevent bacteria and spoilage. Since the meat loses water and shrinks during storage, dry aged meat is more expensive and has somewhat fallen out of favour with all but the best producers.
Wet aging is the more popular option today, although it lacks in tenderness and concentrated flavour. With this process, the meat is vacuum-sealed and stored in the fridge. It’s a quicker process, and because the water is retained in the vacuum-sealed packaging, there’s no weight loss and therefore, more economical for producers.
Try this rudmentary method of dry aging, as suggested by Heston. Buy a good quality piece of beef (large roast is better than steaks), remove it from the container and place it on a cake rack set on top of a plate. Place in the bottom rack of a not too full fridge, uncovered. After a few days, remove the meat from the fridge and trim off the exterior which will have dried out (the longer you leave it, the more you’ll have to trim.) I have found that overnight is fine for steaks and no trimming is usually required.
Salt or pepper? Traditionally, it was thought that salt would draw moisture away from the meat, but if you do it just before cooking this is unlikely to be the case. Don’t add pepper though, as it will just burn on the hot grill.
Start with room temperature steak
Remember, the aim is to brown the outside as quickly as possible, while cooking the inside so it’s a good idea to have the steak at room temperature. Take it out of the fridge a few hours before cooking. Cooking steak from the fridge means that it will take longer for the middle to cook, and you lose more of the juices.
I’m sure you’ve read the salt or pepper debate a dozen times, along with the how many times to flip a steak debate.
Searing meat in a hot pan with a little oil is great way to cook steak. When protein-rich foods are exposed to high heat, the amino acids begin to react with other compounds to create a huge range of different flavours – this is known as the Maillard reaction. Contrary to popular belief, searing does not ‘seal in the juices’ – yeah, I know we’ve all referring to sealing the meat before but if you think about it, the sizzling sound of the meat hitting the pan is the juices boiling away. That, and no matter how well you ‘seal’ a piece of meat (unless you’ve cooked it to grey) – it’s bound to have juices seep out during the resting phase.
Successful searing depends on getting the pan really hot – Heston suggests using a hot pan with a bit of oil (make sure you use oil with a high smoke point), but this can be difficult if you’re cooking six steaks at once, so I just use the barbecue.
You can either cook the meat entirely on the grill or pan, or start the Maillard reaction and transfer it to the oven to continue cooking through. Make sure that you pat your steak dry before placing it in on the barbecue or pan so that you get the best possible Maillard reaction.
Degree of doneness
The best piece of advice here is that if you’re new to cooking steak, invest in a digital thermometer. It gives a degree of accuracy when you’re cooking multiple steaks, and you’ll soon learn what rare, medium rare and medium steaks feel like by touch.
50 C – Rare
55 C – Medium rare
60 C – Medium
If you cook it past 60 C, I don’t want to know about it.
Aim to take the steak off 5C before it’s at temperature as the resting will continue the cooking process.
To flip or not to flip?
The quicker the meat browns, the less moisture is lost. Heston suggests flipping every 15 seconds – a 2cm steak should take about 2 minutes to reach medium rare. This can be difficult if you’re cooking six steaks at once, so just guesstimate it.
You must rest the meat. It allows the residual heat to finish the cooking and lets the fibres relax so that they hold on to more juices. If you want proof, go look for Ep 1 of How to Cook Like Heston.