Reverse Searing Steaks

Image of Reverse Searing Steaks on a woodend cutting boardWith the cost of beef these days, knowing how to cook a nice steak without ruining it has become more important than ever. Not to mention the need to know how to make cheaper cuts taste like filet mignon. The solution to both situations is a technique that isn’t new but it will blow your mind a bit.

Seeing a thick, beautiful, well-marbled steak in the meat case can be a difficult thing to pass up. The question is how to cook it. You could go the classic route and throw it on the grill and hope that the temp or your timing is just right to get a perfect medium rare. You could sear it in a hot pan and finish it in the oven. But, that doesn’t always come out the way you want it. Sometimes the meat is too rare or too well done.

For the best most consistent results, try reverse searing steaks.

Reverse searing goes contrary to the way you have been taught to think about cooking steaks. This technique offers more control over the internal temperature of your steak. And, as a bonus, it creates a flavorful crust on the outside with a very tender inside. The results are similar to a Sous Vide steak. But, much easier and without the expensive equipment.

So how do you do it?
Start your steaks in a moderately heated oven. 275º F is perfect. This will dry the surface of the meat which will help when you sear it in a pan later. The slow and low cooking temperature of the oven will give you more control over the internal temperature of your steak and keep it from overcooking. When the meat is done to your preference, sear it in a preheated cast iron skillet to create that beautiful crust on the outside.

This process can be done with New York steaks and rib eyes as well as cheaper cuts like chuck steaks with incredible results.

For a great step-by-step tutorial check out this link from Jessica Gavin, a chef culinary scientist.

Grills v.s. Griddles

Grills v.s. Griddles Image of grilled veggiesWith the hot weather and the summer nights at their longest, many of us find ourselves cooking outside rather than turning on the oven. This is especially true since there are so many options to choose from for outdoor cooking.

It used to be that all you needed to cook food on an open flame was some nice firewood and a stick to hold the meat. Then Webber created the kettle grill and backyard get-togethers were changed forever. Now, people wanting to throw a shrimp on the barbie have an amazing number of options for outdoor cooking.

Growing up, if you wanted to grill some steaks you lit the charcoal and waited for the coals to be perfect before throwing on your favorite cut of meat. But, now heating up a grill is as easy as pushing a button. (As long as the propane tank is full). Of course, BBQ connoisseurs will argue that wood fire is always best for flavor. And, others will prefer their big green egg.

Recently there has been a rise in popularity of the gas-powered outdoor griddle. They offer a little more versatility. But, beg the question, which do you need? A grill or a griddle? Or both? The answer is different depending on the person.

The main differences between grills v.s. griddles are obvious. A griddle is a solid slab of metal. And, a grill is made up of a number of metal bars that allow the heat, flame, and smoke access to whatever you’re cooking.

Griddles make cooking super-easy (they are essentially large frying pans) BUT they require seasoning (just like a cast iron pan) and other maintenance to keep them in top working order. BBQs require heat and some elbow grease to scrape off the grate.

Grills don’t require the same amount of upkeep. And, BBQ aficionados would agree that you just don’t get the same flavor if you aren’t using a grill. Gas vs charcoal is a whole other debate….

Another thing to keep in mind is that a griddle can get quite hot for great searing. But, you can’t get the same type of temperature control you would get when grilling over an open flame. Whether a gas grill or charcoal, you have the ability to make your cooking surface cooler or hotter depending on the needs of the items you are cooking. Griddles are generally simply going to be hot. There is no real way to cook something indirectly. Even if you turn off the heat source to part of the griddle, the heat from the other burners will creep over.

Food-wise anything you can cook on a grill can also be cooked on a griddle. But, the reverse is not true. No way you can cook eggs on a grill. Fish lovers might consider a backyard griddle because cooking flakier fish on a grill can result in losing some of the fish through the grates.

All this being said, which is better grill or griddle? There is no right answer. If you’re one of those people who like to cook large family meals outside, you might consider looking at one of each. This provides flexibility. For the best of both worlds, you can’t go wrong with a grill and a cast iron griddle plate to go on it when needed.

Salt

SaltIf you are cooking meat, chances are the first thing you will be told to do is salt it.

Have you ever wondered why? Sure, the obvious answer would be because it adds flavor, which is true.

Also true? Salt can make your meat taste meatier, juicier, and smell more appetizing. But that’s not the only reason for salting your meat before cooking so (Nerd alert!) dust off your middle school science textbook and let’s get started.

Do you remember those cell diagrams we all did and the experiments to demonstrate osmosis? Well, here’s one of the reasons we learned those things. (Whether you retained that knowledge is a totally different issue). Any recipe involving meat, whether you are grilling, roasting, or sautéing, will instruct you to salt your meat and let it rest for a certain amount of time. The reason you let it sit for a bit is that during the time the salt is dissolving in the exterior moisture of the meat you are using and drawing even more moisture out of the meat and bringing it to the surface.

Now, if you remember, osmosis is the primary means by which water is transported into and out of cells with the main objective of achieving a balance of moisture. So, since the salt has drawn out moisture from the meat and dissolved in that same moisture, the nature of osmosis then draws that moisture back into the meat along with the dissolved salt. The salt then breaks down the structure of the meat fibers and proteins thus making the meat more tender.

The longer you let meat sit with salt on it, the more tender your meat. Keep in mind though, salting meat is how they make jerky so if you leave it on too long and expose it to the air…well, you get the idea.

Brining does essentially the same thing as salting but in reverse. When you make a brine for a piece of meat like a pork loin, you are making a salt solution that is more dilute than the liquid in the cells of the pork. Once again, the cells in the pork are going to want to balance so they are going to draw the brine into the cells of the pork. The salt in the brine then alters the muscle fibers and proteins of the pork allowing those cells to hold more moisture, usually about 10% more. Meat that is cooked will lose approximately 20% of its moisture during the cooking process. So by brining your meat, not only will the salt in your solution make the meat more tender, but you will also cut the moisture loss almost by half, the result being a juicier pork loin which is why brining is recommended for leaner cuts of meat.

See kids? All those evenings crouched over a poster board with your colored pencils were worth it!

Essential Kitchen Knives

Essential Kitchen Knives Knives are the most important tool in your kitchen whether you are a seasoned chef or just dabble from time to time. Knowing this, we’ve compiled a list of the essential kitchen knives (and maybe a few others) to own if you are just starting out or if you are looking to just start over.

First things first. Those knife block sets can be a great value and they are pretty to look at. But, generally, you get more knives than you need or know what to do with. Better to spend a little bit more on the knives you need than get a deal on a set and only use three of them.

Essential
With these three knives, you should be able to accomplish anything you need to in the kitchen.

Chef’s Knife
A Chef’s Knife is your day in day out all-purpose workhorse. This is where you want to spend a little bit more for a high-quality knife. A high-quality carbon steel knife that has been treated well can last for decades. This knife is used to chop, julienne, or slice. You can use it to carve up a turkey or quickly slice up a watermelon. It should be strong but lightweight and feel comfortable in your hand. They can be 8 or 10 inches long depending on your preference.

Bread Knife
Also called a serrated knife, a bread knife is great at slicing rustic loaves of crusty bread. But, is also ideal for slicing the heirloom tomatoes from your garden without squashing them. Bread knives tend to be super affordable. And, they hold their sharpness for a long time. They come straight or offset depending on your preference. Bread makers would benefit more from the offset version.

Paring Knife
Paring knives are for tackling the small jobs. They are usually 3 to 3.5 inches long and should have a lightweight handle. These knives are used for cutting berries, deveining shrimp, or any other job that requires precision. They are definitely on the list of essential kitchen knives.

Nice to Have
These are the knives that are great to have in your culinary arsenal, but you could make do without.

Boning/Fillet Knife
This knife has only on purpose, removing the bones from meat, poultry, and fish. Boning knives are usually 5 to 6 inches long and are the most flexible of any kitchen knife. A filet knife tends to be longer at 6 to 11 inches, are just as flexible, and are used mostly for fish. Fillet knives will have a definite curve to them and end in a sharp point.

Santoku Knife
This is the Japanese equivalent of the Chef’s knife. They tend to be a bit shorter at 7 to 8 inches long and can hold an edge longer than a traditional Chef’s knife.

Cleaver
These knives are large, heavy, and usually square-shaped. They are the tool of choice for butchery as they are designed to cut through bone. They can be straight-edged or curved. Their weight allows the knife to be “dropped” to make deep cuts easier on the hand and wrist.

Carving Knife
These knives are longer, thinner, and more flexible than a Chef’s knife and are designed to carve thin slices of meat off of larger roasts like turkey, ham, and roast beef. The thin blades allow for more control of the cut and the flexibility gives the cuts more precision.