Friday, June 21, 2013

How NOT to Cook a Steak

Our next door neighbors have a cute small dog. They have a doggie door that leads to the fenced in back yard, and he often comes to greet us when we are getting into our out of our cars. (He barked at us the first few weeks we lived there, but I guess he's decided that we're harmless by now.) The fence only goes around the back side of their house, thus if I am sitting anywhere in the front portion of our house, I should not be able to see him.

However, twice now in the last 12-18 months, I have been sitting in our dining room (front right corner of our home) and looked out our windows to see their dog standing in our yard. The first time, DH went out to get him, but no one was home. We walked around to their back yard and found one of the gates hanging open. The dog trotted right in, and DH closed the gate behind him. I'm betting our neighbors don't even know about that incident. No harm, no foul; no real reason to mention it.

Then a few weeks ago, I was again sitting in the dining room, and again spotted our furry friend outside the front window. "Honey, the neighbor's dog is out again. Can you take him home, please?"  DH called him, walked with him to their house, and knocked on the front door. This time, our neighbors were home. They thanked us profusely for bringing him home and promised to do a better job of making sure the gate fully latches. DH came back home, and we thought that would be that. Again, just being neighborly, no big deal.

A few minutes later, the doorbell rang. Our neighbor was standing outside, holding the biggest T-bone steak I have ever seen. This thing was at least 10 inches (25 cm) across! "We just wanted to say thank you for returning our dog! We don't know what we would do without him. Please take this as a small token of our appreciation." We tried to explain that we were happy to do it and no gift was needed, but she insisted, and my parents taught me to be gracious when offered a gift, so we did end up accepting it.

There's just one little hitch: I've never cooked a steak in my life! I've eaten plenty of them, but I had absolutely no idea what to do with one sitting in my refrigerator. I'd been thinking of trying to learn to cook steak recently (my FIL inspired me; he makes *excellent* steaks!), but it's a bit pricey to experiment with. Why not try it out on a piece of meat that I didn't have to pay for? The worst thing that can happen is that it is inedible and we throw out it. Keep in mind, this was a single 2.3 lb (1 kg) T-bone steak; not two individual steaks, just one huge slab-o-beast! I know some of that was bone and the wide outer strip of fat (that we would leave on to cook it, but would not eat), but very nearly 2 pounds of it was edible red meat. That's at *least* four portions, and probably should be 5-6! But I needed to do some research to see how I wanted to proceed. Without knowing what else to do, I stuck it in our freezer, figuring I would decide on a course of action later.

Then the power outage happened last week. I knew the steak was huge and solid and would take quite a while to thaw. That also probably meant it was just fine to eat, even after sitting in the unpowered freezer for 24 hours, as long as we ate it within a couple of days.

Time to give it a whirl! I had it all planned out; I was going to do a cute little photo essay of me cooking my first steak. Things started well.  Heat the pan:

Insert steak:

Mistake #1: forgot to dry the steak before putting it in the pan. I was in a hurry to get started, and neglected that step, despite the directions being very clear on that point. Live and learn. Mistake #2: use pan large enough to hold your piece of meat and sear it while fully flat in the pan. (I don't think I own a pan large enough for this particular piece of meat, but I also don't ever intend to again cook a single steak this large in the future.)

Flip steak.

Okay, the sear is a little lacking. Mistake #3: let pan get a bit hotter next time. I think I was scared of it and didn't let it heat long enough. Mistake #4: use less oil. I thought it looked like too much when I put it in there, but I was following the directions. However, I have apparently watched enough cooking shows that I should follow my instincts next time. But that's okay, the whole point of this is that it is a learning experience, and it was (essentially) free, so even if I completely messed it up, I wasn't wasting (my) money.

Per the instructions I had found, when I was finished searing the steak, I stuck it in the oven, still in the pan I had used to sear it. I used this pan specifically because it was the largest one I own that can go straight from stovetop to oven (that isn't a dutch oven). I baked the steak, I checked it's temp (I think my whole family loves the instant read thermometers I gave them or Christmas; pricey but worth every penny!), and when it was ready, I pulled it out.

The instructions said to place on a cutting board and tent with foil. Both of my meat cutting boards were dirty, so I set the steak on one of my stoneware plates, tenting with foil as directed. I had gotten started late, plus letting the steak sit out and come to room temp had taken an hour, so it was now essentially Luke's bedtime when I pulled the steak out of the oven. We knew that the steak needed to rest for at least 10 minutes; by the time DH is done putting Luke to bed, the steak should be well rested, and we'll be ready to eat!

45 minutes later(!!), the child was *finally* in bed, and the steak was too cold to eat. Gggrrrr!! I wanted to stick it back in the oven for just a few minutes to reheat it. I had already put soap and water in the pan I had originally cooked it in, and I didn't want to dirty up a cookie sheet or something, and I was too lazy to put foil on a cookie sheet to keep it clean. Hmm....

Well, you know what? That plate the steak is sitting on is already dirty. We weren't going to use it to eat on, I was just going to rest the steak and carve it on that plate. Why not just put the whole steak back in the oven while leaving it sitting on the already dirty ovenproof plate? Brilliant!

Now, I knew when I did this that it was a risk. I don't usually put my plates in the oven, ovenproof or no. I *knew* there was a risk that I would forget the plate was super hot and try to pick it up. I knew I had to concentrate. The oven heated to 350 F (177 C), and I put the steak and plate inside. Five minutes later, I used a hot pad to pull it out of the oven and sat it on top of one of the unused eyes of my stove. I stood there, with the hot pad in my left hand and a knife in my right, contemplating how to carve the steak off the bone.

Then the phone rang. I knew I could not break concentration, so I let DH answer it. "It's your doctor, something about an appointment." ::snort:: I let DH relay questions and answers between me and the phone, knowing I should not move or really change what I was doing, but I was definitely distracted. He hung up, and I turned back to the plate.

"Oh," I thought, "I wanted to put a pat of butter on these steaks like they do at the steak restaurants." I put down the hot pad and turned to the refrigerator. I used the same (still clean) knife that I was about to use on the steaks to carve off two small pats of butter. I picked them up with my left hand and set the butter down on the counter, ready for when I had each steak plated. Still holding the knife, I turned back to the stove, finally ready to carve the meat off the T-bone.

Then I had one final thought: "Carving the meat off this bone will probably be easier if the plate is sitting on something more stable than the eye of the stove." I reached out with my left hand and grabbed the plate to move it to the flat counter top. That is pretty much the last conscious thought I remember having for a while.

I probably held on for 2-3 seconds before the message finally reached my brain that my fingers were burning. The plate had not been out of the 350 F/177C oven for more than 2-3 minutes, so it was still awfully hot.  I immediately put some ice on it (yes, I know now that they say not to do that anymore), and after a quick call to my dad (Mom wasn't home), he reminded me that an iced water bath would probably work better for that many fingers at one time, so I dunked my entire left hand up to my palm in a large glass of ice water.

Ow. That's about the only publicly repeatable thing I can say about it.

I do believe that the ice water bath is the only thing that prevented me from blistering on each of the four fingers of my left hand. They never did blister or even color, though the tips were tender for several days after.

While I sat agonizing/crying in the dining room, DH took care of carving the steaks (using a hot pad glove!). They weren't great, but they were far from bad. I can see some places to improve (starting with a more reasonably sized piece of meat!), and I am confident that it won't take me too long to get the hang of it. So even if I couldn't cut my own meat, I did get to eat it. Typing at work the day or two after was certainly not fun. It didn't hurt badly enough for me to say that I couldn't type, but it certainly was not pleasant. Lots of pain relievers, wincing, and sucking air through my teeth. It was more or less fine by Friday. Considering how much worse it really could have been, I'll take it.

So, now I know how NOT to cook a steak, but I will not be daunted. I will try again, and soon! But I probably won't ever put a stoneware plate in the oven again.
Currently feeling: ready to try again, in spite of the difficulties

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