Poor man’s rich steak

As I’ve mentioned a time or two, I’m not rolling in cash. Thus a common chunk of meat in my purchases is the chuck roast.

Now, if you do a bit of research, you will discover the chuck is a very complex group of muscles. Most are heavy use muscles, which means they’re tough. However, smack in the middle of the group are some very low use muscles. For one, there’s the piece that further down makes rib eye steaks – here, it’s called the chuck eye.

Now the biggest portion is in the chuck eye roast, but once you’ve started looking you can see pieces of this eye in other cuts of the chuck. And here-in lies the tale. See, there’s no problem with cutting out the eye from that roast so you’ve got two pieces of meat. You’ve got the tougher roast that needs cooked by braising. And you’ve got this steak. Depending on which cut it’s from, it’s 3 to 6 inches in diameter, circle to oval in shape, and since it was from a standard supermarket roast it’s an inch and a half to two inches thick. Oh, and you paid chuck roast prices, not steak prices.

So I’ve got this surprisingly fine cut. Now I get ready to cook it – and here, I’ve come to prefer the Colicchio / Ducasse / (a few other fine chefs and cooks) method of cooking a thick steak. That is, I use medium low to medium heat over an extended period of time.

Use a good skillet – I use my favorite cast iron – and get it medium hot. It can be dry or lightly oiled (butter is popular). Start by browning the edge of the steak, using the outer edge instead of the center and moving around the pan for each turn. I go two to three minutes per portion of edge and it usually takes, oh, ten to 12 minutes to get all the way around. Now I’ll pull the steak out for just a minute so I can pour out the very browned butter and rendered beef fat (if any). I’m not fond of the rendered beef fat taste in anything else so this gets dumped, you can use it in something else if you want. I’m pulling this butter, by the way, because it’s getting close to the burn point by now and burned butter isn’t all that good a taste.

Anyway, I add a couple more tablespoons of butter and let this melt, then add the steak to the pan – placing it so it only uses a half of the pan. I’m going to let this set for about 10-12 minutes on medium to medium low heat. At that point it’s pull the steak, drain the browned butter, add some more butter, and put the steak, flipped so raw side is down, on the ‘hot’ half of the pan. Another 10-12 minutes and it’s done.

Well, not quite. I put this finished steak into tin foil and wrap it closed. It’s going to sit in the foil for roughly half as long as it cooked – 15 to 20 minutes. It will still be hot, trust me.

Serving is unwrap, slice on the bias, and serve. Or if I’m alone and greedy, just put this pound or so of beef on a plate and gorge myself. It’s going to be rare to medium rare with a gorgeous maillard crust and otherwise beautifully tender.

Notice I didn’t mention salting. You can salt in advance which will pull some proteins to the surface which will in turn brown faster at a (slight) sacrifice of internal moistness. You can salt midway. You can save salting for taste at service time. You can also brine this if you’ve such a desire – soak it for a couple to eight hours in a salt-water bath, with enough salt to float an egg. (That is, if you put in an uncooked egg it’ll float about half-submerged in the water.)

A couple of cooks who make this also recommend basting during the side-cooking, doing it during the last half of each side. Butter, or butter in which garlic has been crushed, is the usual choice.

All the above work, and work well. The real key, however, is that this is a slowly cooked, tender, beautiful steak…

for which I paid Roast prices. A poor man’s steak that the rich will happily consume. If only it didn’t take 45 minutes to an hour, start to finish.

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