I’ve always loved the big steak dinner, but sometimes I just want to satisfy that beef craving without breaking the bank or my diet. So I’ve been working on a way to get that big, juicy steak flavor in a little more cost-effective and time-saving way. By using what I call the sear-and-slice method, I can turn one nine-ounce New York strip into a flavor-packed dinner that serves two generously. Fajitas, warm salads, and steak sandwiches are just three of my favorite ways to serve sear-and-slice steak (see the recipes); you can use this method to invent your own steak dinners. The only trick to learn is how not to overcook the meat.
Here’s how the “sear-and-slice” method works: After searing the steak in a very hot cast-iron pan and transferring it to a cutting board to rest (the steak is still pretty rare), I sauté vegetables in the same pan; then I slice the steak and toss everything together in the same pan to combine the flavors and give the steak a finishing touch of heat. I add a little bread, a few tortillas, or some salad greens, and my sauté is supper.
Buy a great steak—you only need one
Any steak can be seared and sliced for a good dinner, but I like a New York strip best. It’s a flavorful, juicy steak with just enough chew in each bite to hold flavor without being tough. Don’t confuse this boneless steak with a sirloin steak. A New York strip is the boneless meaty portion of a T-bone steak (the other side of the T-bone is the filet mignon). Sometimes grocery stores like to call a New York strip a boneless shell steak, because a shell steak is really just a New York strip—except that it’s still attached to the bone. This backward labeling is just designed to confuse us all, I’m convinced.
While I’ve made friends with Greg, the butcher at my local gourmet grocery, and I can always count on him to cut some beautiful New York strips for me, I also find that the specialty meat section of my supermarket has some great-looking steaks. The New York strip steaks in this section are nicely marbled and well trimmed. It’s important to be choosy about the thickness of the steak—I like mine to be a solid one inch thick. Any thinner and the steak will overdone by the time it’s seared.
My favorite pan for searing is cast iron
My ten-inch cast-iron pan is the perfect size and weight to cook these steak dinners. The heavy cast iron is a great heat conductor—the pan gets really hot and holds the heat for even, rapid searing. And ten inches is just the right size for searing one steak; any more room and the oil coating the pan would start to smoke and burn. After the steak is seared, the pan is just big enough to sauté the vegetables. (For more about cast-iron skillets, see the box below.) If you don’t have a cast-iron pan, use your heaviest ten-inch skillet (one with straight sides is best).
To sear a steak well, season it generously and add it to a very hot pan with a thin coating of oil. Once you put the oil in the pan and set it over medium-high heat, it will take anywhere from two to four-minutes (depending on your cooktop) to get hot. I use a couple of techniques to check the heat. After a minute or two, I hold my hand about three-inches above the oil—it should feel really warm. Second, I touch just the tip of the seasoned steak to the oil; if it sizzles and spatters, the pan is ready to go and I proceed with the recipe. If not, I quickly remove the steak and test again in a minute or so. Be careful—the pan and oil can be too hot. If the oil starts to smoke, turn off the flame and slide the pan off the heat. Wait a-few minutes and begin again with fresh oil.
Sear the steak—but don’t overcook it. For these recipes, I want a well-seared deep golden crust on the steak, but I want to keep the center rare. Traditionally, I’m a medium-rare girl, but for these recipes, I always cook the steak rare, since I’m planning to toss the sliced steak back in the pan later with the vegetables. You’ll have no problem getting a golden crust (and keeping the center rare) if your pan is hot enough. Also, once the steak is in the pan, resist the urge to move it around or lift it up until it’s time to flip it. Constant contact with the hot oil and pan is essential for the best searing and crust.
A little rest helps redistribute the steak’s juices. When you sear a piece of meat, all the juices rush to the outer edges; that’s why you’ll often hear the suggestion to let your meat “rest”; otherwise, when you cut into the meat, all the juices will spill out immediately. This resting time is perfect for the sear-and-slice recipes: It gives you just the right amount of time to sauté peppers and onions for the fajitas, or shallots and ginger for the warm salad, or mushrooms and onions for the steak sandwich (and in the same pan, no less). Once the vegetables are sautéed, slice your steak thinly (no chunks, please), toss the slices in the pan, and your juicy steak dinner is ready.
Caring for cast-iron pans
Not only are cast-iron skillets great conductors of heat, they’re also inexpensive and usually easy to find. I bought mine from my local hardware store, but most cookware stores carry them, as do many mail-order catalogs. Cast iron is slightly porous, so the skillet needs to be seasoned if it’s new. This process takes about 20 minutes but once completed, the pan is good to go. To season the pan, use a paper towel to spread a generous amount of canola oil over the entire interior surface of the skillet. Set the skillet over low heat for about five minutes. Remove the pan and wipe it out with clean paper towels. Repeat this process at least twice. After this initial seasoning, the pan is easy to care for: To clean it, a quick rinse and wipe down is all that’s needed (don’t put it in the dishwasher, as sitting water will make it rust). Be sure cast iron is completely dry before putting it away.