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A new way to cook steak

When an expensive prime rib eye meets a freezer, a low oven and an iPhone

When an expensive prime rib eye meets a freezer, a low oven and an iPhone

Last year former Microsoft chief technical officer and billionaire Nathan Myhrvold published a 2,400-page, six-volume, $625 cookbook called “Modernist Cuisine,” which detailed all the transformative advances in technology and technique in restaurant cooking. This past year, he and his co-author, Maxime Bilet, followed up their grand opus with a more modest effort called “Modernist Cuisine at Home” (The Cooking Lab). Barely more than 450 pages and with a comparatively modest price tag of $140, this book applies cutting-edge technique to both the equipment typical home cooks have and the kinds of recipes they are more likely to make. Hamburger, chicken wings and macaroni and cheese all get the modernist treatment.

But no recipe in this book has quite captured the imagination of testers and reviewers as much as the one for steak. This new method is quite simple and also vaguely disturbing to anyone who’s cranked up the grill for maximum heat output and fancies himself a steak maven.

It goes like this:

You start with an inch-thick, second-mortgage kind of steak. You put it in the freezer for up to an hour. You heat a cast-iron skillet until it’s hot enough to brand a cow. You sear the meat to achieve a steakhouse burnish. You stick a digital probe into it. You slip it into an oven set to the lowest possible — i.e., bread-warming — setting.

Then you wait for an hour or two until the thermometer reaches a desired temperature in the high 120s or low 130s. Once the steak is cooked, you season it and serve it immediately. No need to rest the meat as you might after taking it off a hot grill. This slice of cow has done nothing but rest.

I’ve seen various iterations of this recipe. One calls for a bone-in rib eye frozen for an hour and cooked in a 200-degree oven; another starts with a New York strip frozen for 30 minutes and then finished in a 160-degree oven.

I first tested this recipe with the kind of expensive steaks that Myhrvold designed it for. I took a 1¼-inch-thick, 18-ounce prime rib eye and a nearly inch-thick 14-ounce prime New York strip and tried not to despair as I shuffled them into the freezer, next to the box of Popsicles. After half an hour, these well-marbled steaks were as stiff as boards. I then slipped them, one by one, into a cast-iron skillet filmed with oil that had spent five minutes heating over a high flame.

My gas oven set to its lowest temperature of 150 degrees rarely registered below 168 degrees on the digital thermometer readout. But all the recipes said not to stress out over the exact temperature of the oven. After about an hour and 20 minutes, the internal temperature of the New York strip registered 126 degrees. After nearly two hours, it registered only 130 degrees. I was aiming for 133 degrees but, well, I wanted steak.

I swished the steaks around in the pan I had seared them in with some butter, salt, cracked pepper and a dash of Worcestershire until they glistened like something on a laminated menu picture.

The results? Pretty incredible. Both steaks came out just shy of medium rare, warm and tender.

A couple of days later I repeated the experiment, this time with typical supermarket steaks — one choice-grade rib eye and one choice-grade New York strip, neither much thicker than a half-inch. I made sure to buy a natural beef that hadn’t been mechanically tenderized. Tenderized steaks, which are punctured by small needles, have been linked to E. coli infection, and I figured this recipe would offer the perfect incubation for infectious diseases.

These steaks didn’t freeze as hard, didn’t get as good a sear and cooked more quickly than the primo ones; they were ready to go after about 40 minutes.

They tasted like supermarket steaks, tough and a bit bloody, without any of the sizzle or char to boost the flavor.

So, in conclusion, I’d recommend you keep the accompanying recipe on file for a really good steak you feel like sharing with another food nerd.

Slow-cooked Steak

(Adapted loosely from “Modernist Cuisine at Home”)

  • 2 inch-thick prime steaks, New York strip or rib eye
  • Oil for coating pan
  • 1-2 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and cracked pepper
  • Dash Worcestershire sauce

Unwrap the steaks and place them uncovered in the freezer for 40 minutes. Preheat a cast-iron skillet, filmed lightly with oil, over a high flame for 5 minutes. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees. Sear the steaks, one by one, about 1 minute on each side of each steak, until the color is appealing. Transfer to a baking sheet.

Stick the probe on an instant-read digital thermometer into one of the steaks and place in the oven. The oven temperature should stay below 180 degrees according to the read on the thermometer.

Cook until the steaks are at least 130 degrees for rare-plus, 133 degrees for medium rare.

Heat the unwashed skillet over a medium flame with butter, seasonings and Worcestershire sauce. Swirl the steaks and any juices in the pan to coat. Serve immediately.

- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog

27 comments Add your comment

JollyMan

January 2nd, 2013
2:13 pm

Interesting…..another idea which might save the “grill taste” would be to use the BGE..JK did you really spring the $625 or $140? Both r above my pay grade

John Kessler

January 2nd, 2013
2:29 pm

I did not buy either book, but I have looked through them.

RK

January 2nd, 2013
2:40 pm

You could’ve had MC@H for $105 before Christmas on Amazon; I think it’s 120 now.

I thought you were going to write about the cryo-fried steak! I haven’t read about this technique (still waiting on my copy).

BTW, the mac & cheese is awesome, as everyone says.

david c

January 2nd, 2013
2:41 pm

For Christmas I cooked a supermarket prime rib (only two bones) pretty much the same way. But the meat wasn’t frozen. At 200 degrees until my thermometer reached 130 degrees. I let it rest and the temp went to 135 degrees. Best piece of prime rib I have ever cooked. The entire roast was perfectly pink and juicy except maybe the 1/8 of an inch that was browned during the high sear.

Glenn

January 2nd, 2013
3:03 pm

Seems like a lot of time and trouble, not to mention uncertainty as to dinner timing. That said, I’m game if they truly taste better than the normal pan seared and oven finished steak, where one can easily attain a perfect medium rare. So, John, prepared as you detail, do they really taste better?

Grasshopper

January 2nd, 2013
3:04 pm

So they’ve ‘discovered’ roasting…and expensive steaks taste better than cheap ones.

What other marvels are in those 2850 pages?

Baltisraul.....

January 2nd, 2013
3:30 pm

If he ddn’t own a publishing business would anyone taken a chance on the 1st 2,400 page book at $625? John, do you know how well the first book sold? Curious!

GG

January 2nd, 2013
3:44 pm

Intriguing, but I agree with Grasshopper: It was a great steak, but was it that much better than the same high-grade steak cooked on a grill?

And for that matter, how much of the taste was due to “hungry sauce” as a result of waiting two hours for your steak to cook?

RA

January 2nd, 2013
3:59 pm

It sounds like I need to cook my Filet Mignon on the grill for 6 minutes on one side and 5 minutes on the other. Then enjoy it while yall are waiting 2 hours to eat a steak cooked in the oven. Less energy used by me and the grill. More time to enjoy a Apple Strudel and Gran Marnier.

Decatur Greg

January 2nd, 2013
4:19 pm

@GG – I was thinking the same thing. It reminds me what my father likes to say “the difference between a good meal and a great meal is 2 hours”… he said that when I used to complain and ask when dinner would be ready. I don’t think he was referring to taking more time to prepare the meal… just that you’re hungrier after waiting two hours. :-)

Sad Sack

January 2nd, 2013
5:11 pm

Tried it a couple of weeks ago Too much time and effort – end result tasted just the same to me. Easier just to use the grill for 10 min.

crackbaby

January 2nd, 2013
5:21 pm

JK – Thanks for the write-up.

We’ll give it a go as it does not require any special equipment. Can anybody give a recommendation for a proven source of prime steaks in the Roswell / Alpharetta area?

Bon Appetit

Billyho

January 2nd, 2013
5:37 pm

@crackbaby – I’m pretty sure you can get them at Costco and Samsclub.

Hooty Goot

January 2nd, 2013
6:11 pm

And your point is ?

A new way to cook steak | CookingPlanet

January 2nd, 2013
7:10 pm

[...] A new way to cook steak [...]

Jim

January 2nd, 2013
10:23 pm

First of all, this is about the 100th time I’ve seen an article discussing this method.

Second, for those dissing it, it’s essentially a poor mans way around sous vide, which method can be done mostly unattended and in advance so you can have your steak done on the day you want to eat it faster the the grill guy and cooked uniformly (good luck with that using only a grill) to a precise internal temperature. But you need equipment for sous vide that you don’t for this work around. This is no cost but more of a pain the dropping a steak into a sous vide setup and not as precise.

The $625 book sold out its first run and they did subsequent printings.

I picked up the At Home book for $65 when BN had a 50% special around Christmas. Highly recommend it.

Call It Like It Is

January 3rd, 2013
7:42 am

Think I will just stick with getting my Big Green Egg up to 800 degrees, 2 min on one side, flip it and close the dampers pull her out after a couple more minutes. Medium to medium rare every single time.

Baltisraul.....

January 3rd, 2013
8:03 am

Thanks Jim for the info.

crackbaby…….never saw prime meat at Sam’s Club. Never shopped at Costco. I believe your best bet would be Fresh Market.

GeorgePBurdell

January 3rd, 2013
8:42 am

So they’ve figured out how to cook a sous vide steak without the water bath? Big deal.

The freezing step makes me wonder why it’s necessary. Freezing breaks down the cells in meat and causes them to rupture, releasing internal fluids. It also breaks down the structure of the meat and makes it mushier. My thought is that they did this to keep the internal portions of the meat from cooking during the sear process.

The article doesn’t mention whether the cookbook authors used aged beef, either wet or dry. I believe a dry-aged steak would work best in this recipe since it has a lower amount of moisture and would not suffer as much during the freezing step. The same might apply for grass fed versus grain-finished beef.

Prime beef is available at Costco at a reasonable price. Their choice grades are also a step up from grocery-store-steaks. Whole Foods (the former Harry’s Market) in Alpharetta also has prime beef but it’s usually priced well above $20/lb. There are also a smattering of independent butchers in the area that may carry prime grade beef.

The moral of your article is that the quality of the steak and how you prepare it is the key. If you’ve ever enjoyed a prime grade beef carpaccio or tartare, you’ll realize that improper cooking will ruin even a great cut of meat. What the recipe authors have proven is that proper searing to seal in the juices and then not over-cooking the meat is the best way to enjoy prime beef.

Personally, I like my dry-aged prime beef served with at least a chance of being resuscitated table-side.

BTW, Costco also sells whole cuts and case lots of prime beef if you’re interested in dry aging it yourself. Bone-in prime rib ages well and can be done in your refrigerator. I would not recommend trying to dry age grocery-store-steaks.

Edward

January 3rd, 2013
2:31 pm

Good lord, for all that effort I’d rather go to Hal’s or any number of decent restaurants in town where they will cook the steak to perfection and serve it within minutes.

Chris

January 3rd, 2013
3:25 pm

John, why use 1/2 inch steaks as opposed to 1″ for the super market comparison? Surely that will affect the outcome.

Reds

January 4th, 2013
3:33 pm

Jusy FYI — the “Hoss” version is down to ~$450 on amazon. Not that I am going to buy it…. I’ll wait for the Kindle edition! ;) Kidding!

Thanks for experimenting JK. I always love posts like these.

By: Reds | CookingPlanet

January 4th, 2013
7:11 pm

[...] By: Reds [...]

Baltisraul.....

January 5th, 2013
9:53 am

All of us can cook a great steak and not have to go thru this over-thought recipe. PASS

Bill

January 6th, 2013
5:06 pm

For prime steaks, Patton’s in Duluth is my go to butcher.

[...] Now the pair has scaled down the book in a volume called Modernist Cuisine at Home, and inside that book is one of the strangest methods of cooking steak we’ve ever heard of, Access Atlanta’s John Kessler reports. [...]

[...] Now the pair has scaled down the book in a volume called Modernist Cuisine at Home, and inside that book is one of the strangest methods of cooking steak we’ve ever heard of, Access Atlanta’s John Kessler reports. [...]