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.
(Adapted loosely from “Modernist Cuisine at Home”)
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