The New York Times: Learn to make the juiciest steak with this hot restaurant trick

Eric Kim
The New York Times
5 Min Read
Basting your steaks with butter is the secret to perfectly cooked meat at home.
Basting your steaks with butter is the secret to perfectly cooked meat at home. Credit: DAVID MALOSH/NYT

At Twelve, a waterfront restaurant in Portland, Maine, the hottest seat in the house is right by the plancha, where you pick up a few tricks (and a little perspiration) while watching line cooks prepare steak after steak.

On a recent visit, Everette Allen, the chef at the protein station, made about a dozen strip steaks in an hour.

He seasoned each slab with salt, with white crystals visible on the red meat. Then, he seared the steak’s fat cap running along its side by holding it up with tongs perpendicular to the hot metal plancha. After browning both sides of the steak, hard and fast in its own sizzling fat, he transferred it to the oven to finish cooking.

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When Allen placed the dish in front of me, I knew I was in for something special.

For those nights when a chef isn’t making your steak dinner — and when you don’t want to turn on the oven at home — a stovetop butter baste is the way to go.

The simple method, a classic French technique called arroser, or to baste, involves searing the steak, then adding butter and aromatics like garlic and fresh herbs, and tilting the pan to spoon the pooled butter repeatedly over the meat to gradually bring the internal temperature up to about 120 degrees. As it rests off the heat, the steak will continue rising in temperature to reach a lovely medium-rare. Butter basting your steak helps you achieve an even, rosy pink interior, juicy and full of promise, rather than a distinct red line in the centre, which is often tough and somehow both hot and cold at the same time (like seared ahi tuna, and not in a good way).

Hannah Ryder, the chef de cuisine of Twelve, said butter basting works only when the butter is “hot and foaming,” so that its high heat can help elevate the temperature within the steak, as well as form a nice crust. If your butter isn’t foamy, she said, “you’re kind of just washing away that sear with flat butter,” which is watery. Another definition for arroser, in French, is “to water,” but that’s not what we want with steak cookery.

Butter-basted steak with asparagus. When this simple steak gets a quick butter baste, its centre cooks gently and evenly, and its outside develops a beautiful bronze crust sticky with ginger, garlic and herbs.
Butter-basted steak with asparagus. When this simple steak gets a quick butter baste, its centre cooks gently and evenly, and its outside develops a beautiful bronze crust sticky with ginger, garlic and herbs. Credit: DAVID MALOSH/NYT

In fact, Ryder suggests listening for “the little popping of the thyme leaves,” a good indicator that your butter is hot enough for a proper baste.

Here’s one more tip: The No. 1 trick to cooking steak at home is hiding all of your smoke detectors. “No matter what, that thing will go off,” Ryder said. (Of course, put them back right afterwards.) All this to say, you need high heat to cook a great steak at home. But that’s only half of it: You also need a gentler, more even heat, in the form of an oven or, as in this recipe, a tried-and-true butter baste.

When a seared steak is finished with a hot shower of fat, its centre cooks gently and evenly, and its outsides develop a bronze crust infused with whatever you choose to add. In this recipe, ginger, garlic and herbs lend their aromas, and the ginger leeches out its sugars, which caramelize, making the pan sauce shiny and sticky. It’s an overall effect that a quick and hard sear alone cannot duplicate.

While the steak rests, raw asparagus can be stir-fried in the savoury pan juices. A splash of soy brings you home, especially once served with white rice to soak up the beef’s buttery remnants, and a spritz of lime resuscitates the palate coated in fat.

This steak might not make you feel as if you’re in a restaurant, because you’ve cooked it yourself. But you’ll appreciate the taste and the view. It’s the hottest seat in the house.

Recipe: Butter-Basted Steak With Asparagus

By Eric Kim

When this simple steak gets a quick butter baste, its centre cooks gently and evenly and its outside develops a beautiful bronze crust infused with sticky ginger, garlic and herbs. Its overall effect is one that a quick and hard sear alone cannot duplicate. While the steak rests, asparagus is quickly cooked using the residual heat from the steak skillet, gaining flavour from the pan juices. Serve with white rice to soak up those buttery remnants cut with electric lime.

Yield: 2 servings

Total time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 boneless New York strip steak (1 1/2 inches thick, ideally with a fat cap; about 1 pound)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 pound asparagus, preferably thick spears
  • Avocado or canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 large garlic cloves, unpeeled but crushed
  • 1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, unpeeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 thyme or rosemary sprig
  • Cracked black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • Lime wedges, for serving

Preparation:

  1. If your steak has a thick fat cap, use a sharp paring knife to score it with a crosshatching pattern. Generously season the steak all over with salt. Let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes or up to 1 hour.
  2. While the steak rests, trim an inch off the ends of the asparagus, then peel the tough, woody bottom 2 inches off each spear. (This means you don’t have to throw so much of the ends away.) Cut each spear in half crosswise at an angle.
  3. Heat a large cast-iron or other heavy skillet over medium-high. Dab the steak dry with a paper towel. Add enough oil to lightly coat the skillet. Wait for a wisp of smoke, then use tongs to hold the steak perpendicular to the cast iron and gently sear the fat cap until some of the fat renders about 2 minutes. Carefully lay the steak down and sear on one side without moving it until a nice golden crust forms about 4 minutes. Flip and sear the other side until browned, about 2 minutes.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the butter, garlic, ginger and thyme. When the butter bubbles, tilt the skillet slightly so the butter pools. Spoon the hot, foaming butter over the steak. Repeat, like you’re bathing it until the internal temperature of the steak reaches 120 degrees (medium-rare), 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the steak to a cutting board, season with freshly cracked pepper and let rest for at least 10 minutes or up to 30 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, raise the heat to medium-high then add the soy sauce and asparagus to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the asparagus turns shiny and bright green, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover with a lid. Let the asparagus steam in the residual heat while the steak rests.
  6. When ready to eat, slice the steak against the grain (perpendicular to the fibres running across the meat), so the meat is especially tender when you eat it. Serve the steak slices sprinkled with salt and spritzed with lime, if using, and with the steamed asparagus.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

© 2024 The New York Times Company

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