A Good Steak Deserves The Best You Can Give It

If you spring the big bucks for a good steak, like a Ribeye or Filet Mignon, you want it to come out just the way you like it: rich, juicy, well seasoned and medium-rare. Since you are cooking this at home rather than in a steakhouse restaurant, you want it to still be elegant.

Filet Mignon with a Balsamic Vinegar Glaze served with red potatoes and string beans.
Filet Mignon with a Balsamic Vinegar Glaze served with red potatoes and string beans.

When a good steak is on sale, which doesn’t happen every week, treat yourself to a good one. It will still be cheaper than at a restaurant and just as easy. If you don’t want to spend a lot of time making side dishes, you can get most things like that already made and ready to eat. All of that is up to you. We’re here to talk about meat.

Have no doubt you can find any number of YouTube videos, books, pamphlets or helpful advice about choosing a good steak. You want something that has some fat, but not a lot. Most of your choice should be lean meat. The fat brings taste, but the real goodness is in the meat. All lean meat doesn’t cook as well and has little flavor. Of course, the best cuts are going to be a bit expensive. That’s why you should treat it with respect and make sure it comes out really well. The cuts that work best are T-bones, Ribeyes and fillets. You can use this method with less expensive cuts, like a strip steak, and elevate it to something that still tastes extravagant.

For our example, we’re going to use a Ribeye. This cut is usually lean but should have a small amount of marbling. If you don’t know, that means you should see streaks of white fat running through the meat, not just around the outside of the steak.

See the recipe here.

Once you have your steak at home, it’s time to cook. You can also grill the steak, but including it with a pan sauce on the stove works very well. The first thing to do is bring the steak up to room temperature by letting it sit, still wrapped, on the counter for about an hour. Putting a cold steak on the fire or in that pan just means the outside of the steak will cook but the inside will remain raw. Raw meat is never a good idea unless it’s made into a Carpaccio or something like that. In those cases, the meat is usually treated with acid to kill any pathogens.

Next, we come to the Great Doneness Debate. Most cooks and steak eaters, like myself, believe the ideal doneness for steak is medium-rare. That’s where you get sufficient doneness to be safe, but not so much to destroy the taste of the meat. When ordering in a restaurant, too few cooks, unfortunately, use a thermometer to determine the right doneness, but instead usually use the “pinch” technique. This means you press down on the meat in one spot to see how it reacts. They use the crux of the hand, the meaty bit between your thumb and first finger, to compare to the feel of the meat. If it feels like the edge of that pinch of skin, it’s probably raw. The further in you pinch, the flesh gets less resilient and more solid. The problem with this method is it is very inaccurate and takes a lot of experience to make an accurate judgment. A thermometer is a much better gauge of doneness for anything cooked. For a medium-rare steak, an internal temperature of about 145-degrees Fahrenheit, give or take a few degrees, should be about right. Medium is about 160, well-done is 170 or higher. Always remember that just because you take the steak off the heat does not mean it stops cooking. In fact, most dishes should sit for up to five minutes before serving, longer times for larger meats and poultry. The heat build-up inside the meat will continue to cook for a few minutes after removal from the pan or flame. So, for a true medium-rare steak, you probably want to remove it at about 140-degrees.

For this steak, we will use a balsamic vinegar glaze, so using a pan beats the grill. A non-stick pan is preferred but not necessary. The only difference will be how much fond, the stuck-on-the-bottom bits, you want. Put the pan over medium-high heat and let it come up to temperature before dropping the steak in. Our result will be more of Medium doneness rather than medium-rare. If you have a larger or tougher cut of meat, braising the steak in more liquid will result in a tender steak.

But before you put the steak in the pan, season it with salt, pepper and a little garlic powder on one side. Place the seasoned side down in the pan. Then season the now face-up side with the same seasoning. You can add more to it, but at a certain point, you are gilding the Lilly. Remember, there’s still a favorable pan sauce coming. Allow the steak to cook for at least two minutes, then flip it and cook for another two minutes. This should put a nice sear on the meat and start the caramelization of the sugars in the meat.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and add six to eight ounces of button-type mushrooms. Baby Bellas are one of my favorites. Next, add in a half-cup of good Balsamic vinegar. Read your labels carefully, because many commonly sold balsamics are actually red wine vinegar with flavoring added. Real balsamic must age in oak barrels like wine. Always choose the best ingredients you can afford.

Add to the pan a quarter cup of dry red wine. I think a good pinot noir works really well for this application. It’s not so spicy like Cabernet or Shiraz, but if those are your preference, they will work, too. Use a spoon to scrape up the fond so it will mix with the sauce. Cover and cook for four minutes. Flip the steak, recover and cook for another four minutes. During this time, the sauce will thicken and cook down to the active simmer. Make sure the mushrooms are all cooking evenly. Give it an occasional stir to be sure.

Now, remove the steak and set it on a plate, a warm one if you can. Turn the heat up to high and bring the liquid up to a boil. This is the time to add any extra fresh herbs if you like, such as a sprig of thyme or rosemary. Cook the sauce until it is about half the volume it was. Your sauce is now finished. Spoon it over the steaks. It might also go well with some of your side dishes, like potatoes or rice.

Sit down and enjoy a good steak with a balsamic glaze that will enhance even a cheap cut into something special.