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Monday 15 March 2010

Sluttishly Savoury: John Torode's tips for perfect steak

Steak is a bit of a bete-noire of mine. I once managed the perfect medium, but ever since I've failed miserably, veering to extremes of cremation or virtual rawness. I blame my thumbs.

There is a rule that says a steak should feel like the muscle at the base of your thumb. Touch the base of your thumb when your hand is relaxed and it's soft, like a raw steak. Touch your middle finger to your thumb and feel the muscle with your other hand. This is what a medium steak should feel like. Unfortunately for me, I seem to have unusually tough thumb muscles (must be all that blogging) so this helpful rule is completely useless and usually results in a tough, well-done lump of meat and a rather cross cook.

John Torode, he of the mighty and meaty Smiths of Smithfield and zealous mouthfuls on MasterChef, has recently brought out his Beef book in paperback. Packed with recipes from gravy to Wellington, useful facts on beef breeds and cuts, and information on buying a great piece of cow, the book is a very useful kitchen addition for anyone with a taste for meat. While beef is increasingly falling out of favour for environmental reasons, you can't knock John's passion for using leftovers to make stock and making use of the more unusual cuts. I made the Beef Daube with shin, a cheaper cut that needs slow cooking to become melt-in-the-mouth tender, and it was a great success.

But I digress. What I really wanted to know is how to cook the perfect steak. Here are John's tips, which I followed to the letter.
  • A medium steak should be seared for 2 minutes on each side, plus 1 minute for each centimetre of thickness. Definitely better than relying on my thumbs. And yes, I did get a ruler out and measure my steak!
  • Use a cast-iron pan and heat it for a long time before adding the steak – it should be so hot that you can't bear to put your hand near it. 10 minutes pre-heating at a minimum.
  • Oil the steak, not the pan.
  • Don't forget to season both sides.
  • Open the window – there will be smoke.
  • Don't fiddle with the steak while it's cooking. Leave it in the pan to do its thing.
  • Once the cooking time is up, let the steak rest somewhere warm for 5 minutes before serving.
And this was the result. Perfect medium steak. No need for the rule of thumb...

John Torode's Beef is published by Quadrille and costs £14.99


  1. One extra minute each side for the thickness? Or just a general minute of cookingness?

  2. I find grilling steak in my oven the best. I love the idea of the thumb test and will give it a try.


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