Steak in a Dorm

Meat porn

College dorm kitchens are filled with third-world prob­lems tran­scribed into extremely first-world contexts. These are defined by such ques­tions as, “what food can I afford to eat?” or, “how can I cook with what I’ve got?”

Unlike true third-world prob­lems, these are then elab­o­rated on by state­ments such as, “I’ve spent all my intern­ship money on robots” or “my fully-equipped Olympic Village suite kitchen might get smokey, setting off the fire alarm.”

Regard­less of how hurt your sense of enti­tle­ment may be by deep intro­spec­tion into your posi­tion on Maslow’s pyra­mid, the answer is steak.

Steak is the perfect bachelor(ette) food: you take meat and add heat, then eat. It’s then deli­cious yet some­how classy, despite requir­ing all the culi­nary sophis­ti­ca­tion of a high school dropout cave­man. In fact, the rest of this post is just garnish on top of the simple “meat + heat + eat” formula, and is just filler info to impress your friends with. Feel free to just scroll for meat porn.

Step 1: Buy meat

Super­mar­ket meat totally works—you’re not going to go out of your way to support small busi­ness and cele­brate local farms by find­ing a butcher you can talk to, so you’ll be buying pre-cut, prepack­aged steaks from the super­mar­ket. Pro tip: Korean super­mar­kets price their beef accord­ing to Korean demand (i.e., kalbi or short rib), so they have great deals on tradi­tional West­ern steak cuts. Plus, H-Marts and Assi Plazas are surgi­cally clean. Damn, man.

USDA Choice—the USDA system rates beef on how much marbling (in-muscle fat) is in the beef, and Prime (the high­est level) is too expen­sive for you unless you’re rolling in dough.

long life noodles

Meat flavor, espe­cially “beefi­ness,” is conveyed by melted fat, and lean ol’ USDA Select (the lowest level you’ll find at the meat aisle) just won’t deliver it. Choice, which is between Select and Prime, is a fine compro­mise between cost and deli­cious­ness.

Go bone­less—You’re too lazy to cut out the bones your­self, and you don’t want to pay for bones anyways. Plus, since you’ll be cook­ing with a pan, you don’t want the bone to prop up the meat away from the pan’s surface.

Cut?—I’ll rank your choices:

  1. Ribeye: one of the most flavor­ful cuts of beef avail­able. It’s not the most tender (but still very), but you’ll enjoy chew­ing it enough to not care. Comes from the ribs (duh).
  2. Strip: slightly more tender but slightly less flavor­ful than ribeye. Tends to cost the same, but works slightly better with my method. Comes from the short loin, which is between the ribs and butt of a cow.
  3. Sirloin: closer to the cow butt than the short loin, yet some­how has less fat. More tender than either of the above, but at great cost to flavor. When being snob­bish about steak, remem­ber to mix in polit­i­cal commen­tary about sirloin’s popu­lar­ity in the US versus the preva­lence of more flavor­ful, less easy-to-eat cuts in other coun­tries. You’ll look so cool and avant-garde putting down Amer­i­cans when it comes to food.
  4. Flank, skirt, hanger: tradi­tion­ally cheap but very flavor­ful, tougher cuts from the bottom side of the cow. Thanks to Inter­net popu­lar­ity, you’re unlikely to find them very cheap in a super­mar­ket, so the best you can do is whine like a hipster about them1. For the most part, they tend to be too thin to cook in a dorm kitchen.
  5. T-bone & Porter­house: basi­cally a strip steak with a bone and a slice of tender­loin. The bone is bad enough for cook­ing in a pan, but the leaner tender­loin cooks quicker and thus dries out by the time you’re done with the strip part. Also, stupidly expen­sive.
  6. In fact, tender­loin in general should be avoided at the begin­ning of your steak exper­i­ments: it’s just too expen­sive to risk ruin­ing.
  7. Chuck, brisket, round, blade: cuts which are too lean or have too much connec­tive tissue to eaten as steak, unless you like your steak dry, tough, and gray.

Tri-tip is another option, but I’ve yet to exper­i­ment with it.

Thick!—seri­ously, go for at least 1.25 inches of thick­ness. Steak is meant to be cooked unevenly; you want the inside to be medium rare (reddish-pink and juicy) and the outside charred and crusted. In between will be a region of well-done meat, and with a thicker slab of beef that region will be a smaller propor­tion of the total thick­ness.

Step 2: Season meat

Dump salt on it2.

Step 3: Heat meat

For the purposes of this post, I’m using a 1.75-inch thick USDA Choice strip steak.

24oz strip steak from Publix—my hand is quite large, so this photo doesn't do it justice

This is thick enough for it to stand on its edge. In fact, this is what exactly we’re going to do. Get your pan sizzling hot then smack the steak down edge-wise, fattest edge first.

Steak standing on its edge

It looks stupid, but remem­ber that fat is an insulator—it’s going to cook way slower than muscle will3. We’re giving it a head start by render­ing the beef, letting the molten fat baste flavor into the steak. Mean­while, the edge gets a nice sear4.

OK this just looks weird

Next we’re going to go low and slow on the sides using butter as a cook­ing fat. If you’re a steak fanatic or a foodie, you’re prob­a­bly about to call the cops, but just trust me on this; I’m an engi­neer.

Steak cooking on one side in butter

Frying steak in butter will arouse the atten­tions of all mid-sized carni­vores in a 50-meter radius. I am not respon­si­ble for any restrain­ing orders or child support payments5 result­ing from your use of this method and your sexy neigh­bors’ subse­quent siege of your kitchen.

We flip the steak as it cooks and spoon the cook­ing oil all over the crust of the steak.

Steak flipped over in pan

Remem­ber that the strong emotions caused by bast­ing the beau­ti­ful brown crust of your meat are not those of intense rage, as I initially thought, but merely extreme nonsex­ual6 arousal.

Fresh butter for more cooking

After eight to ten minutes, the beef and dairy solids in the cook­ing fat begin to darken and burn beyond what will richen the flavor of the steak. At this point, trans­fer the steak to paper towels and dump the grease. Then (care­fully!) wipe the hot pan with more paper towels. We add more butter and return the steak to the pan for an agoniz­ing period of more cook­ing.

Step 4: Rest meat

We remove the steak from heat and let it sit on a warm plate for half the time it took to cook. This is by far the most diffi­cult part of making a steak, by dint of the despair at not being able to tuck into your perfect creation.

It is also one of those subtle points glossed over by “meat + heat + eat,” as it notably involves neither heat nor eat.

Resting steak in plate—just trust me on the chopsticks

The bulging of the steak should give you some idea of why it needs to rest. Your steak is a butter-covered balloon ready to burst, and will do so with even a simple slice across the grain, spilling precious juices all over.

Step 5: Eat meat

Slice it up across the grain and go at it!

Meat porn

If you’re going to do do dorm steak, you might as well do a fancy dorm salad as well. I used the rest­ing time to broil frozen shrimp in a toaster oven with oil, salt, cumin, and turmeric, then tossed them into a bed of kale driz­zled with balsamic and olive oil. Dorm folks take note: shrimp and kale will keep for weeks to months in your freezer or fridge (resp.) with­out loss of flavor or texture.

Steak, Spaten Optimator, and kale salad with turmeric/cumin shrimp

Now, because you’re a filthy college student and your disgust­ing super­mar­ket steak is only medium rare, it’s poten­tially crawl­ing with bacte­ria. It’s best to use alco­hol to disin­fect your food as you eat. Given that you prob­a­bly don’t like wine (yet), I recom­mend a Doppel­bock or a strong lager.

Epilogue

I cooked dorm steak in a complex process involv­ing ghetto sous vide, a hefty propane torch, and (just that once) a fire alarm. That is, I did until I read Alain Ducasse’s column for the NY Times:

I do not use very high heat, because you get good carameliza­tion in that amount of time. I’m not inter­ested in carboniz­ing the surface of the meat. To me that ruins the flavor.

His method, involv­ing render­ing and a fright­en­ing amount of beurre (butter), was mind-blow­ing to me. My skep­ti­cism was soon over­come when I flipped my first buttery slab of beef, and was driven to tears by a crust gorgeous beyond any of my wildest fantasies involv­ing mammal flesh.

Thank you, M. Ducasse. I’m putting away the blow­torch.

  1. Not that I’m a hipster. []
  2. Overnight in poly­eth­yl­ene wrap with coarse salt (e.g. Kosher salt) works best, but the differ­ence won’t be huge. Overnight because the salt will break down some connec­tive tissue, and coarse salt because the larger grains can absorb more mois­ture before getting sucked into the meat. Also, it takes way more salt than you’d expect to season a steak, but it’s up to you. []
  3. Cita­tion needed. []
  4. It would look kind of gray and weird at the edges if you had only seared the top and bottom sides. []
  5. Nor cases of acute cardiac arrest. []
  6. Typi­cally speak­ing. []