Despite not owning a copy, I’m a big fan of the book Modernist Cuisine. I’ve tried several recipes from the book, but mostly around gels and foams. Recently I came across an article where Nathan Myhrvold adapts some Modernist techniques for a casual dinner party called Sorcerer’s Apprentice Hosts a Dinner. The technique for cooking steak by freezing, searing, and cooking in a low oven was something I had to try.
Krystal was nice enough to pick up a steak from the butcher on her way home from work, a New York Strip. It was in the fridge for several hours, so I didn’t bother to freeze it first. To start, I coated the steak with vegetable oil (high smoke point) and seasoned with salt and pepper.
Next, I broke out my butane kitchen torch. The only thing I have ever used the torch for is creme brulee, so it was great to finally have another use for it. The torching was a much slower process than I expected. In hindsight, I can see that my torch was weak compared to the one Nathan used in his example. But I fully expected to get a really dark, even, sear with my torch. It turned out to be good at rendering some of the fattier bits, but didn’t really give a nice char.
After searing with the torch, I moved the steak into my oven set at 170 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the lowest setting for my oven. I was targeting an internal temperature of about 120-125 degrees, and I got there in just under an hour for my half-pound steak. One great thing about this technique is that a few minutes of inattention will not ruin the meal. Because the heat transfer is so much slower in the oven, you can “overcook” the steak for an extra five minutes and the result will still be fine. If you grill, or saute, your steak for an extra 5 minutes you can turn it into a hockey puck.
The resulting steak was very good. I wasn’t in love with the sear, mainly because the torch was weak. It also imparted a bit of a weird char flavor from the open flame. Next time I use this technique I will use a cast iron pan to sear the steak. The interior was a perfect, even red, medium-rare. There was only a tiny grey band around the outside of the steak, the rest was perfectly cooked. This was, hands-down, the most evenly cooked piece of meat I have achieved at home. Next on my list is to cook a steak sous vide in a Styrofoam cooler and sear it afterward. I’ll write about that experience when I try it.