How to cook it, how to eat it and what to eat it with
OK, let’s talk steak.
You won’t be the first person poking around the meat aisle with a confused look on your face. Rib eye. Sirloin. Frying. Fillet. T-bone.
Whether you like your steak fat and juicy, blackened and charred or dripping in sauce, there’s one thing we can all agree on – there are so. Many. Options. Yikes!
But panic not. The good news is, we went back to steak school and graduated with first class honours in all things meat. And we’re here to give you the crash course.
So sit back, sharpen your steak knife and let us take you through the most popular cuts, how to get the best out of them and what to eat alongside that meaty treat.
We'll just leave this tasty little steak and polenta chips number here, to whet that appetite.
Cuts and flavour
In short, different steak types have defining levels of flavour and tenderness.
As a general rule, the further away from the neck the meat originates, the more melt-in-the-mouth you can expect it to be. That’s because the more used the muscle is, the tougher it becomes. Muscle with the least amount of use ends up being the most tender.
Also known as: Tenderloin, filet mignon or chateaubriand
What it looks like: Fillet steaks are generally small and thick – the fillet is a compact cut of meat.
Where it is from: The fillet is cut from a section under the ribs. Filet mignon is a cut nearing the rump, chateaubriand nearer the shoulder.
What it tastes like: Buttery and mild. The fillet is a lean cut of meat, with little to no fat marbling. This means it's super-tender, but considered less flavourful than many other cuts.
How to cook it: Essentially the fillet is soft and fleshy – so you only need to sear the skin, while the inside can be taken as rare as you like. Try two minutes on each side for rare and four to five minutes each side for medium. For best flavour, avoid cooking well done.
Dinner party fact: The word ‘steak’ is rumoured to have come from the old Saxon or Norse word 'steik', which literally means meat on a stick. But we'll take ours on a plate, thank you – or maybe a hunk of bread, like this cheat's tournedos rossini.
Also known as: Top sirloin. Beef sirloin. And occasionally (and confusingly) T-bone, as the sirloin is cut direct from the T. We did say you might need to concentrate.
What it looks like: Marbled, biggish and usually around the size of a grown man’s hand.
Where it is from: The middle of the cow’s back.
What it tastes like: There’s plenty of flavour from all the lovely fat marbling, and it's a tender beast too. You can see why the sirloin is a firm restaurant favourite. This steak in cocoa recipe is a stunner.
How to cook it: Six minutes over a super-hot griddle should get you a perfect medium-rare.
Dinner party fact: Sirloins used to rank low in flavour against their other steaky siblings, but once butchers started hanging them to beef up the taste quota, the gold stars started rolling in. It's also a winner in stir fries, like this Thai red beef with vermicelli and lemon grass. Or try this steak tagliata, a bright-tasting Tuscan dish with juicy tomatoes and a zingy dressing.
Also known as: Porterhouse (though, strictly speaking, a T-bone and a porterhouse are not the same. The T has more bone and less meat than the significantly more fleshy porterhouse).
What it looks like: As the name suggests, this cut comes on the bone with plenty of marbled fat, which is great for full flavour.
Where it is from: Cut from the short loin. The T-bone cut combines two steak types, a tenderloin and a strip steak.
What it tastes like: Super-tender and buttery on the one side and juicy and beefy on the other. Some say, the best of both worlds.
How to cook it: Essentially you’re cooking two cuts of meat, so you need to be careful, giving the tenderloin side less heat so it can cook more slowly. Go for three to four minutes each side for rare and five to seven each side for medium. For best flavour, avoid cooking well done.
Dinner party fact: Overcooked steak not only tastes bad, but is apparently also bad for you. When we overcook meat, the fat, protein and sugars fuse together making it tough to cut, chew and digest.
Also known as: Entrecôte.
What it looks like: Ribeye steak can come both on and off the bone. You’ll see plenty of fat marbling and often larger hunks of fat sitting among the flesh.
Where it is from: From the ribcage, as the name suggests.
What it tastes like: Properly beefy, with plenty of juice from all those fat swirls.
How to cook it: You want a high heat for this bad boy. This cut tastes best when given a slightly longer cooking time without overcooking – two minutes each side for rare and four to five minutes each side for medium.
Dinner party fact: The ribeye is generally considered the best all-round cut – so a great one for a dinner party, eh?
Also known as: Book steak. Top blade steak. Butler steak. Not to be confused with minute steak, which is a thinly cut, pounded piece of beef usually from sirloin (check out this recipe for harissa minute steak).
What it looks like: Boneless, medium-thick in cut and with tree-like veins of fat.
Where it is from: The shoulder.
What it tastes like: Tender and juicy.
How to cook it: Flat iron is from a tender muscle, but when overcooked it'll become tough and dry as it's so lean. Cook for two to three minutes each side for rare and four to five minutes each side for medium.
Dinner party fact: Second in tenderness to the tenderloin, but about half the price. Hence the term ‘butler’s steak’ – this would have been the cut reserved for staff (darling).
These are cheaper cuts of meat with lots of sinews that require long cooking times to break down and tenderise the meat. They're great cuts for slow-cook recipes, stews and casseroles, or this rich, meaty chilli.
Some types of beef you should know about
Grass-fed: Meat from grass-fed, as opposed to corn-fed, cows. Some suggest chewing on cud equals a healthier, but less flavourful, meat.
Heritage: This could also be called VIP steak, as meat donning the status Heritage refers to a rare heirloom cow raised in pasture without pesticides or exposure to hormones.
Aberdeen Angus: Steak bearing the Aberdeen Angus badge is from a pure breed of cattle found in England, Scotland, Ireland and America.
Kobe: Meat doesn't come more indulgent than this, hailing from Japanese cows that drink beer, enjoy rice wine massages and listen to classical music. Yes, indeed. And the resulting beef cuts are so tender, you can practically eat them raw.
The pan: However you like your steak cooked – rare, medium, well done – the rule is the same. You want to get the pan super hot before the meat makes contact. Some chefs suggest letting the pan 'smoke' briefly first.
The tongs: If you have them, use tongs to handle your steak as opposed to a fork. This avoids piercing the flesh, which lets letting valuable and tasty juices escape.
The fat: Everyone has their own tried-and-tested method when it comes to what to cook your steak 'in', from rubbing steaks liberally with a good glug of olive oil to letting groundnut oil get smoking hot in the pan before adding the meat. You'll even find people swearing by a generous knob of butter.
Th seasoning: There's a school of thought that insists on salting steaks to bring out the flavour. For best results, salt 45 minutes before heating the pan – this allows moisture to return to the meat. The salt will form a tasty crust when the meat sears too.
Sauces for your steak
As far as we're concerned, you can eat your steak any way you like it – slather it in tomato sauce if that floats your boat. But if you’re after something more refined, one of these much-loved classics should hit the spot.
This buttery tarragon sauce is a classic for a reason – it’s utterly delicious. Try it poured generously over a ribeye with a side of fancy potatoes if you’re looking to impress.
Thought to be named for the ancient roman goddess of the hunt, this fashionably retro sauce is deliciously rich and creamy with mushrooms, Worcestershire sauce and brandy.
Crushed peppercorns really dress up any cut of steak. We like this green peppercorn riff on a true classic.
This recipe adds a healthy kick of heat to a tender ribeye chop.
Bring a fresh garden tang to Sunday’s roast rack of beef with this coarse and vibrant salsa verde, delicious with this roast rib.