How to Pan Fry a Steak

by Darina on February 8, 2011

In terms of living space, there is much that I wish for, even though my place is homey and cozy and all around nice to inhabit. It suits my needs. Still, I wouldn’t mind a larger kitchen, a walk-in closet or two, and a balcony where I can grow a multitude of herbs in little planters.  There are days, even in the dead of winter, where I kick myself for having chosen a home with a fireplace rather than a balcony, because more than potted herbs and a place to enjoy an espresso on a summer morning, what I really miss is not having a barbecue.

I grew up with a cultural background in which grilled meats are central to the cuisine, so few things make me swoon more than a perfectly cooked steak.  Barbecue parties aside, I lived without steak for years until I discovered that a pan fried steak can be a delicious substitute for a barbecued one–if you know what to do.  Frying a steak allows you to control the cooking temperature while allowing the steak to retain its flavorful juices.

I had always assumed frying steak would produce a piece of meat not unlike the rubber sole of a shoe until I saw Ina Garten make them on her show. I learned more about the process from The New Steak: Recipes for a Range of Cuts plus Savory Sides by Cree LeFavour; some of the following tips are from her book.

When frying a steak, it goes without saying that it’s best to start with a good cut of meat, like beef tenderloin.  A heavy pan–like cast iron–will help retain heat and distribute it evenly, ensuring that the outside of the steak doesn’t burn while the middle stays rare.  Don’t cook more than two steaks at a time and make sure not to crowd the pan or they will steam rather than brown.  A nicely caramelized outer edge is what you’re looking for.

Start with a couple of tablespoons of fat; I prefer leftover bacon fat, organic coconut oil, or butter, as these are natural fats and I believe they provide better health benefits than processed oils. Plus, they offer a high smoke point, which is also crucial. Do not use butter if you are cooking a particularly thick steak as it will burn.

Place the steak in the pan, which should be sizzling hot. Most cuts only need three minutes or so on each side to reach medium rare, however, cuts of an inch thickness or more may be placed into an oven preheated to 400F and cooked for additional minutes to get heat into the center. Whenever I employ this method, I add a pat of butter on top for extra flavor and juiciness.

A steak should also be wrapped in foil and given a few minutes to rest. It will continue to cook during this period, so make sure that it is underdone to your taste when you put it aside. A meat thermometer reading 120F to 130 F will give you a medium rare steak after five minutes of resting time. If your steak comes out too rare for you, put it back on the heat for a couple of more minutes.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephanie February 13, 2011 at 8:31 pm

That looks so good, my mouth is watering

gastroanthropologist February 14, 2011 at 8:23 am

When I was living in California the grill on the deck was an extension of the kitchen and it was great because it got more people involved in the cooking – especially the male folk. And I love a piece of grilled steak.

This looks so tasty! I should definitely pan fry more steak (and love the tip about the butter).

Julia @ Mélanger February 15, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Funny, when I bought my house (with a deck!), one of the first purchases I made was a massive BBQ. I rarely use it because I’m so afraid of overcooking meat. Generally, I avoid cooking with red meat for that reason, but I need to use your tips here and try again!

Darina February 15, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Good luck with it, Julia. let me know how it turns out.

andrew April 14, 2016 at 12:34 pm

try gee.(sp?,ghee?) or clarified butter. it doesn’t burn and produces a great buttery flavor. works great with any cut from bottom round to ribeye.

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