Saturday 17 March 2018

Recipes: Brenda Costigan on cooking the perfect steak

Cooking the perfect steak is an art form that needs a very hot pan, good judgment and very little effort. As well as a handy rule of thumb, Brenda Costigan has great ideas for accompaniments such as caramelised onions and red wine gravy

Screaming hot is the perfect description for the required temperature of the pan when frying steaks. Barra Hurley, head chef in Shanahan's on the Green in Dublin, a restaurant famous for its steaks, told me that the restaurant has a special gas broiler which cooks the steaks, top and bottom at the same time, at a temperature of 1,600 F!

At home he fries the steak rather than grilling it, using a very heavy, cast-iron pan that holds the heat. The aim is to seal the outside of the steak on either side as quickly as possible. Naturally, the steak should be at room temperature, not cold from the fridge. In the restaurant they use a dry rub which includes onion, garlic, oregano, marjoram, salt, freshly ground black pepper and some cayenne. This is rubbed into the surface of the raw steak before it is fried. Once cooked, the steaks are allowed to rest for 5-6 minutes before being served. Barra says an accompaniment of caramelised onions is much favoured by clients. He loves to add a knob of butter and a dash of sherry to the onions before serving.

The length of time that a side of beef has been left to hang has a direct bearing on its tenderness -- 21 days will ensure it is tender. The breed of the animal can also influence flavour and texture; Aberdeen Angus and other traditional breeds are well regarded. Contrary to the popular display cabinets that show cuts of beef as bright red, well-hung beef has a darker appearance.

Here's an American rough guide for establishing how well done your steak is -- see if it works for you! Using your left hand, put the tip of your thumb and of your first finger together. Using a finger of your right hand, gently press the soft bulge of your palm directly at the base of your thumb -- this is how a rare steak should feel if you press it. Using your left hand again, put the tip of your thumb and the tip of your little finger together and feel the palm directly below the thumb. This time it will feel quite firm and this is how a well-done steak feels. Judging becomes easier with experience.

Suitable steak cuts for frying and grilling are T-bone, strip loin -- T-bone steak with the fillet and bone removed; sirloin -- called rump in English cookbooks; and rib-eye. For the most tender, although not necessarily the most flavoursome, choose fillet steak. Flecks of fat, known as marbling, through the flesh help to give a more tender and tasty steak. Frying can give more tasty results than under a grill, but a ridged griddle pan can be very effective. It is a good idea to season and flavour the steak before cooking it.



A whole fillet of beef can weigh about 900g-1.35kg (2-3lb). The slices cut from the centre of the fillet are traditionally called tournedos. Fried or grilled, the meat is served on individual rounds of fried bread. Serves 2.

You will need:

2 slices of fillet steak (tournedos) about 175g (6oz) each, trimmed of fat and sinew

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 button mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 small onion, thinly sliced

1/4 - 1/2 small garlic clove, sliced

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

2 heaped teaspoons butter

2 circles white bread, large enough to fit under the steaks, (steak will shrink a little during cooking)

2 tablespoons brandy

175ml (6fl oz) fresh cream

1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon Dijon or wholegrain mustard

2 heaped teaspoons duck-liver pate (or other pate of your choice)

Take the steaks out of the fridge about half an hour before they are required, to bring them to room temperature. Sprinkle lightly with some salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Fry the thinly sliced mushrooms, onions and garlic in a little of the olive oil and butter until they are soft and tasty. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Lift them out and keep warm. In the same pan, adding more oil and butter if necessary, fry the bread until it is golden on both sides. If you're watching calories, toast the bread instead of frying it. Keep it warm.

When you're nearly ready to serve, heat the pan until screaming hot, adding a little oil. Fry the steaks on one side, pressing them flat with a palette knife. Turn the steaks over after about two minutes and brown the other side. Brown the thick edges of the meat, using a pair of tongs to hold the steaks sideways. Continue to fry the steaks, allowing about 3-5 minutes per side, depending on their thickness, until they are well browned but still pink and moist in the middle. Increase the cooking time if you prefer a well-done steak. Keep the steaks warm while you quickly make the sauce.

Spoon any excess fat from the frying pan, add the brandy and cook briskly to reduce the liquid by half. Pour in the cream and season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper and stir in the Dijon or wholegrain mustard, whichever you are using. Bring just barely to the boil.

Spread the duck-liver pate on the circles of fried bread or toast, and place on warm dinner plates. Sit the steaks on top, spooning some mushroom and onion mixture on top of each steak and then spoon the sauce over. Serve.


Marinate the steaks for a short while before frying. Serves 2.

You will need:

2 steaks, using the cut and size that you like, usually about 175-225g/6-8oz each (see note)

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 garlic clove, chopped

1-2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

450g (1lb) potatoes, peeled, cut in big chunks

2-3 tablespoons creme fraiche

2-3 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, crushed

2 tablespoons brandy (optional)

200ml beef stock

2-3 teaspoons redcurrant or Cumberland sauce


Choose sirloin, strip loin, rib-eye, topside or fillet. To serve steaks with a nice crusty exterior, but still rare to medium-rare inside, will require a steak about 2-2.5cm (3/4in-1in) thick. If the steaks have thick fat at the side, it may be necessary to score it, cutting right into the lean meat, at about 2.5cm (1in) intervals. This prevents the fat from curling and scrunching up the steak during cooking.

Put the steaks into a non-metallic bowl and add the balsamic vinegar, the chopped garlic and thyme, some salt and freshly ground black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Stir and leave to marinate for half an hour or so.

Meanwhile, to make the mustard mash, steam the potatoes until they are tender and mash them well. Add the creme fraiche, the Dijon mustard, some salt and freshly ground black pepper and mix well. Put into a hot serving dish.

Heat the pan to screaming hot and fry the steaks on one side for 1-2 minutes, pressing down with a palette knife until they are browned, then turn them over and repeat. Continue to fry, turning occasionally, until the required doneness is achieved. Lift out the steaks, and leave them to rest in a warm place.

Wipe out the pan and put in a little fresh olive oil. Fry the thinly sliced onion and the crushed garlic until they are soft and golden. Add the brandy, if you are using it, and cook briskly to reduce by half. Then pour in the beef stock and the redcurrant or Cumberland sauce, whichever you are using. Season with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper, if necessary. Whisk, bring to the boil and let bubble for a minute or two. Serve poured over the steak.


These take a while to cook right down, but they'll keep in the fridge for a week or two if you want to make extra. Use a wide, heavy-based saucepan. Using 900g (2lb) makes about 400ml (?pt).

You will need:

450-900g (1-2lb) onions, peeled

2-5 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Walnut-sized lump of butter, to serve

Dash of sherry, to serve

Cut the peeled onions in half from top to tail and then cut in thin slices, also working from top to tail. Heat the olive oil and add the onions. Toss, then put on the lid at a tilt and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally.

When the onions soften, take off the lid and continue cooking until the onions are really soft. Season with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper and the sugar. Increase the heat, but take care the onions don't burn.

Before serving, add the butter and the sherry.


Wonderfully quick to cook. Choose sirloin or strip loin, topside or fillet -- cut from the narrower tail end of the fillet/filet mignon. Serves 2.

You will need:

225g (8oz) tender steak, cut in thin strips (across the grain)

1 teaspoon cornflour

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon coriander

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

225-350g (8-12oz) mixed baby vegetables -- asparagus, corn, carrots, mangetout (see note)

Light stock (optional)

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1 small-medium onion, sliced

1 small garlic clove, chopped

75g (3oz) mushrooms, sliced

1 tablespoon light soy sauce

2 tbsp oyster sauce (optional)

3-4 tbsp beef stock (optional)

Boiled rice, to serve


If you prefer, choose normal-sized vegetables, and cut them into thin batons.

Put the strips of steak into a bowl and add the cornflour, the cumin, the coriander, and some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss together and leave to one side. If you're using baby vegetables, trim them as required -- top and tail the little carrots, cut the end off the asparagus stems, and so on. Drop the prepared vegetables into a saucepan of boiling salted water or light stock, if you are using it. Boil the vegetables for about two minutes until they are half tender and drain them well.

Heat the olive oil in a wok or large frying pan and fry the sliced onion and the chopped garlic until they are soft. Add the sliced mushrooms and fry them

until they are tasty. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Push to one side of the wok, or lift them out and keep warm with the vegetables.

Fry the spicy steak pieces until they are browned on the outside. Add the vegetables, the light soy sauce and the oyster sauce, if you are using it, and toss everything together until it is piping hot. Add a small amount of beef stock, if you are using it. Serve immediately with the boiled rice.


This can be made in advance.

You will need:

25g (1oz) butter

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 small garlic clove, crushed

1 small onion, thinly sliced

50g (2oz) mushrooms, finely chopped

100ml (almost 4fl oz) red wine

1 level tablespoon flour

300ml (1/2pt) beef stock

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

A little mustard

Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the olive oil, the crushed garlic, the thinly sliced onion and the finely chopped mushrooms and fry gently for about five minutes until the onions begin to brown. Put the red wine into another saucepan and simmer briskly until one-third has evaporated. When the onions are golden brown, add the flour, stirring for a minute to make a paste. Cook enough to let the paste get a golden brown. Stir the beef stock and the wine into the paste and simmer gently for about 3-5 minutes. Season with some salt, freshly ground black pepper and mustard.

When the meat is lifted off the frying pan, pour off the fat, leaving any meat juices. Add the gravy and stir over a moderate heat, gathering in any crusty bits. Also add in any juices that escape from the cooked meat as it relaxes.


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