• Posted by Rich Armstrong on August 7th, 2008, 3:51 PM

    For all of steak’s potential variety of textures and flavors, most ways of cooking it force you to narrow your experience down to one thin sliver. How, then, to achieve the metallic tang of blood-rare, the unctuous mouth-feel of mid-rare, the toothsome appeal of beef that’s actually been cooked, and the wonderful flavor imparted by a good char?

    In the early ’90s, I was a grill chef in the resort town of Lagos on the Algarve coast of Portugal. The region was making its transition from backpacker’s paradise to package-tour getaway for hordes of middle-class Brits. One of these Brits approached me one night as I stood at my grill station in the dining room, tending some tiger prawns.

    “You’re a Yank, yes? Do you know how to make Chicago-style steak?” he asked.

    I told him I didn’t, that I’d only heard of Pittsburgh-style—blood-rare and charred by direct application of flame before serving.

    “I had it in America. You absolutely destroy the steak on one side and just sear it on the other.”

    I’ve since checked into this. Some time ago, I called the original Morton‘s of Chicago and spoke to a fellow who’d been managing the place 20 years. He disavowed any knowledge of such a technique. However, according to a “citation needed” paragraph in the Wikipedia article on steak, there is such a thing as Chicago-style, but it’s a steak grilled to desired temperature and then given a quick char before serving.

    Still, I cooked the steak as he wished. He pronounced it the best he’d ever eaten and tipped me handsomely. As soon as I could afford a steak or two of my own—resort-town restaurants don’t pay very well—I tried it out for myself and have since used it whenever an appropriate cut of meat presented itself. I’ve dubbed it the “everything” steak because it’s got everything you might want out of a steak. In a nod to the everything bagel, I add sesame and poppy seeds to the usual salt and pepper mix I’d serve alongside a good steak.

    Just such an opportunity appeared on a recent Saturday, and I decided to do it right, shelling out nearly fifty bucks for a full-bone rib eye from Simchick & Co. meats in Manhattan. It clocked in at two and a half pounds and was over two inches thick. I generally don’t like the trend toward ever-thicker steaks. Usually, less than an inch is just fine. But this was for four people. Without the bone, it made for eight ounces of meat for each of us: a hearty portion, but not overindulgent. I chose rib eye over porterhouse because rib eye has the even fat distribution necessary to stand up to this method.

    For the heat source, you need charcoal, and a hot, hot fire. Some very long tongs and a good spatula are essential. There’s a lot of flame involved here, so a spacious grill is also essential. You need room to have at least three separate areas to move the steak while the flame from the previous area is settling down.

    My friends had a bag of sel gris from Normandy, which I wasn’t going to argue with. I salted one side of the steak liberally and flung it on the grill, salted side down. There was not much time to relax while the steak cooked. I was moving it out of a flare-up every 30 seconds or so. Fat flame is akin to candle flame and will impart a strange flavor. What we want here is the dry intense heat of the charcoal constantly hammering that one side of the steak. I have to admit that at times I was tempted to turn back and just do the steak to a nice mid-rare, fearing that I might ruin an otherwise perfectly good piece of meat. In the end, though, I persevered. To finish, I salted the topside of the steak, which was still raw, and flipped the slab. A minute later, it was on the cutting board, ready for carving.

    Once carved and plated, the char was potato-chip crisp and deeply flavorful. The rare side had the incredible richness that rib eye offers. Most important, somewhere in between was the resistance of cooked meat. It was as pleasing as the chew in good sourdough. It was just enough to offset the richness of the rarer parts. This steak really offers everything.


    Serves 4

    1 2 1/2 lb. bone-in prime rib eye


    For Everything Salt:

    4 tsp. coarse salt (kosher salt, fleur de sel, smoked salt)

    1 tsp. fresh-ground black pepper

    1 tsp. sesame seeds

    1 tsp. poppy seeds

    Make a hot charcoal fire.

    Rinse the steak and pat dry. Salt one side liberally.

    Once the flames have subsided, but while the fire is still very hot, put the steak on the grill.

    Cook 12-15 minutes, moving out of fat flare-ups.

    Salt the uncooked side of the steak, pressing the salt into the meat as much as possible.

    Flip the steak and cook 30 seconds to 1 minute.

    Transfer to cutting board, rare side down, and carve.

    For the Everything Salt., combine all ingredients. Serve alongside the steak.

    Rich Armstrong lives in New York.  He writes about cooking at richcooks.blogspot.com.


  1. January 20th, 2010 at 12:22 pm
    how to cook steaks

    yummmmy… thx for ur share i’d love to follow you.anyway happy new year ~~~~~~~~~~~

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