How to Pan Fry Steak
Pan frying a steak is one of those cooking skills that seems so simple to do, and yet can be so difficult to get right.
Preparing the Steak
Here are a few important things to keep in mind before you pan fry steak. You’ll get a much better result cooking steak that you’ve allowed to reach room temperature. Take the steak out about 15 – 30 minutes before cooking it. Otherwise, the steak will toughen when the cold comes into contact with the heat. The best pan you can use to pan fry steak is a cast iron skillet. Why? Well, there are two reasons:
- Cast iron retains heat better than any of the non-stick pans. So when you add the steak to the hot, hot pan, the pan won’t cool down. And so, you get a better sear!
- You can heat an empty cast iron skillet. You can’t do that with a non-stick or stainless steel pan, because it can damage it or release chemicals. Heating the pan empty is neat because it lets you oil the steak rather than the pan: you need less oil, and you don’t end up with a smoky kitchen while the pan is heating up.
Pan Frying the Steak
Now that your steak is seasoned and your cooking equipment is all ready, here is how you pan fry steak.
- Heat a pan over medium-high to high heat. If you’re using a non stick pan or have decided not to oil the steak, you need to add a bit of oil to coat the bottom, preferably an oil with a high smoke point.
- If you like rare steak, set the burner to high. It’ll sear faster, but leave the inside less cooked.
- If you like it medium or so, set it to medium high. The inside will have a bit of a chance to cook before the outside sears.
- If you have herbs and spices that you think will burn, play it safe and sear the steak over medium high heat. Burnt spices really aren’t delicious at all.
- When the pan is hot, add your steak. Let one side sear completely, then flip the steak over and cook it until the other side is seared.
- Don’t move the cooking steak until it has formed a brown crust. It’ll stick at first, and if you move it you’ll tear off some meat. But it’ll lift off the pan as it sears, making it easy to turn.
- Searing the meat and forming a brown crust is called the Maillard reaction, (caramelised) and it means flavour. That crust you get when cooking steak is what makes it outstanding.
- When red juices start to seep through the top of the steak, you know your steak is rare. You can cook more if you want, or take it out of the pan right then.
- If your steak isn’t cooked to your liking, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for a few more minutes on each side until it’s ready.
Points to Watch
- Don’t cover cooking the steak or you’ll trap moisture in the pan, and you’ll get stewed meat! You won’t get the evaporation effect that intensifies the flavour of the meat.
- If you have a particularly thick cut of steak, instead of finishing it off in the pan, you can put it in an oven preheated to 200C. It’ll heat more gently than on the stove, and that allows the inside to cook without scorching the outside. Again, don’t cover the cooking steak!
- When you pan fry steak, always use tongs to flip the steak or move it around! Don’t use a fork, or you’ll pierce the steak and lose all the juices.
- The steak will continue to cook a bit as it’s resting: its internal temperature will go up about 5 degrees. So be sure to take if off the heat a teensy bit before you think it’s done.
After you pan fry steak, let it rest on a warm plate for 5 minutes before serving. It’ll allow the juices to redistribute evenly.
Cover the steak in foil to keep it warm.
Viola… May the next steak you cook be a perfect one!