by Mark Bittman
Published by Broadway Books
248 pages, 2000
Work Time: 15 minutes
Cooking a steak simply, with good results, is easy as long as you have an outdoor grill -- see the preceding recipe. [Editor's note: not included in January Magazine.] But sometimes it's winter, or perhaps you don't own a grill, and cooking a steak in the broiler or oven usually means sacrificing a good crust; using the stovetop just sets off the smoke detector.
So the process is a tricky one. It's easy enough to get a crust on a steak before smoke fills the house, but unless you like raw steak this is not the perfect solution. It is, however, a good start. If you sear the steak quickly, then remove it from the pan before building a quick sauce, you can finish cooking the meat in that sauce. This reduces smoke while increasing flavor. It is such a good technique, with so many options, that you're sometimes likely to eschew the grill just to do it this way.
It isn't necessary to use butter in this preparation, but a small amount -- there is little more than a teaspoon per person in the recipe -- adds not only creaminess but also flavor. In this particular creation, that flavor combines with soy to produce an unusual, countertraditional marriage that is in its odd way uniquely American.
But the technique is not dependent on butter, ginger, or soy. As you can see from the variations, each of these three ingredients can be swapped, varied, even omitted, until the dish has nothing in common with the original recipe except the steak and the procedure used to cook it.
It is best to use fairly thin steaks here. Judging the doneness of thicker ones can be tricky, and inevitably the sauce evaporates before the meat is cooked through. The ideal setup for four people is four small, boneless steaks, cut from the top blade, sirloin, or rib. But two larger steaks will work nearly as well, as long as they're thin.
1 to 1 1/2 pounds boneless top blade, skirt, sirloin or rib-eye, 3/4 inch thick or less
1 Preheat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it begins to smoke. Add the steaks and cook until nicely browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn and brown the other side, another minute or two. Remove the skillet from the heat and the steaks to a place.
2 When the skillet has cooled slightly, return it to the stove over medium heat. Add the butter and, when it melts, the ginger. About 30 seconds later, add the soy sauce and stir to blend. Return the steaks to the skillet, along with any of their accumulated juices. Turn the heat to medium and cook the steaks for a total of about 4 minutes, turning three or four times. (If at any time the pan threatens to dry out entirely, add a couple of tablespoons of water.) At this point, the steaks will be medium-rare; cook for a little longer if you like, and serve, with the pan juices spooned over.
With MINIMAL Effort
By varying the ingredients around the steak, you can give this recipe any number of different flavors. For example: substitute extra virgin olive oil for the butter, garlic for the ginger, and fresh lemon juice for the soy sauce; or stay with the butter, but use garlic or shallots and a few leaves of tarragon instead of the ginger, and vinegar in place of the soy sauce. Similarly,
For the ginger: Substitute minced garlic or any member of the onion family. Or use minced lemongrass or anchovies; whole capers or finely chopped mushrooms are also good.
For the butter: You can omit entirely or substitute any oil you like. Extra virgin olive oil and peanut oil are the most distinctive.
For the soy sauce: Use red wine, fresh lemon or lime juice, vinegar, or nam pla (fish sauce). Start with about a tablespoon (1/4 cup in the case of wine) and add more to taste. Or thin with water.
Finally, add any minced herbs you like to the sauce, at about the same time you return the meat to the skillet.