Matt’s Morsels: Steak

Matthew Wallace | Staff Columnist

Cooking and dating in college are minefields that we must all navigate. Finding the right meal with the right person can set you up for the kind of fairy-tale love life that you only see in movies. The wrong choice can leave you bitter and alone, eating bland salads by yourself for the rest of your life. How do you pick the perfect food that will have anyone thinking, “I gotta put a ring on that hand”? The answer is simple: You go with steak.

Steak is iconic; steak is immortal; steak is love. A medium-rare porterhouse can be seen as a pre-engagement ring. But it is expensive, as a well-marbled, 2-inch-thick cut of USDA Prime can cost well over $150. Let’s face it; only a large majority of Washington University students can afford this, instead of an overwhelming majority. Instead of shelling out more money than you would on a new pair of Jordans, you can pick up a nice, $30 steak and make someone fall in love with you.

First, your tools: A cast-iron skillet, tongs, a pan with a wire rack and an instant read meat thermometer. There are few things that deserve really splurging on—but if it comes between you and the ground or touches your food, make sure to not cheap out. Taking care of your kitchen tools will ensure that they become a larger (and more useful) part of your family than your Uncle Doug.

Next, your seasonings. If someone suggests any marinade, steak sauce or homemade spice blend that they swear is the most delicious thing, they are not your friend and only want to keep you from living your best life. Kosher salt and pepper are all you need. If you spend that much on a single piece of meat, let its natural flavors come out.

Cover your steak with a generous helping of kosher salt and pepper—really cover all of the sides. Then, let it sit for 30-45 minutes in your kitchen or overnight in your fridge. The salt will penetrate the meat and make sure that its flavors are evenly distributed. More importantly, this process dries the exterior of the steak, which will allow that oh-so-delicious crust to develop. When you’re ready to cook, preheat your oven for between 200 and 275 degrees. You’re probably thinking, “Hold up, you cook steak in a skillet, not the oven.” Well, surprise: You can do both. This method is called the reverse-sear method, as it allows the meat to reach its desired internal temperature first while drying the exterior, then finish it on a skillet to get that signature look.

In your oven, the meat will cook more evenly if the heat is lowered, but the time spent cooking will be longer. Take your time; you can’t rush true love. Every five minutes or so, check the internal temperature of the steak. The goal is to take it out of the oven 15 degrees below your desired final temperature. You’ll want 105 for a rare steak, 115 for medium-rare, 125 for medium. And if someone asks for anything higher, they want a hamburger.

Before you take the steak out of the oven, heat up your cast iron skillet over the highest setting with an oil that won’t burn so easily. No olive, no sunflower seed or anything that sounds too healthy. Go canola, peanut or another oil with a high smoke point so you don’t set off all the smoke detectors in your building. Add the steak to the pan along with at least half a tablespoon of butter. If you’re looking to replicate that steakhouse taste, add more butter. Fat gives food its flavor, and butter is all fat. Let the steak cook, making sure to get the butter underneath to cover all sides. This step will only take about 30 seconds, so watch out! Flip and repeat for the opposite side. Finally, you’ll need to turn your steak sideways and be sure to brown up any area you want to get in your mouth.

Once you let the meat cool enough to eat, dig in. There is no waiting for the steak to rest as the reverse sear allows the juices inside the meat to settle into place while cooking. This method also allows you to avoid overcooking the meat on one side, resulting in ugly, gray-looking meat. No one wants ugly meat.

Learning to cook is scary and overwhelming. The trick is to learn how to cook one or two things really well. Being the “steak savant” is much better than being “potato salad punk.” You can’t make friends with salad, you don’t impress your boss with deviled eggs and you can’t find true love without a beautiful piece of perfectly cooked meat.

Just because you’re a college student doesn’t mean you can’t cook like a pro. Ditch the dating apps and let the smell of your kitchen find you your soul mate.