Senior Food Editor Mary-Frances Heck proves all you need for steakhouse-worthy steak is salt and time.

By Bridget Hallinan
September 27, 2019

While cooking steak isn’t necessarily difficult, it can feel hard to recreate the kind of dish you’d get at a steakhouse—perfectly medium-rare and buttery soft, with a crust on the outside. Luckily, our Senior Food Editor, Mary-Frances Heck, has a secret for making a seriously impressive rib eye at home. You’ll need high-quality meat, of course, but the real key is salt and time. With 72 hours and a few pinches of kosher salt, you can turn a simple steak into something truly magical. Bonus: it only takes about 20 minutes to cook, so you can pre-season on the weekend for an easy weeknight meal

Don’t cheap out on the meat 

Mary-Frances says when she’s craving steak, she’ll go to the butcher and get the best piece of steak that money can buy. It’s worth the splurge—the bone-in rib eyes she uses are very tender and beautifully marbled. Plus, the bone also adds flavor to the meat and helps it cook evenly.

Season the steaks by weight… 

Mary-Frances' rule of thumb for seasoning the steaks is to use one teaspoon of kosher salt per pound. (Her preferred brand is Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt.)

…and from a distance

Make sure you keep your hand about a foot above the steaks when you’re sprinkling on the salt. If you’re directly on top of them, all of the salt will go to one spot. As Mary-Frances says, “lift it up and let it rain.” Get the edges of the steaks too, and flip them over to get the other sides as well, pressing the salt in lightly each time.

Seriously—let them rest

The next step is to let the steaks rest in the fridge for 72 hours. It may seem like a long time, but it’s well worth it—Mary-Frances says the salt gets sucked down into the steaks and seasons them to their core. It also denatures the protein in the meat, making the rib eyes more tender and delicious. 

Then rest more

After the steaks have rested for 72 hours, they should be dry to the touch. Let them sit out for another hour to come to room temperature while you preheat the oven (400 Fahrenheit), and add a crank of freshly ground black pepper right before you cook them.

Get the pan hot 

When it’s finally time to cook the steaks, heat up a 12-inch cast iron skillet—the best option, since they hold and transfer heat really well—until it’s “ripping hot,” Mary-Frances says. (You can also use a grill or a stainless steel skillet.) You’ll also want to use grapeseed oil in the pan, since it has a high smoke point and neutral flavor. 

Add the steaks carefully

When the oil is shimmering, add the steaks to the pan. Mary-Frances says you should add them away from your body, so you avoid hot splatters. 

Movement and moisture are the enemies of caramelization 

Let the steaks cook undisturbed for four minutes before you flip them for the first time. Once you do, make sure to sear on the edges for beautiful color all around.

Grab the butter and garlic 

Mary-Frances adds whole garlic cloves (so they won’t burn) to the skillet for aroma, and unsalted butter as well, which helps the steaks baste while they roast. Then add the skillet to the oven at 400 degrees for four to six minutes. 

Take a basting break

Mary-Frances takes the steaks out midway through cooking, flips them, and bastes them with the juices from the skillet. Then she adds them back to the oven for another five to six minutes until they reach medium-rare—120 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t be afraid to use a thermometer to make sure everything is cooked properly. 

Then let the steaks rest one. more. time.

After they’re out of the oven, let the steaks sit for about 10 minutes before slicing—this seals in the juices and lets the steaks reach a true medium-rare. 

Serve

To prepare the steaks, trace the knife along the edge of the bone (the meat will fall off), and then slice across the grain, into 1/2 inch or 3/4 inch thick slices. Top with a pinch of sel gris.

Treat yourself to wine

A labor of love like this steak deserves a good wine. Mary-Frances recommends a bright, acidic, tannic red wine like Pinot Noir.

Get the recipe here.

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