Entrecote of Galician beef. | Archives

Many people struggle with certain dishes and never get them right. In my experience, the average person has still to master the little chore of boiling rice, or making a simple French omelette. And scrambled eggs? I don’t know anyone (apart from a few pros) who can do creamy scrambled eggs.
One of the other kitchen jobs that cause problems for many is grilled steak done to their liking. I know several people who adore entrecôte steaks but never do them at home because theirs are never right. They are condemned to eat their steaks at restaurants.

But even that isn’t always successful. Many years ago an American visited the Bulletin office asking me for the names of Palma places where he could get the perfect steak. It turned out that he had been searching for the perfect steak for all of his adult life — and had never found one. He had travelled throughout the US, especially Texas and the cattle-rearing Midwest, had tried all the recommended restaurants there, sometimes eating steak twice a day. But no one ever served a
perfect steak.

Americans in the cattle rearing states (and all over the country) know as much (and more) as other beef eating nations such as the Argentinians, Uruguayans and the Brazilians. The big cut called the tomahawk, which has become so popular worldwide in recent years, was a favourite cut of American cowboys decades ago. If the American who was looking for the perfect steak couldn’t find one in his own country, I thought there must be something wrong with his criteria. He was a nice enough guy (as most Americans are) but it seemed there was something phoney about him, especially when he told me how he judged a steak.

When a lovely looking entrecôte came to the table, the first thing he did was to stick a thermometer into it. If it didn’t reach a certain temperature, it wasn’t a perfect steak. That was when I thought he was a bit of a phoney. I’ve eaten perfect steaks on many occasions, even in restaurants that didn’t specialise in chargrilled red meats, and we weren’t interested in interior temperatures.

What we are look-ing for, is a fine piece of meat that is tender and juicy and loaded with taste. To get that result you first need superb meat, and the next thing you must have is a source of high heat. Given those two essentials, any good cook who understands the grilling of red meats, will turn out a steak that for most connoisseurs will be perfect.

We can also do perfect steaks if we follow those guidelines. In Palma’s Mercat d’Olivar and in El Corte Inglés you will find a large variety of dry aged meats at prices most of us can afford, especially those who appreciate high quality red meats.

Now we that have the meat, we must consider the next crucial element: the high source of heat. The vast majority of us do not have restaurant cookers with their powerful flames. The best way to get a high heat for steaks is to buy a large cast iron frying pan. It should be big enough to take four normal sized entrecôtes.

The dry frying pan should be placed on your highest heat for at least 15 minutes, when it will have the high temperature needed for grilling meat. As the steak should have a film of oil over its surfaces, you don’t add any extra oil or fat to the frying pan. We are almost ready to cook the perfect steak.
We now have to realise what happens to a steak (and all other meat) when it is grilled or roasted.
As soon as the steak hits the extreme heat of the frying pan two things happen: juices start to escape from the bottom and some start to move from the bottom to the top. Those juices that seep out of the bottom instantly caramelise, thus forming a crust over the surface. This crust will produce most of the meat’s flavour, so it is absolutely paramount that you don’t move the steak until you are ready to turn it. And when will that be? The heat forces the juices to the top surface, but they don’t burst through in a mad rush. Instead they appear slowly, drop by drop, all over the surface.

This is when you have to be observant and remember what was happening to your steak as
it grilled. That will help you to perfect your future grilling technique. As the meat gets hotter, more and more drops of juice appear and that means the steak is ready for turning, depending on its thickness and the degree of doneness you want.

A restaurant cook who knows a regular customer likes his steak rare, may turn the steak over when the first drop of juice pushes through. He will then give it one minute on the other side.

The drops-of-juice method works in a way that produces a perfect steak every time. But we must always bear in mind the thickness of the meat and make any adjustments. The first tomahawk steak grilled and eaten in Palma wasn’t on any restaurant menu. I had read about th tomahawk but it hadn’t arrived in Palma yet.

I spoke to butcher Mateo Garau at the Mercat d’Olivar, explained the tomahawk, and he was able to cut one out of a side of beef . With mutual friend Pepe Ariza, a supplier for island restaurants, we took the tomahawk to the Es Mercat restaurant on the first floor of the Mercat d’Olivar, now closed down, like so many others.

We got the cook to put the tomahawk on his very hot plancha (more used to cooking fish than meat) and the three of us stood around waiting for the drops of juice to appear. This was a first for the three of us, and grilling a tomahawk for the first time isn’t easy, anyway, as it is so huge and cumbersome. But by using the drops-of-juice method, we were able to get it right. The surface was beautifully charred, as can be seen in the picture, and the inside was of a lovely pink colour — and it was a perfect steak.

Mateo provided the tomahawk and Pepe and I the wine. So Palma’s first tomahawk didn’t cost us very much. If you want to try one at a restaurant, last summer a tomahawk with chips was costing 60 euros. That’s not as expensive as it sounds, because three can share one.