Young and Hungry

New Generation Chefs Don’t Need to Rest Their Steaks

capital steak

David Varley, executive chef at Bourbon Steak in the Four Seasons Hotel, and I have been talking about Michael Mina's inventive approach to cooking steaks for at least 30 minutes now. He's getting very deep into the chemical interactions that occur when heat is applied to  animal proteins. I'm trying like hell to keep up.

Then he drops this bomb on me: "If you cook a piece of meat right, you don't have to rest it."

Well, there goes six months of cooking school down the drain.

Varley explains that chefs and food scientists have learned how to cook a steak, whether with sous vide techniques or with celebrity chef Mina's butter-tempering method, so that cooks can gently raise the temperature of a cut of beef without damaging its proteins. When proteins are damaged from high heat, Varley says, they coagulate and release moisture.

"You want that juice in the steak," he says.

Old School kitchen jockeys, of course, were trained to believe that a steak cooked in a pan or on the grill needed time away from the heat to redistribute the juices back throughout the meat. But with Mina's butter-tempering technique, which is used on various cuts of beef at Bourbon Steak, the cooks at the hotel restaurant don't need to rest the meat, Varley says.

Why? Because the meat's internal temperature doesn't get hot enough for the proteins to start coagulating and releasing their moisture. Mina's technique, in which a steak is taken from the refrigerator and warmed in clarified butter, slowly raises the temperature of the meat to about 125 degrees. From there, Varley says, it's just a quick sear on the grill to produce that important Maillard effect on the surface of the steak.

At no point during this process should the meat's internal temperature get high enough to damage those proteins so that they release moisture. With no moisture release, there's no need to rest the meat.

"The resting actually makes [the steak] cold," Varley says.

This week's upcoming Young & Hungry column takes a deeper look at Bourbon Steak's butter-tempering technique — and maybe one of its flaws.
  • monkeyrotica

    Who eats steak? Unless it's properly dry aged, most steaks taste like nothing at all.

  • Tim Carman

    Bourbon Steak buys dry-aged beef from Master Purveyors in the Bronx, a very old-school beef processor.

  • xcanuck

    I hate to say this, but Mina's approach is actually a pretty old technique that I've seen discussed in many cooking forums. Nothing inventive here.

    My particular take on this is to sloooowly raise the internal temp of a steak to about 95F in a relatively cool oven (say about 225F). Then I finish the sear on an extremely hot surface (I love to use Alton Brown's idea of putting the grill directly on top of a fired up chimney starter. I'm guessing this is much hotter than the average cooktop can get cast iron). I've also used his suggestion for putting cuts like skirt and flank directly on glowing natural hardwood coals (don't try this with your Kingsford stuff, which contains lime). Both methods barely touch the inside of the meat, but give you an almost perfect char.

    One of these days I'll try cold smoking a hunk of meat before treating it as described above. Not too much but a little might be nice.

  • Downtown rez

    Doesn't every kitchen have an immersion circulator and a quart of Ghee?

  • dan riley

    I cosign xcanuck's methods. On the rare(get it?) chance that I don't feel like firing up the Weber, I do the warm oven-to-cast iron method. It's the antithesis of how I was raised to cook but it works great.

    Bourbon Steak I found soulless and hollow. The meat looked great but didn't deliver the flavor...glad I wasn't paying.

  • Joshua

    I tried the butter-poaching thing once and while it was a cool experiment it ended up a little too, you know, buttery.

    But I did end up with about a quart of clarified butter which was slightly beefy, which was cool, until my kitten ate the last ounce of it and thus acquired the nickname 'butterbutt'.

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