The question I’m asked more than any other here at Sanagan’s is, “How long do I cook this steak for in the pan?” My answer is, “I don’t know. I go by feel, aroma and appearance.” It works well for me but I know that’s not particularly helpful, especially for novices who don’t want to turn their $50 worth rib-eye into shoe leather.
So with Valentine’s Day on the way, which means lots of people buying romantic, luxurious steaks for two, especially tenderloins, I thought now would be a good time to get serious with steak timing for basic pan frying.
Katie, our assistant head butcher cut me two consecutive steaks from one of our Artisan Beef AAA tenderloins. They both weighed exactly 1/3/lb (impressive eyeballing Katie) and were just a hair under 1-1/2 inches thick.
I took the steaks out an hour ahead of time to let them lose the chill of the fridge. There’s some debate as to whether this is necessary but it’s how I’ve been doing it for years so I’m sticking with it.
Using my humble glass top electric stove, I set the element to 6 out of ten and preheated the pan for eight minutes, assuring the element and the pan had leveled out to full heat. Only then did I add a dribble of oil, which immediately shimmered, confirming the pan’s heat.
STEAK #1: I cooked it for a total of four minutes flipping it every minute so each side got two exposures. When complete, the surface of the steak was highly seared. If cooked longer, I would’ve been in danger of burning the surface. The internal temperature read 82°F. Quite underdone. After a four-minute rest it had risen to 97°F. Still undercooked for a lot of people. But if this had have been a 1 inch thick steak, my guess is we would’ve ended up right around medium rare. So lets keep that four minutes cooking, four minutes resting figure in mind.
STEAK #2: Same preheat. Same four minutes, plus another thirty seconds on each side for a total time of five minutes frying. At this point the steak was at 102°F. Then straight into a 350°F oven for two minutes. This is really advisable for such thick steaks. Coming out of the oven it sat at 125°F. After a 5-minute rest it sat at 140°F, which would be considered MEDIUM.
I’m happy with anything between rare and medium rare plus, so I was a little disappointed by the reading. But when I cut the steak open, it looked great. And it was so good! Sumptuous, achingly luscious, mellow super juiciness: what fantastic tenderloin. I actually licked up the juices off the resting platter. Some might criticize the thin hallo of well-doneness just inside the surface of the steak but for me that variability is all part of the appeal of a pan-fried steak.
THE FINAL WORD
Based upon these timings, I think we can work on a figure of 1 minute per quarter inch as a rough starting point for, “how long do I fry these steaks for in a pan” if you want a rare to medium rare steak. You’ll need a (literally) smoking hot pan and remember your steak will continue to “cook” during the rest period. An accurate instant-read thermometer takes all the guesswork out of the process. Above all else, even if you incinerate the steak and end up with a puck, on Valentines Day love conquers all.