Review: Leith’s ‘How To Cook Steak’ Course

There’s nothing better than a decent steak and chips with a simple green salad.  Done well, it can’t be beaten.  No fancy sauce, no mustard just pure carnivorous pleasure on a plate.

So, how do you cook the perfect steak?  Good question.  I think the secret for me, is in the cut of meat and where you buy it.  Short-ageing, wet-ageing and what the animal is fed, how it’s killed and bad butchery will make a huge difference to what you serve.  Poor treatment of the meat will result in poor tasting beef so it’s always good to get your steak from a butcher.  Don’t be afraid.  Butchers don’t bite and they like questions.

Beef that has been wet aged has almost certainly been sealed in plastic to keep it moist.  Packaged immediately, the meat will sit in its own blood in a foam tray, with as much as 70% of meat treated with carbon monoxide to keep it a fresh looking red colour.  Dry aged beef is hung for several weeks to ‘dry’ after the animal has been killed and cleaned.  The point of dry ageing is the concentration of natural flavour and the meat texture.  This process allows moisture to evaporate from the muscle,

When I eat a steak at a restaurant, I waver between a fillet, a rib-eye and a sirloin, depending on where I am.  Some of the best steak I’ve eaten has been in New York.  Fillet steak which oozed off the plate in Tribeca Grill, sirloin enough for three in Smith and Wollensky on Third, then there’s Argentinian steak eaten in Argentina, memorably from Frances Mallmann’s restaurant 1884.  A little closer to home I had a fabulous Tomohawk at the Blue Boar Grill  I remember a time in the capital when Aberdeen Angus was THE place to go to eat steak.  Now, there are so many choices it’s hard to get through them all. Hawksmoor, Gaucho, New Street Grill, Grillshack …. the list is endless.

Most large-scale steak restaurants use a Josper Grill (pronounced hosper) which is essentially a charcoal oven, stoked by firewood, which uses the functions a traditional oven and grill would.  It cooks at nuclear temperature, sealing the meat, smoking it and grilling it all at the same time.  Most of us at home have heat and a decent heavy-based frying pan, essential for great steak results.

Leith’s Cookery School run a series of one day classes which help overcome fears in the kitchen and their ‘Learn How To Cook The Perfect Steak’ course is one of them.

Focusing on a variety of beef cuts, our brilliant tutor Hannah Maclennan talks us through a table full of meat, explaining each and how they’re cooked – from rare to well-done. They were then pan-fried, some oven-finished and we get to try them all – from skirt steak to a cheeky piece of venison.

Steak cuts

Various stages of cooked steak

Cuts of steak

She whips up a béarnaise sauce by hand and then by a processor and I’m in love. Her peppercorn sauce isn’t bad either and the added pyrotechnic display a bonus.

Peppercorn Sauce being made

Steak and Peppercorn Sauce

We move upstairs to the kitchen where we’re all shown how to make a chimichurri sauce and given some top tips, including this on how to make your garlic clove into a paste.

Chimichurri Sauce

We’re each given a sirloin steak, and left to our own devices to cook it just how we like. Mine is rare and I’m chuffed with the results.

Sirloin Steaks

Sirloin steak, rare

Over come chips and shallots and we tuck into our hard work.

Triple-cooked chips

Oven-cooked shallots

Finished meal

If you’re a fan of the supermarket you may want to read Tony Naylor’s Guardian piece about the best and worst steak on offer – as I said at the start of this piece, butchers all the way and the results of his taste test tend to back it up.

Confident about cooking steak? You bet.  Hands up who wants steak and chips at mine?

I was a guest of Leith’s School of Food and Wine.