Reverse sear steak at Pablo's

 Although nearly a month ago now, I have very fond memories of this day, Friday 24th March. Henry had been in Melbourne for nearly two weeks - a very enjoyable two weeks they were too! The grand plan had always been to work until funds were sufficient to get us through the rest of our travels. When our time working had come to an end, we’d buy a van and hit the road. 
 After a quick browse on Gumtree early Friday morning to just see what was available and for what price, we found a van with all the required criteria at a deceptively low buck. A phone call and trip to the bank to withdraw all available funds later, and we were on a train out of Melbourne by 10.30am. We saw the van, we drove the van, we bought the van. Spontaneity at its most spontaneous and an early present to ourselves. The first car I’ve owned, albeit jointly. The ride home was one of much childish giggling and hairy moments on the road. A great start to the day.

We had always planned to do a steak night at Pablo’s in the evening, it was meant to be just 4 of us, but a call from Pablo on the drive back to Melbourne confirmed that he had in fact invited half of his uni course round for dinner – I was to cook for 15. This was of course fine – what better way to spend my one day off from 14 hour days in the kitchen than back in the kitchen and cooking for fifteen! 

Upon returning to Melbourne, we parked up our new wagon at Queen Victoria Market, located at the northern tip of the CBD; a vast labyrinth of shops and stalls selling everything from fluffy koala teddies, to dodgy faux-leather clothes, to fantastically fresh organic veg, as well as great meat, fish and cheese – a grand place to spend a few hours! The street food night market on a Wednesday eve is also one not to miss; thousands of people, hundreds of street food vendors, a nose full of good smells and belly full of proper grub. Most enjoyable.

After an hour or so of mooching round buying veg and fifteen thick-cut rib eye steaks (or scotch fillets, as they call it here), we headed back to Pablo’s to get prepping. The menu consisted of three things;

- Dry brined, reverse sear steak
- Triple cooked chips, Heston Blumenthal style
- Creamy mushroom sauce, for dipping the previous two components

Nosey Marg w/ passengers
Queen Vic Market


Dry brined, reverse sear steak

The whole dry brined, reverse sear malarkey may sound fancy, but it’s really pretty simple, and much more effective than simply chucking a hunk of steak in a frying pan and overcooking half of it in order to get a rare middle – why not have the whole thing rare?

Dry brine:

Salt. That’s it. As opposed to a wet brine, where you leave a piece of meat in a water and salt solution in order to create an osmotic movement of fluid through the meat membrane. If I’m doing fried chicken, I’ll leave the thighs in a 6% salt solution overnight for extra juiciness. For a dry brine, liberally sprinkle the meat with salt, perhaps 30/40% more than you would normally, and leave it, uncovered, on a rack in the fridge for at least two hours before cooking. That’s it, the meat will be seasoned the whole way through and will be juicer and more tender than if you’d seasoned and cooked straight away.

Why does salt enable meat to retain more moisture? 

Due to the electrical charges that the sodium and chloride ions in salt carry, salt attacks the meat proteins, causing them to unravel a bit, a process called denaturing. These denatured proteins have a greater ability to retain moisture, so meat that has been treated with salt stays juicier throughout the cooking process – just look at the shine of the meat at the bottom of this post to see what I mean.

Reverse sear:

 For this we employ the use of an oven set at a low temperature – I used 130°C, though lower would probably be preferable – I slightly overcooked the first batch, only by a few minutes, but the difference in texture and taste between them and the second batch, which were spot on, was marked. I’d say an oven temp of 100-110°C would be ideal.
 The whole point of reverse sear is to cook the steak slowly, the whole way through, so that the whole steak is evenly cooked, rather than having an overcooked outer layer, a medium inner layer and a rare middle, which is often the case when entirely pan-fried. 
 For a rare steak you’re looking for the centre of the meat to be around 55°C, I used a temperature probe for accuracy, but the old-fashioned prod test will suffice. How you like your steak will govern at what temperature you take it out the oven, but I’m guessing you wouldn’t go to these lengths if you wanted it medium-well. The first batch that I overcooked slightly read around 59°C, these were significantly tougher than the second batch which came out the oven at 56°C. I’ve listed rough temp charts below;

Rare - 50-54°C
Medium rare - 55-58°C
Medium - 59-62°C

After removing the steak from the oven when the middle is at the desired temperature it is then crucial to rest the meat for 10-15 minutes; this allows the muscle fibres to relax and keeps the juices in the steak. At this point the steak will be an anaemic looking off-grey colour, hardly very appetising. We therefore need to get some Maillard browning going on. Heat a pan super hot, with just a dash of oil and sear hard on each side for 30 seconds, any longer and the meat will start to cook through, ruining the point of the reverse sear method. 

Triple cooked chips à la Heston:

These triple cooked chips are a tad fiddly and take up a significant amount of time, but they’re worth it for that fluffy middle and crunchy outer. You can find a more in depth recipe online, below is a condensed version I’ve written;

1: Boil chips until nearly falling apart, carefully remove, let steam dry then place in the freezer for an hour to dry further

2: Fill oil to 10cm in a pan, get to 130°C. Fry chips in small batches until a light crust forms. Remove and put back in the freezer for an hour. 

3: Fry at 180°C in small batches until golden – approx. 7 mins. 

Creamy mushroom sauce:

Again, really very simple, but the addition of stock made from the stems of the Portobello mushrooms in with the creamy sauce really boosts that rich mushroom flavour. For the stock, add just enough water to cover the stems in a pan and cook at the lowest temperature possible – you don’t want it to simmer or even bubble. Leave for an hour or two, strain off ‘shrooms. 

 The rest was simple, fry the mushrooms with a big knob of butter, some mashed confit garlic and finely chopped thyme, though don’t cut the ‘shrooms too thinly, they’ll only go limp - you still want some texture there. When cooked, add some thick double cream and your mushroom stock, about 50:50 ratio, and reduce to desired consistency. Season well with salt and pepper and mix through chopped parsley to finish. Oh, and add more butter if you so wish – butter is good, y’see. 

* I got a bit too caught up in cooking to take photos of the chips and mushroom sauce upon completion, they didn't hang round long. Below are a couple of photos of the laborious process of carefully lining parboiled chips up ready to be dried in the freezer. A fun bit of prep.

As we were 15 and had only a 4 hob cooker, two of which were taken up by vats of oil for the chips and one for the mushroom sauce, we could only sear two steaks at a time, so served sliced steak on boards with a dollop of mustard, a bowl of chips and some creamy mushroom dipping sauce. No cutlery allowed. Everyone just dived right in and got messy fingers, a less formal yet much more enjoyable way of eating, I think. This went on five or six times until the steak was gone and bellies were close to bursting. After I thought I could eat no more, Giorgia, from Italy, produced a stonking Tiramisu she’d made earlier that day. I found space. It was superb. 

All in all, a very enjoyable day / evening. I'm the proud co-owner of a wagon. The steak was the best I've cooked and the company was second to none. Although I'm working long hours at two kitchen jobs, I still miss being able to to do my own thing in the kitchen. The lack of ovens at hostels is frustrating. 


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