Cold Pan Seared Steak

By Ann Fulton

Perfectly cooked steaks with a gorgeous crust and tender, juicy insides are easy to achieve with this unorthodox method. No smoky, splattered mess on your stovetop either!
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Perfectly cooked steaks with a gorgeous crust and tender, juicy insides are easy to achieve with this unorthodox method. No smoky, splattered mess on your stovetop either!

 

Steak night isn’t a weekly occurrence in our house – although the guys likely wish it were! So, when steaks are on the menu, they should really deliver.

(Of course, when we go to the time and expense to purchase groceries and cook, any meal should really deliver. That’s my goal with this blog!)

The following recipe disregards traditional steak-cooking techniques in lieu of a seemingly unorthodox method. The result is a perfectly seasoned, golden crust and tender, juicy meat cooked to your preferred level of doneness.

The results are perfect every time. Plus, the process is easy and doesn’t create a splattered mess on your stovetop. It won’t set off the smoke detector either!

Pan choice is important. This is not the time for a good stainless-steel skillet. The goal is for the flavorful crust that develops to stick to the steak, not the pan. As such, a well-seasoned cast iron pan or a non-stick skillet (even a carbon steel skillet) is the right pan for the job.

A word regarding nonstick skillets: Preheating a nonstick pan over high heat isn’t recommended. However, this unconventional method starts with the steak in the skillet before the heat is turned on, so it’s very difficult to overheat the pan. For the brief stint on high, the uncooked steak moderates the heat of the pan before the temperature is quickly reduced to medium.

The process warms the meat slowly, encouraging the fat to render without smoking. Starting on high heat wicks away the initial moisture and begins the browning process.

Perfectly cooked steaks with a gorgeous crust and tender, juicy insides are easy to achieve with this unorthodox method. No smoky, splattered mess on your stovetop either!

The steak is pictured here with Za’atar Carrots and Soy Glazed Mushrooms. The mushroom recipe is coming soon.

Helpful hints: Do pat the steaks dry first – the less moisture we start with the better. There’s also an optional dry brine step (it’s so easy and I recommend it) that can be started a day in advance or earlier in the day that the steaks are to be cooked. The purpose is to dry the surface while allowing the seasonings to permeate the meat.

After the steaks cook on high for two minutes per side, they will have a grayish color – not yet the golden crust we’re seeking, but we’re on the right track. At this point it’s time to reduce the heat.

Reducing the heat to medium allows the golden crust to continue developing while the inside of the steak gently cooks to tender, juicy perfection.

Another helpful tip: For most even cooking, do let the steak(s) sit at room temperature for at least 20 minutes or up to an hour before cooking, if possible.

For added insurance when using something other than a good non-stick pan, I add the thinnest film of oil – just enough to prevent the steak from bonding to the pan without causing messy splatter.

The process, by the way, is ideal when grilling is not an option. It’s also much like the technique used in another excellent method – the Reverse Sear Steak – but with the steps done in reverse. I like the reverse sear method when I’m cooking more steaks than will fit in a single pan or I’d simply rather finish them on the grill.

The method is also a takeoff of my Cold Seared Pork Chops, which are a staple in our house for ease and flavor.

Perfectly cooked steaks with a gorgeous crust and tender, juicy insides are easy to achieve with this unorthodox method. No smoky, splattered mess either!

If you have time, I recommend salting the steaks and refrigerating them, uncovered, overnight or for at least four hours. This is called a dry brine, and it will help lock in the juices, enhancing flavor and tenderness. 

Perfectly cooked steaks with a gorgeous crust and tender, juicy insides are easy to achieve with this unorthodox method. No smoky, splattered mess either!

When dry brining, I refrigerate the steaks like this – on a rack and uncovered. This allows air to circulate and dry the entire surface. If you don’t have at least four hours, it is better to pat the steaks dry and salt them just before cooking. 

Perfectly cooked steaks with a gorgeous crust and tender, juicy insides are easy to achieve with this unorthodox method. No smoky, splattered mess either!

To gently cook the meat as a nice crust develops, the steaks are flipped every two minutes. My best tip is to set a timer, because the two minutes pass quickly and it’s easy to lose track! The whole process only takes about 10-12 minutes.

Perfectly cooked steaks with a gorgeous crust and tender, juicy insides are easy to achieve with this unorthodox method. No smoky, splattered mess on your stovetop either!

The best way to determine if the steaks are cooked to your preferred level of doneness is to use a quick read thermometer. I have included target temperatures for rare through well done in the recipe instructions. I recommend checking a few minutes before you think they will be done and then occasionally as you close in on the final minutes. 

Perfectly cooked steaks with a gorgeous crust and tender, juicy insides are easy to achieve with this unorthodox method. No smoky, splattered mess on your stovetop either!

Though many people prefer a steak of their own, when sliced, one of these generous portions will easily yield two servings. Any leftovers are delicious in a Steak Salad

I’d love to know if you try this recipe. Leave a comment, rate it, and don’t forget to tag a photo @fountainavenuekitchen on Instagram and Facebook. Your feedback is always appreciated.

Cold Pan Seared Steak
Prep Time: 3 minutes + optional dry brine time
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes + optional dry brine time
Yield: 2-4 servings
Perfectly cooked steaks with a gorgeous crust and tender, juicy insides are easy to achieve with this unorthodox method. No smoky, splattered mess on your stovetop either!
Ingredients
  • 2 New York strip or ribeye steaks (about 16-ounces each), 1½-2 inches thick* 
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Optional for serving (delicious if you’re a sauce person but truly not needed!): Italian Salsa Verde or Romesco Sauce
Instructions

BEFORE YOU BEGIN… For an easy, flavor-enhancing dry brine if you have time, salt the steaks at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours before cooking: Sprinkle steaks on both sides and edges (use 1 teaspoon Morton kosher salt per pound of meat; the conversion if using Diamond Crystal brand is slightly less than double; for table salt, use ¾ teaspoon per pound of steak) and then refrigerate them, uncovered, on a rack set over a baking sheet. (Be sure to use nonreactive metal; otherwise, line the baking sheet with parchment paper.)

When ready to cookFor more even cooking, allow the steaks to sit at room temperature for at least 20 minutes and up to 1 hour before cooking. (If time is tight, even 5-10 minutes is better than nothing.) Very lightly oil a 12-inch nonstick, cast iron, or carbon-steel skillet. I use a small piece of paper towel to spread a thin film over the surface. Too much oil will create smoke and spatter.

Just before placing in the cold pan, pat the steaks dry with a paper towel and sprinkle both sides with pepper (and salt if you didn’t do the optional dry brine).

Place the steaks 1 inch apart in the cold skillet. Tip: Arrange so the narrow part of one steak is opposite the wider part of second.

Place the skillet over high heat and cook the chops for 2 minutes. Tip: I set a timer because the time goes quickly.

Flip the chops and cook on the second side for 2 minutes. The steaks will be grayish at this point – that’s ok. If they stick a bit, give them an extra 30 seconds, and then very gently pry them away from the pan.

Flip the steaks again; reduce the heat to medium, and continue to cook, flipping every 2 minutes, until the exteriors are well browned, and the center of the steaks registers your preferred level of doneness, about 8-12 minutes longer. (Target temperatures: Rare: 120°–125°; Medium Rare: 130°–135°; Medium: 140°–145°; Medium Well 150°–155°; Well Done: 160°–165°.

Helpful hint: Steaks should be lightly sizzling. If not, increase the heat slightly. Conversely, reduce the heat to medium low if the skillet starts to smoke or if the steaks start browning too much.

Transfer the steaks to a platter and let rest for 5 minutes. Season with an additional sprinkle of coarse salt and/or pepper to taste.

Notes

*For best results with this method, the steaks should be no less than 1½ inches thick and no more than 2 inches thick. This allows the chops time to develop a golden-brown exterior as the insides cook to tender, juicy perfection.

Flavor tip: When you remove the steaks to a platter and let them rest, some juice will pool around them. Drizzle these juices overtop when serving, and if you have leftovers, drizzle any juice from the pan or serving plate over top before refrigerating. They are very flavorful!

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