April 10, 2011

Pan-Seared Steaks: A Head-to-Head Taste Test

When we went grocery shopping last night, we found our local Hy-Vee supermarket was running a steak special:  Two wonderfully-marbled, 8-oz Amana NY strip steaks for $9.98.  We often buy the Amana meats Hy-Vee carries.  Apparently the way the beef is grown at the Amana colonies makes it a lot more flavorful than generic supermarket beef, so the special caught my attention.  So did the free samples they were serving right next to the meat counter.  They looked and smelled wonderful!

The samples were excellent... tender, with rich, beefy flavor.  I was sold.  We bought two, and I planned to cook them the next day.

When it was time to prepare the steaks, Juli asked me to use a seasoning blend Hy-Vee sells, which we've used and liked.   She's very fond of it.   I, on the other hand, had planned to make my own seasoning rub.  Juli came up with the idea of cooking one steak seasoned with each and doing a blind taste taste.   I liked the idea.

The only problem was, we only had about 1/4 teaspoon of the Hy-Vee seasoning, which wasn't enough to cover a steak.   Juli remembered we'd bought a jar of Chicago Steak Seasoning one of the times we stocked up at Penzey's, so we decided to go with that.

The Contender:  Penzey's Chicago Steak Seasoning
 Nothing beats the flavor of a steak grilled outdoors, but it was already late in the morning and I was hungry for lunch, so I instead pan-seared them, using my Lodge Enameled Grill Pan.  The key to a good pan-seared steak is to cook it a really short time on a very hot pan, and nothing conducts and holds heat quite as well as cast iron.

I rubbed in seasoning on both sides of the steaks and tossed them in the (literally) smoking-hot pan.  Less than four minutes later, they were off the stovetop, and after letting them rest for a few minutes on a plate tented with foil (to let the juices redistribute), they were ready.   I served them up with steamed broccoli and Microwave "Baked" Potatoes (see our next post). 

The steaks cooked up wonderfully.  They were amazingly tender - among the most tender steaks we've ever had - and full of flavor, due to both the quality of the meat and the seasoning.   But which of the two steak seasonings won out?

Juli and I both agreed that mine was vastly better than the Penzey's blend.  It wasn't even a contest.  That's not to say that he Penzey's one is bad - it is quite good, really - but mine is better.   Juli ended up sprinkling some of the leftover seasoning I made onto her Penzey's-seasoned steak.

I should note that my seasoning has a fair bit of bite to it.  It contains ample amounts of pepper plus some cayenne for an extra shot of heat.   The seasoning isn't strong enough to overwhelm the steak flavors, but it is pretty bold, and if you aren't really fond of pepper, you may wish to dial back the amounts of black pepper and cayenne a little bit.

Note also that this is one of the rare times I think it makes sense to use sea salt instead of the much pricier table salt.   Sea salt flakes are larger and more coarse, and they stand up better to the heat of a grill or very hot pan, making for a more flavorful seasoning.

Pan-Seared Steaks with Peppery Seasoning

yield = 2 servings

2                teaspoons finely-ground fresh, black pepper
1                teaspoon sea salt
1/4             teaspoon garlic powder
1/4             teaspoon onion powder
1/8             teaspoon (scant) cayenne pepper
2                eight-ounce New York strip steaks, dried
                  with paper towels

Combine pepper, sea salt, garlic and onion powders and cayenne in a small bowl and stir to thoroughly mix.  Rub an ample amount of the seasoning onto both sides of the steaks, then let the steaks rest at room temperature for about 15 minutes. 

Lightly coat the cooking surfacce of the pan with nonstick cooking spray or canola oil.  Heat over medim-heat until the oil just starts to smoke.   Place the steaks in the pan.  Cook for 2 minutes, then flip the steaks and cook for an additional 1 1/2 minutes for medium-rare. 

Transfer steaks to a plate, tent with foil and let rest 5 minutes.  Serve and enjoy.

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