Key, of course, is the quality of the meat. Beef should be grass-fed and dry-aged. To say I choose my homes according to their proximity to a good butcher is exaggerated, but we’ve been lucky for a while now, with, for years, excellent meat just a few blocks away. There was Ottomanelli in the West Village, Harlem Shambles uptown, and, here in London, we live close to another great butcher, Godfreys.
The cut is important, too. Meat on the bone is typically more flavorful, and thick cuts (an inch and a half at least) are much easier to cook to perfection: very brown and crisp on the outside but perfectly rare in the center.
There are debates over whether steaks should be seasoned early or whether salt left on the meat absorbs some of the moisture. I’ve decided to settle into the camp that favors early seasoning, allowing the salt to seep into the cut. Since meat should be brought to room temperature before cooking, I take the steaks out of the refrigerator about one hour before dinner, season them generously with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, and let them sit a while.
It is useless to try to give a cooking time. Every steak is different, depending on the cut, its thickness, its initial temperature. I’ve found that a cast-iron skillet works best, and it should be very hot before the meat is added. A combination of butter and olive oil in the pan is good, as the butter is delicious and won’t burn as quickly together with the olive oil. Ideally one could add herbs to the rendered fat and baste the steak as it cooks.
Sear the meat on very high heat, turning it over once the first side is evenly brown. The steak is perfect when the outside is brown and crisp, like a crust, and the meat has contracted, but just barely. Not too much or it is overcooked.
Like all meat, steak needs to relax a little before being cut; about ten minutes, just the time needed to get the rest of the meal on the table.
Serve the steak with the butters, shallot confit, and some strong mustard.
Herb and anchovy butter
These must be made a least an hour ahead, and easily the day before. I make one butter with anchovies, parsley, and basil, and the other with just herbs and sea salt.
250g good unsalted butter
A generous handful of parsley
Small bunches each of basil and chives
A dozen anchovies in oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse grey sea salt
Cut the butter into two equal parts, place each in a small bowl, and let sit at room temperature until it becomes soft and easy to work with (probably about an hour).
Wash and shake the herbs dry. Pick the parsley and basil leaves from the stems.
Separate the herbs into two groups: one with half the parsley and a few basil leaves, the other with approximately equal amounts of parsley, basil, and chives.
Finely chop each group of herbs.
Drain as much oil from the anchovies as possible, and chop finely.
Using a fork, mix one of the softened butter with the anchovies, parsley, basil; the other with the parsley, basil, and chives, and the salt. Mix each well until the butter is homogeneously speckled with the herbs.
Transfer each piece of butter into a small serving bowl, even out the surface, and let cool in the refrigerator for at least an hour. The butter will keep for a while, though it will be best for a couple of days.
3-4 large shallots
Small sprig fresh thyme
Small sprig fresh rosemary
One bay leaf
Peel and slice the shallots into thin-ish slices. (The shallots can be cut either crosswise or lengthwise.)
Place in a very small saucepan with enough olive oil to comfortably blanket the bottom of the pan. Add the herbs and a good pinch of salt.
Cook on very low heat, staying close and stirring regularly, until the shallots are a deep golden. **In case the bottom does burn, quickly transfer the rest of the shallots to a different pan so the burnt flavor doesn’t tarnish the confit.**
Let cool a little and remove the herb stalks before serving.
The confit can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator but must be slightly reheated before serving, just beyond the point where the oil isn’t congealed to awaken the flavors.