Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Determine your baseline cook time (you'll never overcook anything ever again)

8 Minutes.

My steak will be perfect in 8 minutes.

I can make a perfect steak every time.

How long does perfection take you?

I always start with 8 minutes when I'm cooking meat and seafood - I've established my baseline. I know that on any given Sunday, if I turn my cast-iron skillet to med-high, salt & pepper a 1.5"-ish steak, I will have a perfectly cooked, medium-temperature steak. I know this because I've done it over.  And over. And over again.

Once I know my 8 minutes, I can adjust the time and temperature based on thickness, cut, sear-age, and type of meat.
  • Thinner cuts will be shorter
  • Thicker cuts will take longer
  • Baking will take longer than pan-searing
  • Fish will take less time than meat
  • Using a lid will speed things up

Have a thicker cut of meat (like a Filet Mignon)? It's going to take longer. Science will tell you it'll take longer than your thinner NY Strip.  So, if its on the stove top the whole time, I would check the steak at about 10 minutes (with it probably being done around 12). If its in the oven, it will take longer since the cooking is less indirect.

Cooking a hearty fish fish like swordfish? says steaks should reach 160 degrees and seafood 145 degrees. Math will tell you (not science this time), it should *hopefully* take less time to reach 145 degrees than 160 degrees1. So if a 1" steak takes 8 minutes on my cast iron skillet, then a swordfish steak should probably take about 6-7 minutes.

Swordfish is a pretty freaking dense fish. While salmon is usually the same thickness, it's less dense and probably won't need as long as the swordfish. Catfish and tilapia are much thinner and will need even less time.  Haddock & snapper fall somewhere in between.

As you can see, once you find your baseline, you can easily give yourself guidelines for other proteins. This way, if you're at her house, or being spontaneous without looking at a cookbook, you can remember your "8 minutes" and go from there.  But remember, these are guidelines! Make sure you check your protein right around the time limit, cut a slice of it or check for firmness - No one likes overdone food.

Baseline Cheat Sheet 
(This is no means exact or validated to the nth degree. This is what I use as a guideline.)
  • 2" - 2.5" Filet Mignon: 15 minutes (5 minutes + 10 minutes oven)
  • 2" Chilean Sea Bass: 8-9 minutes
  • 1" - 1.5" NY Strip Steak: 7-8 minutes (Baseline)
  • Swordfish, Salmon: 7 minutes
  • Rockfish, Snapper, Haddock: 6-7 minutes
  • Tilapia, Catfish: 6 minutes
  • Rare Tuna: 3-4 minutes

1 Disclaimer: For beef and seafood, I rarely pay attention to cooking temperatures. I'll use a meat thermometer when baking a roast, or cooking chicken or turkey, but hardly ever for steak and seafood. My rational - whether its flawed or not - is that we eat sushi and beef tartare.

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