Day of Meat

Suave. Finesse. Precision. Three words chef Michael Leviton used to describe his approach to cooking meat. After a morning talk about butchery, responsible husbandry practices, and sustainability, we donned our chef coats for an afternoon of learning the art and science behind perfectly cooked lamb, pork, and beef. For me, understanding Leviton's technique was a revelation.

 Clockwise from top left: beef tenderloin, rack of lamb, pork tenderloin, double-cut pork chop

Clockwise from top left: beef tenderloin, rack of lamb, pork tenderloin, double-cut pork chop

Prior to today's class, if I were to cook a steak, I might throw it on the grill or maybe even sear it in a cast iron pan, then throw the steak (in the skillet) in a 350 degree oven to finish it off. Let me explain why I now know this is wrong. Protein seizes when it comes into contact with heat, and this makes the muscle become tough. Leviton's approach is to sear the meat in hot fat on all sides, introduce some flavors for basting (butter or bacon fat, herbs, garlic, etc) then remove from the skillet onto a rack for a resting period. The amount of resting time depends on the type and size of cut, but the idea is for the external (quite hot) and internal (still cold) temperatures to equalize, allowing the steak to relax a bit after undergoing the shocking heat. Then you gently reintroduce heat by placing the seared meat in a low and slow oven—300 degrees until the internal temp is a few degrees shy of your desired doneness (@125 degrees for medium-rare beef). The cut then rests again until the external and internal temps have had enough time to equalize and reach your final desired resting temp (@130 degrees). The result is a deliciously browned crust with perfectly even, medium rare doneness throughout. No grey outer ring and blood-red interior.

 The hanger steak was seared, then basted with butter an garlic before going into a low, slow oven.

The hanger steak was seared, then basted with butter an garlic before going into a low, slow oven.

For the whole afternoon we practiced this technique on a double-cut pork chop, a pork tenderloin, rack of lamb, beef tenderloin (Chateaubriand), hanger steak (Leviton's favorite cut), and flatiron steak. Man were they good. And according to Leviton, one of the biggest differences between home cooking and restaurant food is the use of salt. You must "shower" every square inch liberally with salt and pepper. Don't be stingy with it! The technique, the level of care and attention to detail, and the liberal seasoning, all work in harmony to achieve that "suave" outcome Leviton is after. This class will change the way I cook meat forever.

 A close-up of my double-cut pork chop seasoned with garlic and thyme.

A close-up of my double-cut pork chop seasoned with garlic and thyme.