On my quest to find the absolute best way to cook a steak, I was eager to try the freeze-fried technique, popularized by Bon Appetit’s Cook Like a Pro series. The series asks chefs to share techniques and tricks that “elevate a good dish to an unforgettable one,” so I was fairly confident I’d be impressed by the results. But while this steak recipe was certainly unforgettable, it wasn’t for the reasons they (or I) had hoped.
The pros behind the technique are H. Alexander Talbot and Aki Kamozwa, who run the blog Ideas in Food. Their detailed instructions are separated into eight unorthodox steps, resulting in a process that will take at least 16 and as many as 29 hours to complete (something I wish I had known before diving in). Here’s an overview — and my honest review.
How to Make Ideas in Food’s Frozen and Fried Steak
You’ll begin by scoring the steak, applying a three-ingredient spice rub, and placing it — standing upright on the flat end of the bone — on a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet. You’ll refrigerate it for several hours and then into the freezer it goes, still upright, for at least 6 but no more than 24 hours. (At this point, I already had many questions. Nowhere does it tell me why freezing the steak upright matters, or why it must be frozen for this specific amount of time. Should it be wrapped or left bare? Does it need to stay on the rack? I wrapped mine in plastic to protect my freezer from raw meat juices, and I took it off the rack to make it fit).
Next, you’ll deep-fry the frozen steak to sear it before placing it back on the rack and into a 200°F oven until it thaws enough for you to be able to insert a thermometer. Meanwhile, you’ll brown butter, infuse it with a spice mixture, let it cool, strain it through a fine sieve, then brush it onto the steak when you take its temperature.
You’ll continue slow-roasting the steak until it registers 120°F. You’ll check the steak’s temperature every 15 minutes after the first hour and every 5 minutes after 1 1/2 hours, and baste with the butter every 30 minutes or so. When the steak is up to temperature, you deep-fry it a second time to “re-crisp your crust, lock in juices, and develop more flavor.” Finally, you’ll return the steak to the rack and let it rest for 10 minutes before cutting the meat off the bone, slicing it into thin strips, and arranging it on a platter alongside the bone.
My Honest Review of Ideas in Food’s Frozen and Fried Steak
I wanted this avant-garde recipe to teach me something, and I wanted this steak to be worth the work. It didn’t, and it wasn’t. Let me address some of what happened.
The prep: I appreciate a nice spice rub, and agree that seasoning a steak and letting it chill in the refrigerator overnight is a good idea. (I’m less certain that scoring the steak helped the seasoning penetrate the meat). But the recipe insists that the steak be upended on the flat side of the bone — a tall order for most fridge and freezer interiors.
The first fry: The sear from the initial fry was a thing of beauty. I’ve never seen a more uniform sear on a piece of meat, as though it had been dipped in some sort of magic searing solution. It was so pretty I’d consider deep-frying another steak to see if the sear tasted as good as it looked (this steak, unfortunately, had miles to go before I could taste it at all). And while I enjoy a good compound butter with steak, the vadouvan spice blend (their recommendation) was so strongly flavored that it overwhelmed the steak.
The slow-roast: Slowly roasting a steak at a low oven temperature is a great technique. This recipe’s tip about the temperature of the steak, once thawed, rising one degree per minute is brilliant. I jotted it down to use in other slow-roasted steak recipes. My steak was exactly 120°F after 90 minutes, just as predicted.
The second fry: Deep-frying a fully cooked steak to refresh the sear sounded plausible, and it might have been had the spices from both the rub and the butter not floated off into the oil and burned. The recipe said to fry each side for two minutes, but after one minute my steak was alarmingly dark, almost blackened. Even worse, it tasted acrid — not to mention I’ve now cooked this beleaguered steak three different ways.
The presentation: The recipe instructs you to rest the steak before slicing and serving. Wait, what? Didn’t I just deep-fry it to crisp the crust, and now I’m supposed to let it languish on a rack for 10 minutes? My once-perfect medium-rare steak was now all the way up to 140°F, which is medium. You’re then told to arrange the sliced meat on a platter alongside the bone. Why? Are we reconstructing the crime scene? The final instruction is to “Pour any butter and juices that have accumulated in baking sheet over the top.” Good grief, people — all that perished in the fire.
If You’re Making Ideas in Food’s Frozen and Fried Steak, a Few Tips
1. Calculate the timing and plan ahead. The full process takes 16 to 38 hours, depending on how long you freeze it for.
2. Opt for peanut oil. The recipe suggests frying the steak in rice bran oil, but since 2 cups would have cost $27, I opted for peanut oil.
3. Choose the seasoning wisely. The seasoning for the spice-infused browned butter will be the predominant flavor in the dish, so pick something you like.
4. Be prepared for a mess. It took a long while to soak up the grease and scrub down my stove, counters, cabinets, and floor. And then I washed all the dishes. The unpleasant odor of stale grease and scorched spices lingered throughout my house for two days, despite running my kitchen vent on the highest setting.
5. Make sure you have the equipment. This recipe calls for three different types of thermometers, although I used my trusty instant-read for all three tasks.
6. Be careful. Despite using long-handled tongs to maneuver the steak in and out of the hot oil, I still wound up with a nasty burn on one hand. Blisters and grease fires are real risks with this recipe. I contemplated using a Dutch oven instead of a skillet for both deep-fries, thinking that a deeper pot might contain some of the splattering grease, but then realized I would be unable to work the tongs into the pot to grip and flip the huge steak.
I really wanted this recipe to be worth it. It wasn’t. I’ve talked about it for weeks, but not for good reasons.