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How To Pan Fry a Steak

Pan-frying is the quickest method of cooking small, very tender cuts of meat such as steaks. Browning the meat on both sides requires a very high heat, which then needs to be slightly lowered to cook the meat to the point desired.

1. A guide to steak cooking times: The times given are guidelines only, as the length of cooking time varies according to how many steaks are being cooked, the type of steak, the degree of heat and the weight of the frying pan. For a blue or rare steak, keep the heat reasonably fierce for the whole cooking time. For medium-rare or medium steaks, lower the temperature to medium after the initial browning.

2. Rare: The fibres of the meat are not set through the central 75% of the steak.

3. Medium-rare: As for rare but a slightly paler colour and only 50% of the fibres are not set through the centre of the steak.

4. Medium: Pink in the centre with juices and fibres set.

A note on cooking the fat layer…

Steaks such as rump and sirloin have a fat layer around one side which adds flavour and moisture, although it can be trimmed away before cooking if preferred. If it is left on, hold the steak fat side down in the hot pan with tongs, to render and brown the fat before cooking the steak.



Serves 4

4 sirloin steaks, cut 2cm thick, or
fillet steaks, cut 2.5cm thick
Sunflower oil for frying
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. If the steaks have been chilled, remove them from the fridge and bring to room temperature about 30–45 minutes before cooking. Sprinkle lightly with pepper and salt on both sides, just before cooking.
  2. Heat a very little oil in a frying pan (it should just barely cover the surface of the pan) until hot and almost smoking.
  3. Brown the steaks quickly on one side, then turn the heat down to medium and cook for the required length of time, determined by how you like your steak cooked (see above). Turn the steak over and cook the second side for roughly the same amount of time. (The pan will still be hot enough to brown the second side.)
  4. With experience, it is possible to tell from the feel of a steak how well cooked it is. When blue, it feels very soft. It will become firmer as it cooks, feeling very firm when medium cooked. If you want to be certain, make a tiny cut in the fattest part of the meat and take a look, but not until you are fairly sure that the steak is ready, as too many cuts will mean loss of juices.
  5. Remove the steaks from the frying pan to a warmed plate and leave to rest in a warm place for 3–5 minutes. This is important as it allows the juices to be re-absorbed back into the meat. The steak will hold its heat for this length of time, so resting does not affect the final eating temperature.


A note on cuts…

The cuts most suited to this rapid method of cooking are those that are less exercised, and are therefore the most naturally tender. As with roasts, these are found in the area between the shoulder and back legs near the back bone, and include fillet, sirloin, rump and rib eye.