Weekend cooks the perfect steak with The Montpellier Chapter
Weekend's Helen Blow once made the mistake of buying a cheap cut of meat. Having learned an unpleasant lesson, she checks in at The Montpellier Chapter Cook’s Club for a lesson in how to buy and cook a great steak:
HOW many of us, if asked to choose, would pick a nice, juicy steak as their favourite meal?
If that steak had been cooked by Robin Smith, head chef at The Montpellier Chapter in Cheltenham, then I know it would be up there among my top choices as well.
Simply rubbed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper, Robin cooks up a gastronomic treat with his griddle and a pair of tongs.
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It helps that the meat comes direct from Martins Meats, who supply traditional and rare breed beef from farms in the North Cotswolds.
Commonly from Longhorn and Aberdeen Angus cows, the meat is hung so the flavour develops and the result is, quite simply, sublime.
And served up with the best chips this side of heaven and a bowl of bearnaise sauce, very few of us would be able to resist chowing down.
I headed along to the hotel kitchens for a masterclass in how to cook the perfect steak with Robin as my tutor.
Run as one of a series of events, these workshops help those of us who aren’t professional chefs to improve our cooking techniques under the watchful eye and expert advice of Robin and his fellow chefs.
A while ago I was a bit strapped for cash and bought a cheap steak from a supermarket and pretty soon regretted it. Even though it was cheap, it was a complete waste of money as the meat was tough and practically inedible.
Robin told me you should buy the best piece of meat you can afford and gave me some top tips about what I should look for.
“It’s important that it’s been hung properly so if it looks bloody don’t buy it as it obviously hasn’t been,” he said. “The hanging process develops the flavour and tenderises the meat.
“It should be a good, deep, red colour and have a nice, sweet smell.
“Look at the marbling too. Marbling is little streaks of fat running through the meat which melt when heated, allowing the steak to baste itself from within as it’s cooking and giving it more flavour.”
Robin buys a big piece of meat and cuts his own steaks from it, using any leftover meat in burgers.
Contrary to popular opinion and price, the fillet is generally not considered to be the best cut by chefs.
“It’s expensive because you don’t get many fillets from a cow, but in my opinion the rib eye or the sirloin have a much better flavour,” said Robin.
Robin grills his steaks on a big griddle at the front of the restaurant, unless it’s a fillet, which he fries behind the scenes and sometimes finishes off in the oven.
It’s important to take the steak out of the fridge a good 20 minutes before cooking to allow it to reach room temperature.
Robin then lightly brushes the meat with olive oil and seasons before laying on a smoking hot griddle.
“The steak should sizzle when added to the pan or grill, so that it sears rather than stews,” he said.
Robin recommended around four minutes each side for a medium rare steak, which he believes is the best amount of cooking time to maximise flavour.
He grilled the steak for a couple of minutes then turned it round so the steak had good seared markings on it.
The next important thing is to rest the meat before serving for around three minutes, which allows the juices to relax back into the meat.
Robin serves his steaks with triple-cooked chips – chips first boiled in water until just tender, then fried in oil at 140C, before finishing off in very hot oil to get the crispy outside and fluffy insides.
Believe me, these chips are amazing and complement the steak perfectly.
He also whipped up some bearnaise sauce with consummate ease. This is a basic hollandaise sauce made with egg yolks, vinegar and butter, with shallots and tarragon added.
And he took me through the method for garlic butter, which included beating the butter and garlic until smooth, before adding finely-chopped parsley and then chilling until needed.
Robin brought a wealth of experience with him when he arrived at The Montpellier Chapter in May, and he has certainly made his mark in Cheltenham.
He said: “Steak is still as popular as it’s ever been and people are much more likely to want to know where the meat comes from and what cut it is.”
n The Montpellier Chapter Cook’s Club takes place monthly and the next workshop is about apples on October 2. Find out more at Montpellier Chapter Hotel