France has given us a whole lot when it comes to grub, but few menu items have the widespread popularity that steak frites—the Frenchie take on a “meat and potatoes” dish—does. With summer and therefore grilling season in full swing, there is nothing simpler or more fulfilling than this classic—and sure, it’s certainly quicker to hit your favorite brunch spot to indulge in steak frites, but achieving it at home is much simpler than you think thanks to the help of these esteemed chefs.
First and Foremost, Find the Best Cut of Steak
Before you fire up the grill, you’ll want to make sure you’re working with a quality piece of meat. “Ribeye or New York Strip are both very common, but there are some less expensive cuts such as skirt, hanger, or flat iron that will work just as well for steak frites,” says Luke Venner, Chef and Managing Partner at Elm restaurant in New Canaan, Conn. “I prefer skirt or hanger because those cuts tend to have a slightly chewy texture with a medium fat content which translates to more beef flavor on your plate,” he says.
As a general rule, when you select your cut, you’ll want to make sure it’s rosy to bright red in color—and make sure you’re avoiding anything that has a gray or oxidized appearance.
“Whether it’s wagyu or grass-fed, you should always be on the lookout for a high fat to muscle ratio, known as marbling. Forget everything your grandmother told you about insisting the butcher selects the leanest steak in the case, because most of the fat will melt and permeate into the meat during the cooking process, ensuring the steak is both juicy and tender,” adds Venner.
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That said, make sure to avoid steaks or cuts that seem to have large amounts of fat on the outside, advises Ben Leath of the newly opened Dallas joint Harlowe MXM. “Often times you are paying for it.”
But Exactly How Much Meat Do You Need Anyway?
As a general rule, expect to serve your guests a healthy, 4-8 oz. portion size, says Stephen Bonin, executive chef at Geraldine’s in Austin. This means if you’re serving a 16 oz. ribeye, you can expect to happily feed 2-3 people without them throwing a temper tantrum.
“A flat iron steak is a tough cut to maximize and stretch to serve multiple guests because a vein separates the top and the bottom half and it isn’t a large piece of meat to begin with,” adds Avenue Executive Chef Josh Sauer. A flank or Bavette cut will generally serve more guests, he advises.
To Salt Bae or to Not Salt Bae?
For something fresh, Bonin advises not-so-traditional seasonings for your steak like smoked paprika and sumac, though you can never go wrong with the traditional Salt Bae preparation.
“Over-season your steak with salt and pepper. There is no way to season the middle so you must overcompensate on the outside,” says Joel Gamoran, national chef of Sur La Table and host of A&E’s “Scraps.” You should also consider keeping a nice coarse finishing salt in your pantry. Venner likes Maldon or Fleur de Sel: “It’s the best way to enhance even the simplest preparation,” he says.
A Few Techniques for Cooking and Getting That Perfect Temperature
If you’re a novice on the barbecue, our chefs agreed that the easiest way to get it right is by using a meat thermometer, as long as you don’t pierce the meat repeatedly. “Start with high heat to establish some char on each side, then reposition the steak on a cooler part of the grill for more even cooking,” says Venner. “If you’re cooking a bone-in cut, stand it straight up so that only the bone is touching the grill—this will gently temper the internal temperature,” he says.
A traditional steak frites is meant to be served medium-rare, but regardless of whether you like your cow still mooing or prefer more of a hockey puck texture, you can go with Leath’s rule of thumb: “120 degrees Fahrenheit is rare, 130 degrees Fahrenheit is medium-rare, 135-140 degrees Fahrenheit is medium…so it’s pretty easy to hit your mark with proper supervision,” he says.
Then, Let That Sucker Rest Before You Dive In
“It depends on how hot the internal temperature got during the cooking process,” says Venner. “Rare to medium-rare needs 5-10 minutes to relax, while medium to medium-well requires 10 minutes or more.” Letting the steak rest before you slice it will allow you to maximize the cut and makes for a great family-style presentation, adds Christophe Poteaux, chef and owner of Bastille in Alexandria, Va.
Now What About Those French Fries? Is There Really Any Such Thing as an Ideal French Fry?
Yes. And it’s all about proper preparation and your cooking method. For starts, “Let your potatoes soak in water overnight with a little vinegar so the starches come out of the potato,” Sauer recommends.
Meanwhile, Leath suggests Kennebec potatoes to produce those perfect frites à la maison. “They have a higher starch content than conventional russet potatoes—which means they fry crisper,” he says. Leath also likes to use a thicker cut fry for his steak frites. “They tend to soak up all the goodness and still have some texture if they are thick-cut.”
Once you’ve cut your fries and are ready for frying, fry at 275 degrees Fahrenheit for eight minutes or until the fries become coarse on the exterior, like sandpaper, Leath advises. Remove from the fryer, then raise fryer temp to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and fry until crispy and golden. “The double-fry is crucial if you want fries that are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside,” he says.
If the double-fry process gives you a headache, you can simplify things by making shoestring fries instead. “These can be cut with a Japanese mandolin, rinsed in water and fried until crisp—a much easier process,” Venner says. “They will also stay crisp for several hours giving you plenty of time to focus on the steak.”
Or, you can always try an air fryer, like the T-Fal Actify air fryer, which makes a slightly healthier version of frites in a flash.
What About Dipping Sauces?
Most of our chefs agreed that roasted garlic and rosemary aioli are never a bad way to go, but Poteaux likes a simple harissa aioli. “Add a few teaspoons of harissa paste—as much as you like to make it hot and spicy—to your regular aioli,” he says.
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To Top or Not to Top?
When it comes to a classic like steak frites, there are lots of variations on preparation. “Traditionally, it’s often finished with a pat of herb butter,” says Venner, advising that if you want to try something new, look into compound butters flavored with black truffle, ancho chili, or bone marrow. For an even less traditional spin, Le Zoo Executive Chef Julian Baker recommends a chanterelle mushroom red wine truffle sauce—which sounds all kinds of deliciousness.
…and a Few Last Hot Tips
“Never throw away the brown stuff stuck to the bottom of the pan found after you cook the steak. Add a splash of your favorite booze with equal amounts of your favorite stock (low sodium). Cooking this down until its almost all gone and then swirl in some butter off the heat. This makes the quickest, sexiest gravy that will set any steak frites on fire,” says Gamoran.
And if you’re in doubt when it comes to how to pair this sucker with wine, opt for a California Merlot. Venner says Hall, Schafer, and Ridge are all producing exceptional offerings that will pair nicely with your steak frites.
Header image courtesy of Geraldine’s Austin, Texas.