How to CookValentine's Day

A Genius Valentine’s Dinner Strategy—Tuesday-Appropriate, All Fun, No Tears

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On the ten Valentine’s Days leading up to our wedding, year by year, I became a little bit more of a monster. The cocktail of work nights and wine, mixed with the pressures of Valentine’s Days past and larger relationship questions hanging in the air started to turn me into an unrecognizable version of myself: a water balloon overfilled with emotion and a half-bottle of Prosecco, ready to pop. And every damn time I did, it was over a $60 plate of steak, with a waiter skulking nearby.

J. Kenji López-Alt's Butter-Basted, Pan-Seared Thick-Cut Steaks
J. Kenji López-Alt's Butter-Basted, Pan-Seared Thick-Cut Steaks

But last year, newly engaged, Mike and I broke the curse. There were no more relationship questions—we had a wedding to plan, to hell with fancy restaurants. We stayed in. We made our favorite speed-luxury dinner—together. And not just together, but literally side-by-side, flipping steaks every 30 seconds like ice dancers, the way I always do now, thanks to J. Kenji López-Alt’s technique over at Serious Eats, which I included in the book version of Genius Recipes.

Every couple has their own methods of maneuvering in the kitchen. Ours has evolved, like the rest of our ten-years-and-some romance, in beautiful ways I didn’t see coming. Even though I’m the only one who really obsesses over food, I learn new perspectives on cooking from him all the time (like the best eggs are fried so much hotter than you think they should be, and beers can be opened with just about anything). He keeps me company and tells me jokes, grinds the pepper while I wrestle with the chicken, and lets me teach him, too. I only hope I can be as gracious about his passions, even though I might never truly understand what envelopes have to do with the ambient electronic music he makes. None of this came naturally to us (see the water balloon moments above). We had to work to get good at it.

Whether you and your person have a natural rhythm in the kitchen, or struggle for power, or you’ve never considered cooking together before, I can recommend side-by-side cooking as a great unifier. You’re completely in sync as you watch a timer and flip every 30 seconds. Your adrenaline surges together. If you don’t have two matching pans, so what? Compare how stainless cooks versus cast iron. If one steak is perfectly cooked and the other less so, give the good one to your partner and reap the points. Or share it—you’ll have too much steak anyway—and save the leftovers for side-by-side tacos or sandwiches tomorrow.

It doesn’t have to be steak. Anything à la minute is ideal, especially if it’s something that one person alone would have to cook in batches—omelettes, smash-burgers, crispy-skinned fish, slabs of cauliflower. But steak is good. Here’s the formula for our perfect speed-luxury dinner, based on recipes from my two bosses, Merrill and Amanda. It never fails to be delicious, dirties very few dishes, and takes about 30 minutes all told—especially when you work together.

  1. Boil some little potatoes.
  2. Heat two pans, salt your steaks liberally,* and get the stop watch setting on your phone ready.
  3. Slosh a little neutral oil in each pan and start your steaks (and your stopwatch). Flip every 30 seconds, like ice dancers.
  4. (Optional but fun) Toward the end, drop in a knob of butter, some sliced shallots, and thyme sprigs and, tipping the pans, spoon it all over the steaks to baste them.
  5. When the steaks are looking nice and browned and hit 125° F on an instant-read thermometer (or are done in whatever way you want to check them, poking or even cutting to peek), move them to a cutting board to rest for 10 minutes.
  6. Squash the boiled potatoes into funny, flattened shapes about 1/2-inch-thick. Crisp them up in the steak-y juices left in the pans. Mike calls these “Splats.”
  7. Pile arugula on two plates. Shower the piles with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Slice the steak and lay it on top, then pour any juices over. Shave Parmesan all over the top with a vegetable peeler. Serve with Splats.

*Or salt them 40 minutes or more ahead for a dry brine to make them even juicier and more flavorful, if not doing the speed-luxury version.

J. Kenji López-Alt's Butter-Basted, Pan-Seared Thick-Cut Steaks

J. Kenji López-Alt's Butter-Basted, Pan-Seared Thick-Cut Steaks

Genius Recipes Genius Recipes
Serves 2 with leftovers for tacos and sandwiches
  • 2 large bone-in T-bone or ribeye steaks (see Kenji's note below)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) vegetable or canola oil
  • 6 tablespoons (90g) unsalted butter
  • 12 sprigs thyme or rosemary (optional)
  • 1 cup finely sliced shallots (about 2 large; optional)
Go to Recipe

Photos by James Ransom

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps a genius dessert? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thank you to our photographer Bobbi Lin for convincing me this was a strategy worth sharing.

Oh, p.s. This is Mike ❤

Tags: Tips & Techniques, Genius Recipes, Dinner, Faster