For the solo home cook, few cuts of meat are as luxurious as a rib-eye steak.
All that marbling means prime juiciness, first of all. Especially when it’s thick—at least an inch and a half thick—with a nice caveman bone running down the side like a boomerang. As with most meats, the bone serves as insulation for the beef and means there’s less chance of overcooking it (not to mention it’s fun to gnaw on the gristle at the end of the meal). And as much as I love a perfectly rare filet mignon or a flash-fried New York strip, rib eyes have an undeniably meatier flavor. (For this carnivore, that’s ideal.)
A bone-in rib eye is the Cadillac of steaks (though I imagine this figure of speech is out of date since Cadillac sales have gone down in recent years). But the spirit remains: It’s a mighty fancy thing to cook for just yourself.
The price tag for a single rib eye can be steep compared to cheaper cuts like flank and chuck. Which is why cooking one at home might seem like a daunting task. Why risk messing up such a lavish bounty when you could order it at a restaurant, made by a professional?
For one, dining in at restaurants is still tenuous right now. And though we should be supporting local businesses the best we can, Seamlessing a medium-rare steak isn’t exactly the most cogent option. Aside from all that, it’s much cheaper to just cook the beast yourself at home. Not to mention the skill set you’ll gain, i.e. learning to cook a nice piece of meat perfectly, is priceless—and will last you a lifetime of sumptuous solo dinners.
There’s immense satisfaction in knowing the exact formula for achieving such a feat down to a T. Which is my main point: Though bovine cookery has some elements of instinct and sensory cues (the loudness of that first hard sear; the distinctive scent of Maillard, the browning and reduction of sugars in food; the glorious sight of the crust like fire-lined tectonic plates, or dragon scales), there are a couple of basic, measurable tricks any home cook can learn to ensure a beautifully cooked rib eye.
One great insurance against overcooked meat is salt. As Samin Nosrat writes in my favorite passage of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat:
Think of a protein strand as a loose coil with water molecules bound to its outside surface. When an unseasoned protein is heated, it denatures: the coil unravels, releasing water molecules out of the protein matrix, leaving the meat dry and tough if overcooked. By disrupting the protein structure, salt prevents the coil from densely coagulating, or clumping, when heated, so more of the water molecules remain bound. The piece of meat remains moister, and you have a greater margin of error for overcooking.
To achieve this “moistness” (sorry), I usually just sprinkle my rib eye generously with kosher salt, then let it sit in the fridge, uncovered, for a few hours to dry-brine and concentrate in flavor.
On nights when I’m feeling a little fancier, I like to slather the steak in a salty-sweet umami bomb of a marinade. Inspired by my Aunt Julia’s recipe for jalapeño chicken wings (which she recreated from the many chimichurri-sauced meals she ate while living in Uruguay in the 1980s), this month’s column relies on a virescent emulsion of juicy jalapeños, lots of garlic, cilantro stems (the tender leaves reserved for garnish), and a good smattering of salt and sugar to, as Nosrat writes, “disrupt the protein structure” of the meat.
As for cooking the thing, I like to do the deed entirely on the stovetop. No grill, no oven—just me and my cast-iron skillet.
For an even medium-rare (that is, pink, juicy, and warmed all throughout), the chile and herb–napped rib eye needs a good six to eight minutes on its first side and just four to six minutes on its second side. This is where an instant-read digital thermometer is especially useful. 130°F is the internal temperature I like to hit before removing the steak from the pan and, before slicing into it, letting it rest for a full 10 minutes (to let the juices redistribute).
A side of white rice and you’re golden. But if you have an extra few minutes (hey, the steak has to rest, right?), you might as well make the jalapeño coleslaw to go with. At first glance, this side salad looks like a mere supporting character, but the herbal lightness of the celery seed, coupled with the spicy strands of fresh chile pepper laced throughout the finely shaven cabbage, seems somehow to help cut through the rib eye’s richness—and makes you want to keep eating it.
Although, it’s said that the capsaicin in chiles releases endorphins in the body, triggering a euphoric sensation. So maybe it’s that.