How to cook steak

Here are 20 simple steps to cook a great steak.

  1. Buy good steak. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it must be good. You want to select a piece of meat that has as much marbling as possible. Marbling is formed by lines of fat inside the meat. This fat dissolves during the cooking process and makes it awesome. Aged steaks are great. You should read up about dry aging if you’re interested.
  2. Don’t freeze it. Unless you have a blast freezer you’re going to be damaging the steak when you freeze it. As the cells freeze the ice inside them expands and eventually breaks the cells open. When you cook the steak all that moisture disappears.
  3. If you must freeze steak then make sure you defrost it gently and completely. Ice crystals inside the steak will evaporate and you’ll be boiling your steak from the inside out. I’d advise at least 5 hours outside the fridge to completely defrost a steak.
  4. Get the steak out of the fridge an hour before you want to cook it. Take it out of whatever packaging it is in, dab it dry and then leave it on a plate exposed to the air.
  5. Turn on your hotplate and start getting your pan or griddle pan hot. A griddle pan is ideal for steak because it allows the moisture to evaporate with steaming the meat. You want it to be as hot as humanly possible. If you can’t smell hot metal then it isn’t hot enough. Even on gas I leave the griddle pan on the flame for at least 10 minutes.
  6. Once you’ve let it temper (reach room temperature), dry the steak with a kitchen towel again. This removes any moisture from the outside of the steak. 
  7. Oil your steak. This will require you to get your hands oily. Massage the oil into the meat. While olive oil is fine, it does have a lower smoke temperature than sunflower oil, so sunflower oil is usually best.
  8. While your hands are oily, sprinkle some salt and pepper on your steak. You want to do this at the very last minute otherwise the salt will start to leach the moisture out of the steak.
  9. Put your steaks in the pan, but don’t crowd them. If you crowd the pan you’ll notice an excess of liquid will build up around your steaks and you will now be boiling your steak. Not ideal.
  10. (At this point a small word of warning. If you’ve done this correctly you’ll now start to see a large amount of “smoke” come off the steak and start filling the kitchen with a hazy layer of “mist”. Open some windows  to evacuate the smoke. Similarly you’ll have covered your stove and surrounding surfaces with a splattering of tiny oil bubbles. Feel free to cover everything with newspaper to minimise cleanup)
  11. Leave your steaks exactly as you placed them in the pan. Do not touch them, do not flip them. Do not talk about “sealing in the juices” because that’s been proven rubbish.
  12. Watch the side of the steak. You’ll start to see the line of “cooked” steak start rising from the bottom.  Wait until the line of “cooked” is half way up the side of the steak. Depending on how hot your pan is and how thick your meat is, this could take up to 5 minutes. Probably closer to 2 and a half minutes.
  13. Once the “cooked” line reaches the middle, flip the steak. If everything is going according to plan your steak should not be stuck and you should notice that the cooked side of the steak is nicely browned (we’ll brown it some more later). The steak is magically not-stuck because the Maillard reaction has caramelized the sugars, leaving the it perfectly brown but also not stuck to the pan.
  14. Watch the new “cooked” line rise until the two meet in the middle. This will take slightly less time than the first side did.
  15. Remove your steak and cover it with your favourite basting sauce. This can be anything from a home-made concoction of tomato sauce and chutney to a store bought steak sauce. “Lappies” sauce is my basting of choice, look for it in the Spar (the ones in the Northern Suburbs tend to be better at stocking it). I usually have my basting sauce ready on a plate and then use a spoon to make sure I cover it completely.
  16. Lift your steak out of the sauce, let any excess sauce drip off, and place it back in the hot pan. You are now cooking your meat to get the final temperature (rare, medium rare etc) and colour correct. If you leave it in the pan too long the sauce will burn, which is why we added the sauce at the end.
  17. Getting the “temperature” right is the hardest part of cooking a steak and the best advice I can give you now is to poke the meat with your finger to feel it and possibly use a meat thermometer. If your steaks are thick enough a meat thermometer pushed into the middle of the steak should hit between 54 to 56 degrees Celsius for medium rare. Medium rare feels deceptively soft. I usually cook my steaks for a minute each side after basting.
  18. It’s always better to under-do your steaks than overdo them. You can always put them back in the pan.
  19. Once you’re happy that your steaks are cooked (probably after being in the pan for between 5 and 8 minutes), take them out of the pan and place them on a room temperature plate to rest for at least 3 minutes.
  20. Serve your steaks on warm plates and enjoy.

A few pictures:

Amazingly marbled steak. Note the difference between the marbling and the sinew.
Beef Marbling Standards – Top left is bland, bottom right = Awesome
Kobe is 5-6, Japanese Wagyu is 9-10. I don’t think 12 is actually possible.
Steak “Temperatures” – Medium Rare is what most chefs believe is best.

Ten things

Get your priorities straight
There is nothing more important than enjoying your life. Making sure that other people are enjoying their lives comes in at a close second. You are not a useful human being if you are not enjoying your own life.

Don’t sweat the small stuff
Gary Player famously said that the more he practiced the luckier he got. You can reprogram the way your brain reacts to truly stressful situations by practicing positive, stress-free, reactions to the little things that go wrong every day.

Get some perspective
Most of the stuff you worry about is simply not important. Your family and friends are what matter. They are irreplaceable. Your car getting stolen, your house burning down, losing your job, while all sad and frustrating, should not result in emotional trauma.

Emotional trauma is scar tissue
Years ago I broke my big toe by kicking a wall. It was stupid and every now and then my toe hurts for no reason. If you repeatedly kick a wall your toe is going to hurt all the time and you are not going to be able to enjoy your life.

It’s not over until you’re dead
Your health is important, but not more important than enjoying your life. I’m not suggesting you start a small heroin habit, but worrying about your health is futile unless you’re doing it while calling a doctor.

Put on your big girl panties when dealing with family
There are situations in life where you just need to make hay, even if you’re allergic and the sun isn’t shining. The normal rules of engagement do not apply for family. “Not talking” to some branch of your family is an incredibly sad outcome that should be avoided at all costs. No one is asking you to paint each other’s nails while watching Thelma and Louise on VHS, but for everyone’s mental health, including your own, sometimes you just need to get out there in the rain and start throwing around some hay.

Appreciate what you have
Be thankful for the things you have, not because one day they might be gone or because others don’t have them, but simply because you do have them.

Stretch
This is not a computer game. When you die your life is over. Try and be incredible or die trying.

Yourself is the best you you can be
Countless Facebook posts will encourage you to sing like no one is listening. That is rubbish. Being yourself is the only way to be happy. This is not rocket science. If you want to sing, sing. If you want to spend your weekend reading a book to your cat, do that.

Stop
Close the door, put away your phone, sit down and spend some time thinking. Call it whatever you want but just do it, daily if possible.

Leaving TrustFabric and joining Praekelt

This news is a few weeks old but I kept on meeting people who hadn’t heard so I figured a blog post was in order.

I have officially left TrustFabric and have joined Praekelt. Leaving TrustFabric was a hard decision. If Joe can pull of what he’s got planned, and I think he can, he will change the way we manage and share information online. I want that to be a reality.

My first few weeks at Praekelt have been great. I am now in a pure strategy role. Travelling back and forth between JHB and CPT, meeting amazing, talented people, having my mind expanded and learning constantly. My diverse background (travel, banking, advertising, telecoms, ISPs, online dating etc etc) is proving to be useful in ways that I never thought possible.

I’ll keep you posted.

Brain Insight

A few days ago I needed to get into my parent’s house while they were on holiday. I was driving to my house to fetch their spare keys and fretting about having forgotten their alarm code. As I opened my front door the alarm keypad began beeping. I instinctively started punching in a code. As I was pressing the keys I became aware that the pin I was entering was not the pin for my house but a totally different pin.

When I pressed the last number I realised that he pin I had just entered was the pin for my parents house. A pin that I could not remember a few seconds ago.

Mind blown.

Danny the capturer of the world.

Many years ago I worked at company that sold widgets. These widgets were very complicated and required lots of customisation. The company had developed a pretty large piece of software to help their sales people build complex widget quotes with lots of line items.

This company also had a big off the shelf enterprise accounting system that handled their real accounts.

I had worked at the company for almost 2 years as a software developer when one day I found myself sitting in the accounts department helping Danny with something unrelated. It was then that I learnt what Danny from Accounts actually did.

Every morning Danny would print out the previous days ‘accepted’ quotes from the quoting software resulting in a small pile of paper, one for each customer, with hundreds of line items, for every day. Then, using a ruler and pen to scratch out the lines, he would manually re-enter all of the customer data and their quote information, line item by line item, into the big accounting system. This process took him most of the day, sometimes more if business was good. He occasionally made mistakes that either cost the company lots of money or pissed off the customers.

As a software developer I knew that both systems ran off MSSQL databases. I knew that all the relevent information probably already existed to do the “job” programmatically. I knew that it would probably take a day or two to write a piece of software that did Danny’s job, perfectly every time, in a few milliseconds.

Danny had been doing that job for almost 6 years.

Since that day, whenever I start working with a new company, I try my best to meet everyone and get an idea for what they do and how they do it before I put my head down and start trying to solve any problems. That habit has served me well. In a team of ba/tech/strat/arch people I’m often the only one who knows how the accounts actually work, or how the stock is really procured, or what the weird hippies on the third floor do. (They’re always copywriters.)

But I’m not trying to pretend I have special powers. My point is that you can never assume that other people will have looked at problems like you do, with your knowledge-set. Most of the time other people won’t even see something like that as a “problem”. Danny’s boss never thought to question the process that admittedly pre-dated him. They all have no idea what SQL is and neither should they need to. It’s not their job. It’s yours. (Assuming you’re in a tech field)

What really excites me is how this kind of technology-discovery can be applied to people who traditionally live without the exposure to technology that we do. We now live in world where mobile phones can do things that sometimes even I think are quite magical (think SoundHound and Shazaam). I don’t know what “Danny the capturer of the world” situations exist in an under-resourced high school in a Soweto. I don’t know what efficiencies might just be waiting to be discovered in a clinic in Khayelitsha. I am however convinced that if a large corporate focused solely on profits with a really good, international, management team and a chartered accountant CFO all couldn’t spot that Danny was unintentionally wasting his time (and their money), then I can only imagine what amazing, albeit probably simple, tech-opportunities are waiting to be discovered in the “real” world.

I may not be ready to tackle the townships just yet, and I’m by no means assuming that there aren’t already smart people doing this kind of stuff, but I do look forward to one day being able to spend a few weeks immersed in the daily grind of a township school teacher or a minimum-wage worker, and maybe finding some way to bring a little bit of technological awesomeness and efficiency to their lives.

I know you’re wondering. I did write that software and Danny did need to click a button every morning and watch as the script whizzed by in less than a second, but he didn’t lose his job, instead he was able to move on to tackling more challenging things that actually needed his accounting skills. Everyone’s a winner.

Stanley on my mind.

They say it is the journey and not the destination, and when you spend a month sailing across the South Atlantic you’d expect that saying to be particularly true… but while the month at sea was something quite incredible and I will write at length about it, I can not help but be amazed by my destination, a small town called Stanley.

Stanley is the capital of the Falklands Islands, a small group of islands off the east coast of Argentina. It’s British and there was a war in the 80s when Argentina invaded. That tension is not over. Argentina continues to rumble about new invasions and has sanctions on flights and goods leaving or entering Argentina.

When I said Stanley is the “capital” I had to use that term very very loosely. You can forget whatever image you had built up in your head of this place. It is almost certainly not what you think, but let me first mess with your head.

Stanley has an army, a cathedral, its own tv and radio stations, postage stamps, its own currency (complete with coins) and two airports. But, and this is where things get interesting, Stanley is tiny, insanely tiny. You could walk from the one side of the “city” to the other in less than an hour and during that walk you’ll meet enough locals that when you’re in the pub later someone who you’ve never met will invariably approach you and say “Hi, you must be Jonathan”. They don’t get a lot of new faces around here.

Stanley also doesn’t have any ATMs, elevators, escalators or optician. If you run out of cash after 3pm and you want to buy something from a place that doesn’t accept credit cards, well, you can’t. There are only two places that accept credit cards and they’re both “supermarkets” of the sort that also sell fishing equipment and 1 liter plastic bottles of vodka.

Being small definitely has its benefits. The idea of stealing someone’s car is hilarious to the locals. Where would you go? Muggings never happen because the chances of the victim not knowing the attacker are almost nil.

Stanley does however have a crime problem. Their prison is full. All 8 inmates and they recently had to build a new female wing to house their first female prisoner. Never fear though, the convicts are sent to the shops to buy groceries, ever so occasionally bumping into their victims along the way. This would almost be funny if it wasn’t for the issue that most of Stanley’s prisoners are pedophiles.

They take crime seriously here… the local youngsters telling us that getting caught with weed will “get you done” for 6 years and similarly driving under the influence, which is a hilarious concept as your house is almost certainly less that a 15 minute stumble away from the pub, is taken very seriously by the police force. By police force I mean the 3 cops, but only before 3am when it becomes “the cop”, and that cop has to man the phone, so really it’s more of an honor system.

Criminals are treated with such disdain that the monthly newsletter details an incident by incident run down of the previous months arrestees. The latest edition chronicles another pedophile who got caught, complete with a photograph, his full name and address. He hasn’t actually been found guilty yet.

Taking name-and-shame to a whole new level, the local paper also provides names and criminal history for all four of the previous month’s DUI and speeding arrestees. Please don’t forget, this is in a town with a population that is dwarfed by some big high schools.

Stanlians have their own accent. You wouldn’t notice it in the UK as they definitely sound British, but once you’ve met a few you realize that they all intonate in a very peculiar way that once you’re aware of becomes unmistakable. Another interesting quirk is that everyone seems very well educated and quite attractive, but you can’t help but shake the feeling that a lot of them look very very similar.

The Falkland Islands do not have any tertiary education institutions and as a result there is a very odd demographic. Most of the university age people are simply not here and it seems that most of the young professionals leave as soon as they can. I am yet to meet a 30 year old that isn’t disabled, an alcoholic or both.

What that does leave you with is old people, young people and immigrants. The young people are probably the most interesting. Most of them are either not yet in university or have just got back from university and have found that it’s easier to find employment on a remote island with a tiny population than back in the UK. Sadly that says a lot about the state of the economy in the UK.

A 25 year old in Stanley is unlike anything you’ve ever met in the UK or probably the rest of the world. Full of self confidence and lacking the routine hang ups associated with that quarter life crisis. This is a population of educated Hendrix and Led Zep fans talking about politics in a way that would make your average Che t-shirt wearing hipster stammer. They are fun to hang out with and are quick to invite your rag tag crew of dirty sailors back to theirs when the pubs close. Pub’s close at 11pm with a regiment that would make Hitler smile, but not before a 5 minute free-for-all where the locals boozily buy cases of beer over the counter at bartered prices that still seem too high. Then you’re off to theirs (usually in a taxi driven by a motherly australian woman who doesn’t even need to ask where you’re going) for some more drinks while you listen to an 18 year old tell you how they recently got into Oasis but really they grew up on Springsteen.

I can’t say anything bad about Stanley other than the food. There is one place that supposedly has good food but it looks like an old age home and has food prices that should include a night’s accommodation. Everywhere else has food that seems designed for the squaddies (soldiers who live on the base over the hill) or oil workers; deep-fried everything and almost no flavor so you end up coating your entire meal in tomato sauce and/or mayonnaise depending on how British you feel like being.

Sadly I’m flying out of here tomorrow, but rest assured that tonight will be spent in the bars, all 3 of which where everybody knows my name.

Photos to follow when I’m in a place that doesn’t charge for internet by the minute.

Why we do what we do.

Weather permitting I’ll be leaving next Wednesday. I’m going to sail about three and a half thousand miles, across the South Atlantic, from Cape Town to a tiny group of islands called the Falklands off the coast of Argentina. I like to think that the reason I am doing this is obvious and for most of my friends the reason seems obvious too.

Though, every now and then I get asked “Why?”. As if it would be simpler to just fly there. Which is true. It takes 44 hours to fly from Cape Town to Stanley on the east Falklands. 44 hours and 5 separate flights. Sailing there takes 25 days and you sail through some of the roughest seas on the planet. The Falklands are about as close as you can get to Antarctica without actually being on Antarctica.

Is it dangerous? Of course. There are more dangerous things one could do, but when you’re 2000 miles away from the nearest hospital and in a very unpredictable environment, anything can happen.

Will I miss home? Of course! I’ll miss my wife, my cats, my comfortable bed, being able to take a warm shower whenever I want, deciding what I want to eat, being able to be alone, going out to get a coffee etc etc. I’ll be stuck on a 75 foot yacht with 7 people I barely know.

So why am I doing it? I don’t really have an answer. I have answers. But the sum of all those answers is not the answer.

I want to stretch my mind. I want to sail away, leave land behind, wake up in the morning and have to check a map to know where I am. I want to be surrounded by nothing but sea.

I want to learn to be a better sailor. We live in a world full of experts who know nothing. Rockstars who learnt everything they know in the previous 3 weeks. We’re all bullshit and truth bending. Teach yourself brain surgery in 24 hours. When your life is in your own hands you’re forced to be honest about your abilities.

I want to push myself and see where the cracks appear. I want to be bored and be forced to write. I want to spend an idyllic evening on deck eating freshly caught fish. I want time to think. I want to be scared. I want to ride out a storm and watch the sun rise on a perfect morning. I want to see land and long to touch it. I want to have a story to tell and to write those stories that are banging around in my head. I want to miss my wife, my friends, my family and my country.

I want to fly home and know why I sailed away in the first place, but I’m sure I won’t, and that is why I am doing it.

You can, satellite gods willing, follow my adventures here http://arbitrarysailor.tumblr.com/.

Why I am going to stop banking with Standard Bank.

I think it is important to preface this by saying: Shit happens. It will happen at every bank, every online retailer, every restaurant, no matter who you are or where you go. What separates the good from the bad is, and always has been, *how you fix the problems when they happen*. Unfortunately when greedy business practices become institutionalised and the institution chooses to tie the hands of anyone trying to remedy the problem, well then you are left with little option but to walk away, with your money.

Strike 1. When all other banks are offering SMS updates for free you choose to charge customers.

Strike 2. You offer that service free to your private banking clients, ignoring the demographic that represents the bulk of your income, and instead decide to charge them even more.

Strike 3. As a customer with a Standard Bank home loan, vehicle loan, cheque account and credit card  I am patently aware of how much money you make out of me every month. When I speak to the most senior person I am deemed fit to speak to (not actually the bank manager) I am told that even the bank manager is unable to waive the R17 fee. That sort of hand-tied’ness makes me want to cry.

I could handle greed.
I could handle badly thought out products.
I could handle incompetence.

But I can not handle all three simultaneously from an organisation making hundreds of rands off me every month.

Time to do some bank shopping when I get back.