How to cook the perfect steak with Chef Danny Russo

My recent adventures at The Oaks wasn’t all about the enchanting refurbishment, it was also an opportunity to learn how to cook the perfect steak in their Steak Masterclass with Head Consultant Chef Danny Russo. And considering they won the “Best Steaks” award in the Sydney Morning Herald 2014 Good Pub Guide, there is some meaty credibility to these top tips on how to cook the most perfect steak:

Choosing your steak
The selection of different cuts available to us on the night were provided by Haverick Meats. They source their produce from the lush Riverina region of NSW and their Wagyu varieties from the Darling Downs region of Queensland.

If you want to find out where your meat comes from, become friends with your local butcher because chances are, they are going to know much more about their produce than the supermarkets will. You’re also likely to find out details like whether the cattle were grain fed (which means the meat will be more tender) or grass fed (the meat will have more flavour) etc. All important points when you’re after steak perfection.

Tips on cooking the perfect steak: The oaks wins the Sydney Morning Herald  2014 good pub guide "best steaks" category

I was surprised at how thick each cut was and that the thickness is important in the cooking process to enhance the flavours within the meat – if you have a thin shard, it cooks quicker… and that’s about it, so don’t expect any flavour with a minute steak.

I borrowed this photo from to give you a guide to the common cuts available: (Click on image to enlarge and see the descriptions)

Tips on cooking the perfect steak: The oaks wins the Sydney Morning Herald  2014 good pub guide "best steaks" category

Seasoning your steak

  • Make sure your steak is at room temperature before cooking with it. If your steak is straight out of the freezer or only partially defrosted, it will contract when it hits the heat and this wall cause it to toughen.
  • Pat the meat dry with a paper towel because if it is wet you will essentially be steaming it during the cooking process.
  • Just before cooking brush some oil directly onto the steak  (not onto the cooking surface as it will just burn)
  • Rub on salt and massage it in.
  • Don’t use a vegetable oil, olive oil is best. But there is no need to use an expensive extra virgin variety as it’s taste will be lost in the process.

Tips on cooking the perfect steak: The oaks wins the Sydney Morning Herald  2014 good pub guide "best steaks" category

Some say that salting your steak before cooking will dry it out, and that is the case if you season with salt too far ahead of time. However, salting just before cooking is completely fine. Make sure you use a good quality salt crystals like pure sea salt or even lake salt from central Australia. Not that crappy, cheap iodised salt powder. The salt crystals combine with the fat to caramelise on the heat, and you will see some smokiness with the salt crystals – it’s a good thing and adds to the flavour. Avoid pepper during the cooking process altogether because it becomes to overpowering and the flavour of the meat gets a little lost.

The Oaks makes their own smoked salt concoction which is not available in stores. So you’ll have to go there in person to road test it.

cooking your steak
You’ve made it to the second most mouthwatering stage.

  • Use tongs to handle the meat so it doesn’t puncture the cut and leak out all the juices.
  • Make sure the pan (use one with a heavy base) or BBQ is nice and hot before putting the steak on. You should hear the steak sizzle on first impact!
  • For all steak levels except Blue, only flip once. If you keep turning the steak, it will steam instead of caramelising.
  • It’s a fine line between caramelising the steak and burning it. You just have to put in the hard yards and keep a good eye on it.

Tips on cooking the perfect steak: The oaks wins the Sydney Morning Herald  2014 good pub guide "best steaks" category

Blue steak: it only needs a total of a few minutes of cooking. Unlike the other levels, you need to keep flipping it from top to bottom and along the edge so that the entire outer surface is evenly sealed. When the colour starts to deepen (2-3 minutes in total) it’s time to remove it from the heat.

This may be a little confronting to those of you that haven’t tried your steaks this way before and I’m one of those people. But unlike the bloody mess that I had associated blue steaks previously, this was actually a really civilised affair with hardly any bleeding onto the plate during resting. If you’re not so game, then slice it thin and serve with a splash of olive oil, sprinkle of salt and a squeeze of lemon. It’s much more appetising for those that may find it a tad confronting.
Tips on cooking the perfect steak: The oaks wins the Sydney Morning Herald  2014 good pub guide "best steaks" category - blue steak
Rare steak: If you take your index finger and touch the section of your palm near your thumb, you’ll get a feel for how springy your cut needs to be when you touch it with the tongs. If it springs back like how your index finger feels, then it’s time to take it off the heat.
Medium rare steak: Follow the above step with your middle finger. 
Tips on cooking the perfect steak: The oaks wins the Sydney Morning Herald  2014 good pub guide "best steaks" category - medium rare
Medium steak: Follow the same step with your ring finger. You’ll feel thumb muscle tense up and it’s a good indication of how your meat should be.
Medium well steak: This is reserved for the pinky finger.
well done steak: You’ve run out of fingers! So guess what, you can’t cook your steak more than medium-well. Look, the thing is, I was a well-done steak kinda gal. But my new steak truth is to honour the cut instead of removing all semblance of the fact that it was actually alive.

The main thing I learnt here is that if you cook your steaks well, then medium-well is the upper limit of where you need to take it.

Resting your steak
With each cut of meat, an essential component to the overall process is to rest it. Whether it is on your plate or on a chopping board or even better, on a slice of bread (to soak up all the juices), it is essential to take your meat directly from the heat and let it rest. Gather your thoughts, drool, get your sides together… but whatever you do, don’t be to hasty in jumping straight to eating it. The resting process keeps the meat tender and juicy by minimises all the juices escaping.

The thicker the steak, the longer it needs to rest. So my medium beast of a rib-eye needed a 10 minutes power nap.

Sides with your steak
A medley including good quality salt and pepper, coleslaw, grilled marrow, crispy baked potatoes and mustards were the perfect match of complementing flavours to the steak. They also have their own unique blend of tomato sauce which is not like the store-bought variety – it has no preservatives, more spices, less sweetness and is made with malt vinegar instead of thickeners. Again, not available in stores so you’ll have to head over there to sample it.

And there you have it, the top tips that you will need to make your steak memorable. A big meaty thanks to Chef Danny Russo, The Oaks and Haverick Meats for having me along at the Steak Masterclass. I shall strive to never overcook my steak or repeat any of the previous travesties I have inflicted to the steak cooking process. Our household is forever grateful!

Tips on cooking the perfect steak: The oaks wins the Sydney Morning Herald  2014 good pub guide "best steaks" category - my medium well steak

If you want to replicate this steak experience, then head over to The Oaks.

The Oaks Hotel
118 Military Road Neutral Bay (Sydney, Australia)
WEBSITE  |  FACEBOOK  |  PHONE: 61 2 9953 5515

You’ll be able to select your own cut from their extensive meat fridge, cook it out in the open under a big grill in the courtyard and you can focus purely on your steak because they have great sides and complimenting beverages covered.

– The Cloud9 Project

2 thoughts on “How to cook the perfect steak with Chef Danny Russo

  1. Pingback: Hamburger tasting at Royal Hotel Randwick | Hillary & Dijon


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