The perfect steak, very rare; a parable for meat lovers

It took me a long time to decide how best to serve a steak. The ‘How rare is rare?’ syndrome. But it all came together one dreary winter’s night when the front door of the restaurant was swept open and into our presence came a gentleman who was wearing the clothes he had received at Christmas, 1957.

‘A table for one,’ he announced and promptly sat at the table closest to the exit.

I shrugged my shoulders and handed him the menu, certain that the $20 minimum price would see him out the door as quickly as he had arrived.

‘Hmmm,’ he said. ‘I will have a steak — very rare.’

What could I do? I rushed it into his presence. He cleaned the plate and called for a coffee. He sat on the coffee for at least an hour, his eyes darting around the restaurant. Finally he waved his hand.

‘The bill, my good man,’ he said.

No sooner said than done. He gave me $25 and offered me the change. I thanked him profusely and led him to the door. He grabbed me by the arm, and took me aside, confidentiality all over his person.

‘You didn’t think I’d pay, did you?’ he whispered.

I was about to act shocked, when he said, slightly more loudly, ‘I shouldn’t tell you this, but I have access to more money than anyone you are ever likely to meet.’

I stuttered a few words, and he took me closer.

‘I,’ he said, ‘am Jesus Christ.’

With that, he was gone.

Learn from the parable, as we did. From that day forward we served our beef rare, very rare.

The best form of very rare beef is steak, fair dinkum steak with a thick, flavoursome crust surrounding tender, rich, bloody, red beef. Too often the beef is overcooked and there is little crust to speak about. There are a few rules you must follow to get it right.

  1. Make sure the meat is quite thick: 3cm thick is ideal, 5cm is getting a bit thick.
  2. Use a minimum of oil, or else the meat will stew and remain soft and flabby.
  3. Use a heavy-bottomed pan, something which holds heat evenly.
  4. Be patient; don’t sit over the meat with tongs turning and turning and turning. A thick, brown crust is possible on one side only.


The cut of your choice — Fillet is sure to be tender, but you need to be sure your butcher is supplying you with fillet with plenty of age on it — and not just age in the cool-room, but age on the hoof as well. Rump and porterhouse have all the flavour, but from most butchers they will be tough and chewy. If you are buying these cuts, make sure they have been well hung, so all the chemical things that need to be done, naturally, will have been done, and the meat will be tender.


½ cup water

3 teaspoons soy sauce

2 tomatoes, skinned and chopped roughly

1 hot chilli, chopped finely

1 walnut-sized piece of ginger, sliced finely

1 branch of rosemary

1 clove garlic, sliced finely


small bunch of chives, chopped finely


About 10 minutes before ‘go’, heat the oven to 200°C. Put in some plates to warm.


Make sure your pan is perfectly clean. Brush the pan with a little oil, and heat the pan until it is very hot. Place the steak into the pan. It should sizzle immediately. Move it about the pan gently, so that it gets a good coating of oil, starts to get a crust and is not about to stick.


Be patient. All you have to do now is wait and make sure the meat does not stick to the bottom of the pan.


Just keep watching. The meat should be sizzling and a greyness will be creeping up the sides. The first and only turn will come after about 2 minutes. The meat should then have a rich, brown crust.


After turning the steak, move it about again and leave it on the heat for about 30 seconds (for a steak of 3cm — twice as long for a 4cm steak). Put the pan in the oven for a minute. The meat will be very rare. If you must have it cooked more, then leave it for as long as you like.


Remove steak from the pan, lightly salt, and leave on a warm plate. Turn off the oven, but leave the steak in it.


The pan should be very hot. Add the water and work it around the pan with a wooden spoon to pick up any meat left on the bottom of the pan. Allow to bubble, add the soy sauce, and leave it to reduce.


Turn down the heat. Add the tomatoes, chilli, ginger, rosemary, garlic and a little salt. Stir and allow to bubble away until the tomatoes soften. Remove the rosemary. Take the steak from the oven, and pour any exuded juices from the plate into the tomato sauce. Turn up the heat, and cook for 30 seconds on high.


Spoon some sauce and sprinkle the chives over the steak, and serve with a simple accompaniment.

WINE: Shiraz, when it’s good and young, can have a lovely ‘black pepper’ aroma. I am hopeless at putting down wines — for someone who has spent nearly fifteen years in the wine industry, my cellar is miniscule. But I like young shiraz — central Victoria, Barossa or Coonawarra. Try a Rhone hermitage for a change.