I've been oversalting my steaks for years because-unbeknownst to me-something magical happens during this preparatory process.
Not being a chemist, I refer to this magic as purely "yummy," but food scientists will tell you there is a tenderizing method anyone can use by salting meat before cooking: extra salt breaks down proteins and releases natural juices. Coarse salts like kosher (suggested below) can transform rubbery, chewy steaks into juicy fillets with just a little bit of everyday kitchen chemistry.
Restaurant-quality tenderness-and flavor-is possible for any steak by simply following this simple step: salt steak according to the ratio I outline in the instructions below (basically, the thickness of your steak will determine how long it is exposed to large quantities of salt).
Note: for those worried about consuming too much salt, do not worry, as you will be washing off any excess salt before cooking (see step 4).
How to: Tenderize a Steak
This technique is used everywhere from commercial kitchens (where I first saw chefs over-salt fillets) to my own kitchen. It's a must have tip for any chef looking to revive lifeless meat.
*1 lb. steak (1 to 1.25-inches thick)
1.) Measure steak for tenderizing time: Based on the thickness of your steak, you want to season it with salt for every inch of thickness. For example, a steak that's 1-inch thick requires one hour of tenderizing with salt; a steak that's 1.5 inches thick requires an hour and a half of tenderizing, and so on and so forth.
2.) To begin, cover steak on both sides with a thick layer of coarse salt such as sea or kosher. Leave steak at room temperature (covered with either a cloth or paper towel) and watch as the steak's natural juices increasingly rise to the skin as it tenderizes before your eyes. Salt is a natural tenderizer, making the steak increasingly juicy as it breaks down the meat's proteins and enhances meat texture.
2.) Check steak at 30 minutes to make sure water has risen to the surface. Step away, and let time to continue working.
3.) Check steak at an hour for large puddles of juice (either on the fillet's surface or around the base of the meat). If puddles are now occurring and your steak measures an inch or less in thickness, you're ready to move to step 4. If puddling is just beginning, give the steak another 10 or so minutes before you move on to step 4.
4.) After steak has tenderized, rinse with water thoroughly to remove excess salt. Salt adds wonderful flavor to any dish, but we're truly using it for its chemical properties at this point. Pat steaks dry to remove extra moisture from skin. Feel free to rinse and pat dry again if you're worried about salt content.
5.) Steaks are now ready to cook.
Makes 2 (1/2-pound) steaks.
Helana Brigman is the creator of the award-winning blog Clearly Delicious, a food writer, photographer, and chef whose work has appeared in Louisiana Cookin' Magazine, and her column "Fresh Ideas" for Louisiana's state newspaper, The Advocate. A doctoral candidate in English, Brigman lives in Baton Rouge, LA, with her dog Cara where she writes, photographs, and eats the best of southern cooking.