Hubert Burda Media

Licenced to Grill: Chef Laurent Tourondel sheds light on steak

Laurent Tourondel shares his secrets on what makes the best steak, and tells us what he’d order every time.

With eight restaurants in the US, Europe and Central Asia as well as consultant collaborations in South America, Japan, Korea and Hong Kong, one area of culinary expertise that Manhattan-based chef-restaurateur Laurent Tourondel is best known for, is steak. The native Frenchman, who grew up eating his mother’s ‘boef steak’, has a sizzling reputation for the grilled US cuts in the country he now calls home. Having worked in acclaimed kitchens in London, Paris, and a string in the US, Tourondel launched BLT Steak in the Big Apple, his first themed bistro in the States. BLT Burger and Fish bistros followed, as did other restaurant types. But BLT Steak has proved the chef entrepreneur’s most prolific, with 12 outlets, each one with its own idiosyncrasies. Tourondel was in town this month to roll out a new menu in the Ocean Terminal branch that features more sharing plates and individual portions of seafood. Prestige got to the meat of the matter on what’s new, as well as some culinary pointers on all things steak.

Is Hong Kong’s BLT Steak different from any others you have in the world?

It’s different in having Australian beef as well as American beef. In Hong Kong we are in the middle of both places. People know about Australian beef; if you carried it in America, it would be just weird. Americans only know American beef.

How does the quality of Australian beef fare against US beef?

The Australian has good flavour, costs less, and it’s leaner than US steaks across all the cuts. US steak usually has a lot of marbling – fat – inside.

Some Japanese beef also has a lot of marbling – what’s the difference?

Japanese beef is not for every day. You can’t eat Kobe beef that often – it’s not only the [high] cost, but it’s also too rich.

To tenderise the meat and to bring out stronger flavour, should all steaks be dry-aged or wet-aged?

There are certain cuts of beef that can be dry-aged and some are not good to – like skirt or hanger steak, these might just dry out. It has to be bigger chunks of meat: definitely strip steak and T-bone – the porterhouse – and the rib-eye too. For tenderloin there is no point – one of the purposes is to get tenderness in the meat; this already has it. In the US the old way is to dry-age and there is a clientele that understands it and goes for it. The new generation go for wet-aged. Half the people don’t know what it is [it’s ageing in vacuum-sealed bags]. We do this with nearly all steaks – it doesn’t get as gamey as with dry-ageing. You get a cleaner flavour of beef, and it doesn’t lose its weight. We age up to 20 days.

If you’re buying steak for domestic cooking, should you ever use those old-fashioned tenderising mallets?

No, maybe some people do but you should get dry- or wet-aged steaks now.

Ten or so years ago, a lot of people hadn’t hear much about Wagyu steak, these days it’s on menus a lot – is it an over-used type now?

I carry it in some of my steakhouses. Some of it is super-flavourful, especially the skirt steak, which is also very tender. It’s a great product. I’m not a great fan of the Kobe type – it’s a good story, but too rich for my taste. We carry Australian Wagyu in Hong Kong.

If you’re cooking for yourself, what origin of steak and which cut do you choose?

Always US beef – it’s very difficult to find beef from anywhere else there, in fact. I would choose the hanger steak – it’s more flavourful than a lot of beef, it has a better texture and it’s not such a big piece of meat. It’s thin, and it’s close to the heart of the animal and it gets a lot of blood pumped through it; so it’s usually a darker piece of meat and more juicy. It’s a great steak to cook at home – you can do a quick marinade and it cooks fast.

Speaking of marinades, what are your personal favourites?

Sometimes I do a dry rub. Sometimes an Asian marinade – with soy, lemongrass, mirin [Japanese rice wine], palm sugar. Last year I went to India and bought some spices to try – I’m always experimenting.

Is there such a thing as too large a portion of steak – particularly in America?

It’s crazy in America. I used to have a customer there who would have a porterhouse alone – 42 ounces [1.2 kg] of meat. He’d eat the whole thing and then suck on the bone – I couldn’t believe the guy. There are people who eat 16-ounce [500g] New York or fillet steaks regularly. When I was young and my mum cooked a steak it was 120g. In France it’s still like that: 120 to 150g. In Hong Kong, portions are large – it’s a steakhouse but there are eight-ounce [227g] options.

Butter or olive oil for cooking steaks, these days?

[Laughs] You know the answer! The classic way. I used to work in the South of France with a chef who only used olive oil, it was okay – just different. The best steak you can have is cooked in browning butter with garlic.

Do you have a preference for mustard or a certain sauce?

Steak au poivre [with peppercorn, cognac and cream sauce] – the traditional French steak.