[Sca-cooks] Cooking steaks

Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius adamantius1 at verizon.net
Tue Jul 22 20:04:46 PDT 2008

On Jul 22, 2008, at 11:21 PM, Daniel & Elizabeth Phelps wrote:

> Thank you Lothar! I always do like precise information, and I've  
> always had a soft spot for cooks. (;-) This confirms that I really  
> do like my steak between rare and medium rare, but when I order it  
> like that it usually overcooked. When did people start eating meat  
> less than thoroughly cooked? Is a medium rare steak period, or is it  
> an American invention?
> Always looking for new knowledge,
> Cheers,
> Isabella

There's some evidence to suggest that much beef eaten in medieval  
Europe may not have come from the kind of castrated steers we get our  
beef from, but from oxen young and old, bullocks and such, and even  
from old female cows. Between that factoid (assuming the evidence  
bears weight) and humoral concerns, much of the beef we see mentioned  
in recipes is parboiled till tender, then either larded and recooked  
however, chopped, fried and/or reboiled in pottages, occasionally  
roasted, and baked or fried in pies. Most of the steak references I've  
seen are for venison, so this is a tough question because the sample  
size for beef steaks appears to be pretty small until the sixteenth or  
seventeenth century.

Tacuinum sanitatis and other sources suggest that beef was considered  
both warm and dry, so boiling it or parboiling before other applying  
other processes not only makes sense (it would also tend to tenderize  
the meat) from that standpoint, but it would probably make too much  
rare-cooked beef unlikely to impossible.

In the late 16th, early 17th century, Gervase Markham gives some  
pretty detailed instructions for roasting beef, how to baste it, how  
to protect it with a coating of bread crumbs as it cooks, how to baste  
it, what fire temperature to use to keep pale meats like pork and veal  
from browning too much, without being under or overcooked or dried  
out, and how to tell when it's done. One of the things he says (not  
that it's much beyond the obvious) is that excessively rare meat is  
unwholesome, as is overcooked, dry meat.

It sounds to me like he's looking for at least medium-rare to medium- 
well: the juices for really rare beef aren't even really running yet,  

Elsewhere he speaks of a grilling process called a carbonado, which  
involves flat pieces of meat such as steaks, pieces of flank or what  
we'd call skirt, breasts of lamb, and such, cooked on a rectangular  
gridiron covered with little hooked spikes to hold the meat in place,  
because the grill not level; it is propped up and semi-inclined at an  
angle in front of the fire. Some of the meats suitable for  
carbonadoing are parboiled (I guess the tough, fatty ones like breast  
of lamb or veal, spare ribs, etc.), while the thin, tender cuts,  
perhaps split poultry or the thin, outermost layer of lean meat from a  
rib roast section, are broiled from a raw state. He says the outer  
layer of the rib roast engenderyth wantonness. Yeah, I can see that ;-).

Speaking very generally, and without too much hard info to back it up,  
I'm inclined to guess the black-and-blue porterhouse steak is more of  
a nineteenth-century thing.


"Most men worry about their own bellies, and other people's souls,  
when we all ought to worry about our own souls, and other people's  
			-- Rabbi Israel Salanter

More information about the Sca-cooks mailing list