I’m so glad I don’t have to work today. For meat and seafood, it’s top three in the worst days of the year. Why? Because two simple things, for 24 hours, become the all-consuming, must have dinner products.

Filet Mignon

Lobster

Why? Why is it that every year, around New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day, people feel the obligation to attempt the high risk maneuver of the surf and turf combo? I understand that it’s a special day for many people. I get it. I really do. HOWEVER, if this is a day where the gentleman of the relationship trots out his cooking skills to impress the lady, I always try to recommend something else.

It’s not because I want to discourage the man cooking a special dinner. Far from it. It’s the questions. All of the questions that people ask about how to cook their lobster and filets drive me up the wall. I want to say “If you don’t know how to cook it, please, for the sake of your relationship, do not attempt it for the first time tonight.”

I don’t say it.

Instead, here is a list of helpful answers to your Valentine’s Day queries about how to cook the best special surf and turf you can possibly muster.

“I need two filet mignons. How do I cook them?”

Alright. First, the proper pluralization of it is Filets Mignon. It comes from the French, meaning ‘dainty fillet’. What an adorable sounding name for a piece of meat. I just had a little chuckle at your expense.

Okay, now seriously. How do you want to cook them?

“Medium Rare.”

Are you saying that because you want to cook them medium rare, or because that’s what everyone says when they go to a steakhouse?

“Rare.”

Sear it in a SCALDING HOT PAN with a tiny bit of oil NOT OLIVE in the bottom for four minutes a side. Roll the sides so that you can give it an even texture. It’s going to be cold in the middle, but as long as you know that, it’ll be okay. Let it rest for ten minutes before you slice it so you can at least get a knife into it.

“Medium.”

Follow the steps for rare.  Heat your oven to 425. After you sear it, throw the whole thing in the oven for 10 minutes. Let it rest for ten minutes.  Slice and serve.

“Well Done.”

Seriously? Well done? Get a Petite Top Sirloin steak over here. I guarantee you won’t be able to tell the difference after you pull it out of the oven. Moreover, you will save approximately $30, which you can then use on flowers to make up for the fact that your steak is rendered flavorless and inedible. Sorry. $25 on flowers. $5 for a bottle of A-1. But don’t you feel so much better that you saved your money on that steak? Don’t forget to throw away the butcher paper.

***

All joking aside, it’s not that difficult to make a steak. It’s easier to make other steaks taste better than a filet, and you won’t feel the sting of your credit card digging into your hip as you wrench it out to pay more than you should for a steak. However, like a dutiful significant other, you’ve purchased a filet.

Let’s get cooking.

First, take the steaks out of the butcher paper. Look at them sitting there on the counter. Is one thicker than the other? Are you worried that one will cook faster than the other and then you’ll be left with two incredibly different degrees of doneness? Don’t worry. As the chef, you take whichever one is the less appealing, or whichever one comes out looking kind of funny.

That’s love.

Season the outside with salt and pepper. Rub all the surfaces, and let the steaks sit for about an hour at room temperature. Don’t start with a cold steak in a pan. That would be your second mistake, the first being purchasing a filet mignon rather than a flatiron or delicious, delicious ribeye.

Now, remember what I said about the olive oil? Don’t use it for steak. Don’t. It’s for your salad. It’s not for frying.  Turn your heat on to medium high, closer to the high side of things. No, you won’t burn your place down. You might get it a little smoky, but you won’t burn it down. When it’s pretty hot, grab your regular vegetable oil, and just put a  little less than a quarter sized drop in your pan. It’s going to smoke and bevel when you swirl it around. You only need just enough to cover the area where you will be searing the meat.

Is it smoking? Good. Put your steaks in the pan, at least an inch apart so they don’t end up steaming next to each other. Just let them sit. Don’t touch them. Don’t. Don’t touch them. I’m serious. Let them sit for at least four minutes a side. If there’s oil pooling at the bottom of the pan, you have too much in there. I told you to put less oil in there. Why didn’t you listen to me? Your steak isn’t going to get beautifully browned, and then your girlfriend is going to yell at you and then Valentine’s Day will be ruined! I will not be responsible for this. Do you hear me!?

Whoa. Okay, deep breath. You didn’t touch the steak, did you? Okay. Good. Just treat it like a grilled cheese sandwich. After four minutes, if it starts to smell like it’s browning, try lifting a corner of the steak from the pan. If it releases easily, congratulations! You are cooking it right so far!

Is it not releasing from the pan easily? Leave it in there. Check it in two minutes.

Okay, it’s good and ready. Now, flip it. Let it stay there. Don’t touch it. Don’t. Just don’t do it. Four more minutes, four minutes, then roll the sides, then let it rest. Boom. Congratulations. Now you have a rare steak. Really rare.

Want a more medium steak? Remember what I told you earlier? Heat the oven up to 425. Throw the whole pan in there. Let it go for about ten minutes. Pull it out. Let it rest.

Want something well done? If you haven’t been listening up to this point, I simply will not tell you anything more than throw it in the microwave for an hour, and then throw it in the trash with your hopes and dreams.

***

Now, on to the lobster. Nobody knows how to cook a lobster unless you’ve done it on more occasions than a holiday or for a special night with the lady once in a blue moon. Still, you’ve got your lobster, and you have to cook it, right? Right. So, with that in mind, I will tell you how to cook lobster tails, skipping over the part where you have to kill them, because although I’ve done it on many occasions, I choose not to. There is something unappetizing about describing that process, so I’ll leave it out. Just get lobster tails, okay?

So you have your tails. If they’re small, (8 oz or smaller), take a barbecue skewer and spear them from flipper to front so they don’t curl up. Put them in a casserole dish. Boil a pot of water, salted, and pour it over the top. Let them sit for ten to 15 minutes. When they are good and red, pull them out, slice them down the back, and pull the meat out. I know you want a nice presentation, but I bet you also want a nice dinner where your date doesn’t hem and haw over how difficult it is to get the lobster out of the shell. Considerate cookers of the world, do them a favor and shell the meat.

Save the shells for stock. They make a good one. Either roast them straight away, or throw them in the freezer. I recommend roasting them until they are brittle and dry, just so they don’t severely stink up the freezer.

Now, let the meat cool down. You should have two half tails, split lengthwise, for each whole lobster tail that you got. Do you? Okay, good.

The meat is still tender. This is really important, as when most people get them and don’t ask the questions, they just throw it in a boiling pot of water, leting it curl and gnarl itself into a tiny ball of awfulness, once again wasting their money. Like throwing the steak in the oven, you can easily throw the meat on the grill, under the broiler, or into a warm pot of butter before serving, maintaining the flavor and delicate texture.

Did you get that? Don’t boil your tail.

Don’t.

Five minutes in contact with heat should do the trick, and by the time it is ready to go, you have everything timed out perfectly, and your date is salivating in a Pavlovian way over the wonderful smells that are coming from the kitchen.

“Hot Dog! I never knew you could cook like this, (fill in your name here)!”

I bet you didn’t either. You’re welcome. Now go. The dinner hour is fast approaching. Get your mind in the game, your butt in the kitchen, and make the best damned Valentime you’ve ever done.

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