There are very few secrets in a steakhouse," says third-generation Peter Luger Steakhouse proprietor Jody Storch. "It's really just about buying the best product that's out there and simply preparing it." One of Eater NY's top steaks for two, the Brooklyn restaurant's legendary porterhouse is Storch's case in point.
From the careful selection to the in-house dry-aging process to the well-practiced way the servers present the finished steak tableside, every aspect of the porterhouse has been conceived to enhance an already picture-perfect product. Storch inspects the steaks rigorously before buying them. The steakhouse has a dedicated dry-aging room. The kitchen boasts a massive row of broilers, and the seasonings are kept to a bare minimum. Outside of the dry-aging process, the only flavor enhancers to be found are salt and clarified butter.
Eater NY Senior Editor Nick Solares explains the importance of Peter Luger to the steakhouse legacy:
"The Peter Luger porterhouse is the quintessential NYC steakhouse steak. It has spawned a legion of imitators but has yet to be equaled. In fact it probably can't be equaled, Luger essentially defined the genre. Other steakhouses may have been around longer (Old Homestead, Keens) but none have been more influential or widely acclaimed."
Below, the elements of the Peter Luger porterhouse:
1. The Beef
Peter Luger famously only serves USDA prime beef. The porterhouse is cut from a short loin. A center "T-bone" runs down the middle of the steak. One one side is the New York strip, on the other side is the filet.
While legend has it that Luger has the first pick at the meat market every morning, Storch explains that things have changed over the past several years. "The meat market has changed dramatically. There used to be numerous vendors, but it has trickled down to a few. Things are really consolidated now, but we have a tremendous kinship with our suppliers. They know what I like and they put it on the side and we can go through it first. I don't think most restaurants go down and select it themselves. We really, actually do it and it takes a lot of legwork."
Storch explains that not only is she looking for prime short loins, she's looking for the best of the prime, noting that she does not always agree with the inspectors as to what makes the cut. She keeps an eye out for color, fat, and marbling. The color should be "robust pink." There should be an even distribution of fat (which ensures a more even aging and cooking process) and it needs to have the right texture. "I run my thumb over the eye over the meat. If the fat is hard and ropy, I try to stay away. I like a more evenly dispersed flecking of fat throughout the eye." Storch buys short loins with the kidney and kidney fat still intact, which are vital in the aging process.
2. The Dry-Aging
If there is a "secret" to the Luger porterhouse, it's in the dry-aging. In the basement of Peter Luger is a long dry-aging room, but Storch cannot reveal details like how cold the temperature is in there, or what the humidity level is, or how long the aging process takes. In general, dry-aging rooms tend to hover just above freezing, with humidity levels around 75-85%. The average dry-aging period is 28 days.
The room has two entrances and operates on a sort of conveyor-inspired system. After being weighed and tagged, the raw meat goes in through the front. As it goes through the aging process, the meat is moved deeper and deeper into the room. By the time the meat is done dry-aging, it is located by the rear door, which conveniently is near the butcher station.
So what is happening to the meat in there? First, the beef loses moisture as it is evaporated, a result of the climate-controlled environment of the dry-aging room. This concentrates the flavor, and also causes the beef to lose much of its weight (a 28-day aged beef will lose about 25% of its weight). While this happens, a mold grows on the beef's exterior, which has the positive effect of breaking down the connective tissues. This results in a more tender steak. The mold also helps flavor the beef, which is why the dry-aged porterhouse at Peter Luger can be described as "mineral-like," "earthy," and "funky." This process is also why Storch buys short loins with kidney fat. The fat engulfs and protects the delicate filet, ensuring that it will not be too tender by the end of the process.
Once the dry-aging process is finished, the two butchers step in. They cut out the kidney and the kidney fat and discard it. One butcher then cuts the short loins into servings for 2 - 4 on a bandsaw. The second butcher uses a knife to trim the steaks, cleaning off the outer fat before sending the steaks up to the kitchen on racks. The steaks are always used on the day they are butchered.
3. The Cooking
"The beautiful thing about our kitchen is that we don't pretend to be anything other than what we are," says Storch. "We do our one thing and we do it really well." And while cooking the porterhouses is a simple process, it is by no means an easy one. The "broiler guys" keep track of all the orders. Nothing is precooked and nothing waits, so if a table orders two steaks at different temperatures, the cooks will just have to get the timing right. The broiler line is also extremely hot, with eight broilers running at over 800 degrees.
Here's what they do: The porterhouse is placed directly onto the broiler, and then seasoned only with salt. The steak is flipped once during the broiling process.
Next a bit of melted clarified butter is added to a serving platter. The steak is taken out of the broiler and sliced atop the butter. This happens immediately, the meat is not allowed to rest. Instead, the juices mingle with the butter in the platter. The broiler guy then puts the steak back into the broiler for just a couple minutes more, depending on what temperature the table ordered their porterhouse. Most order medium rare, which means "charred on the top and pinkish in the middle." Right before the steak is finished, the broiler guy buzzes a waiter, who should be at the pass to pick the steak up immediately. The steak is taken out of the broiler, and given a plastic pick indicating the temperature.
4. The Service
Just as famous as the porterhouse are the well-seasoned waiters serving it. As soon as the pick up the porterhouse from the kitchen they deliver it to the table. "It should arrive to your table sputtering and crackling," Storch explains. The waiters will balance the (extremely hot) platter on an overturned plate, forcing the jus to run towards the bottom of the plate. Using two spoons as makeshift tongs, the waiters will then serve the first guest a slice of the New York Strip and a slice from the filet. Using their bottom spoon, they will then drizzle some of the buttery jus on top of the two slices, which some servers will refer to as "vitamins."
· Peter Luger Steakhouse [Official Site]
· All Five Days of Meat Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Eater Elements Coverage [-E-]