If you’re one of those people who think steaks should only be seasoned with salt and pepper, this deliciously juicy, incredibly flavorful cajun butter steak recipe based off of Smith & Wollensky’s Cajun Rib Steak will change your mind forever.
I used to think that adding anything but salt and pepper to a high dollar, high quality cut of beef was basically wasting it, but as I got older I quickly saw the error of my ways. After all, steak frites is my favorite food in the whole world, and who serves steak frites without at least a good herb butter? Not to mention chimichurri, that famous sauce from le relais l’entrecôte, or classic peppercorn sauce? A life without seasoning is a pretty boring one.
This cajun butter steak is one of the best I’ve tried. The homemade cajun spices add just the right amount of heat and savoriness without tasting like those bad cajun wings at the pub (although there’s a time and a place for those). It’s both dry rubbed and marinated in oil for up to two days to pull out water and replace it with pure flavor. If you are a salt and pepper evangelist, one bite of this steak will change your mind, I promise.
What is the cajun rib steak
The steak preparation I’m using for this cajun butter steak recipe is based off of the cajun rib steak, one of the signature dishes at Smith & Wollensky, an old money-looking steakhouse chain created, ironically, by the guy who created TGI Fridays.
Don’t let the questionable heritage fool you though, the original location got a glowing two star review from Ruth Reichl. The recipe was recently released and shared far and wide as part of a fundraiser for NYC restaurants. Once I saw it, I couldn’t help but try it out.
The cajun spice rub helps create a blackened version of that prized thick crispy crust that everyone tries to get at home, while the long two day cajun-based marinade imparts natural complimentary smoky flavors to the meat. It’s so good that you don’t really need the cajun butter peppercorn sauce, although it’s delicious and really recommended. It definitely adds a nice hit of heat. Eventually – I’ve made this a lot of times now – I even stopped adding salt, thus in this recipe both are now optional steps.
The best cut of beef for steak
This is a New York-based recipe, so it’s only natural that you should use a New York strip, and that’s what I did. Another option (and my go-to answer whenever someone asks me what’s the best steak) is a thick cut ribeye. Honestly though, the marinade makes this so tender that you can use anything, and I wouldn’t go any more expensive than strip. The first steak I tried it with was a cheap sirloin, and it tasted amazing.
What’s the best way to cook steak
You can cook this steak any way you like and it partially depends on the thickness of the steak you have, how much you’ve tempered it (let it sit out of the fridge), and your preferred doneness. While you can grill it, if you want to make the optional peppercorn sauce (which is really good), you’ll need to use a skillet.
This recipe is written for rare/medium rare for steaks under 1.5”. For steaks over 1.5” thick or other donenesses, you can reverse sear, sous vide, or sear, then finish in a 350ºF oven until your steak hits your desired temp.
If you are a steak-pro, you already know all this, and if you aren’t, I highly recommend getting a good thermometer, like an instant read thermocouple style meat thermometer. It takes all the guesswork out and gives you perfect steak every time.
How to make cajun rib steak
1. Toast your spices: combine all the spices together and toast them over a low heat until they are fragrant.
2. Dry rub: rub each steak generously the toasted spices (about 1.5 tablespoons each), then place in the refrigerator uncovered for one hour to dry out.
3. Marinate: while the steaks are resting, combine the ingredients for the marinade in a container just large enough to fit your steaks. Add the steaks when they are ready, then cover with extra oil. Marinate for between 6 hours and 2 days; try to get as close to the 2 day mark as you can though, the longer the better.
4. Sear your aromatics: aka cook your onions. Heat up a large cast iron skillet with 1 tablespoon of high heat oil until it’s just about smoking. Add the onion wedges and cook for 2 minutes per side, or until charred. Turn them with a flipper or tongs and cook the other side, then remove and set aside.
5. Sear your steaks: Season your steaks if you know you like your food on the saltier side. I prefer to season with flaky sea salt at the table for this sort of thing. Cook the steaks roughly 3 minutes per side for rare or 4 minutes per side for medium rare. Rest the steaks while you make the cajun butter peppercorn sauce. If you are doing these in batches, turn your oven to warming or proofing mode (no higher than 80ºF) to keep the steaks warm. Let the skillet come back to temp in between steaks.
6. Make the sauce: While the steaks are resting, make the cajun butter peppercorn sauce by reducing the cognac, then whisking in the butter, cream, and 1 tablespoon each of freshly cracked black pepper and cajun spice mix.
Do you really have to marinate it for two days?
Not really, but I tested one after one day and while it was good, it didn’t have that deep level of flavor that the two day one had. Besides, if you are going to use a whole onion and two cups of oil, not to mention some nice steaks, you might as well go all the way. I even covered and saved the marinade in the fridge to reuse a second time and it was still ok.
The best sides to serve with steak
Personally, I love this steak with just the onions in the recipe, but if you want to go all out (and I mean all-out), you can make Heston Blumenthal’s crazy good and just plain crazy two day triple cooked chips. For something a little easier, we have air fryer fries, instant pot mashed potatoes, or for a little surf and turf, a really nice lobster risotto.
I really hope you give this a try, I’d never considered cajun as a steak flavor before and it’s totally blown my mind how good it is.