How to cook a steak perfectly without a thermometer


Ah Lee in 1977 on the Veranda at Magazine Gap

Ah Lee (pictured above), together with his wife and daughter, looked after my family from 1964 to 1981. He was such a nice man, and as a boy I used to hang around the kitchen with him, and he would teach me, as he was getting on with whatever he was doing.

He had been in service since the twenties, starting off as number 3 cook boy, who was the marketeer, and working up to number 1 cook. That is in the days when there were many more servants in the big houses in Hong Kong.

This is his method of seeing when a steak was done before everyone got all scientific with thermometers and so forth. I have never read about this method anywhere else which is why I write about it. It’s easy and it works.

I remember him saying, “Wait until the blood comes up to the surface, and then it will be medium”.



First you must season your steak with salt and pepper, and heat the pan nice and hot.

Add a knob of butter and lay the steak over it, press it down with a spatula. You are searing the meat and making it lovely and brown. Cook on high for 1 minute and turn the heat down to medium. Depending on the thickness of the steak, cook until it appears cooked to just under half way up. For a thin steak like this I cooked for a further 2.5 minutes.

Turn the steak over, press down and wait. After a few minutes, 3 in this case, blood will start to appear on the surface. At this stage the steak will be medium rare, moving on towards medium as more blood appears up over a period of about a minute. See below.

Steak Showing blood on surface
Steak on left having been immediately removed and cut. (before resting)

You should then rest the steak for 5 minutes so it will relax and become tender. During this time it will cook further in its own heat. The steak above was medium when I ate it. Delicious!!

NB I should say that if the steak is older there will be less blood as the steak will have dried out, so this is worth bearing in mind – if it’s been in the fridge eight days there might hardly be any blood at all. Naturally, if you like your steak rarer remove it as soon as the blood appears, and conversely wait until the blood has stopped coming for well done.

I think of wonderful, kind Ah Lee whenever I cook steak.