A steak (from Old Norse steik, "roast") is a slice of meat, typically beef. Most steaks are cut perpendicular to the muscle fibres, improving the perceived tenderness of the meat. In North America, steaks are typically served grilled, though they are also often pan-fried. The more tender cuts from the loin and rib are cooked quickly, using dry heat, and served whole. Less tender cuts from the chuck or round are cooked with moist heat or are mechanically tenderized. The more tender steaks have a premium price and perception; the idea of eating steak signifies relative wealth. For people from Asia, steak is regarded as one of the quintessential dishes of Western cuisine.
A restaurant that specializes in beef steaks is known as a steakhouse. In the United States, a typical steak dinner consists of a steak, with a starchy side dish, usually baked potatoes, but occasionally another potato dish, rice, pasta, or beans. A small serving of cooked vegetables accompanies the meat and side, with green beans, creamed spinach, asparagus, tomatoes, mushrooms, peas and onion rings being popular. A well-known accompaniment to steak is shrimp or a cooked lobster tail, a combination often called "surf and turf" or "reef and beef". Special steak knives are provided along with steak; steak knives are sharper than most table knives and are usually serrated. Prepared condiments known as steak sauces are generally on the table in steakhouses. Tenderized round or sirloin steaks, breaded, and pan-fried or deep-fried, are called chicken fried or country fried steaks, respectively. Thinly sliced ribeye or other tender cuts, cooked on a hot griddle and shredded slightly, and served on Italian style rolls are called Philly steaks, after the city in which they became famous.
In France, beef steak is usually served with French fried potatoes also known as "pommes frites", and the combination is known as "steak-frites". Vegetables are not normally served with steak in this manner, but a green salad may follow. In the United Kingdom they are also served with French fried potatoes although they are often thicker than the French variety and the combination is called Steak and Chips. Peas, half a tomato or a fried onion ring often feature on the plate too.
In Italy, steak was not widely eaten until post-WWII due to the relative ruggedness of the countryside inhibiting the space- and resource-consuming raising of great bovine herds, but some zones of Piedmont and Tuscany were still renowned for their beef. Bistecca alla fiorentina is a well-known specialty of Florence; it is typically served with just a salad or Tuscan beans. From the 1960s onward the so called "economic boom" allowed more and more Italians to switch to a red meat-heavy diet.
The amount of time a steak is cooked is a personal preference; shorter steak cooking times retain more juice, whereas longer steak cooking times result in drier, tougher meat but reduce concerns about disease. A vocabulary has evolved to describe the degree to which a steak is cooked. The following terms are in order from least cooked to most cooked:
A style exists in some parts of North America called "Chicago". A Chicago-style steak is cooked to the desired level and then quickly charred. The diner orders it by asking for the style followed by the doneness (e.g. "Chicago-style rare"). A steak ordered "Pittsburgh rare" is rare or very rare on the inside and charred on the outside. In Pittsburgh, this style is referred to as "black and blue" (black, i.e. sooty on the outside, Blue rare on the inside).
In Taiwan, a numeric system is used: 0 means raw and 10 means well done.
Several other foods are called "steak" without actually being steaks:
Cuts of game animals similar to those of beef steaks are also known as steaks. Similar cuts of pork and lamb cut across the bone are designated chops, rather than steaks, but certain cuts, such as leg of lamb cut across the bone may be called steaks.
A fish steak is a portion of cut perpendicular to the backbone, as opposed to a fillet, which is cut parallel to it. For the steak to hold together during cooking, the flesh must be rather firm; fish that are often cut into steaks include salmon, swordfish, halibut, turbot, tuna, and mahi mahi. The larger fish make boneless steaks; smaller fish (such as salmon) make steaks which include skin, meat, a section of backbone, and rib bones. Smaller fish such as mackerel are sometimes cut into similar portions for curing, but these are usually not called 'steaks'. Fish steaks are usually grilled, baked, or pan-fried (with or without being breaded or battered).
Sometimes fillet portions are improperly referred to as steak. Fish like salmon that is occasionally sold skin-on and has firm flesh can be grilled. These portions can look like steaks that have had been deboned (in smaller fish). Shark loin is often called steak; some people think this is perfectly fine since many beef steaks are cut from the loin--however some note that this is a deviation from the traditional cut down the backbone.