Rib-eye, which is essentially sliced prime rib, is often passed over in favor of leaner steaks. However, rib-eye's fattiness makes it the perfect candidate for pan-frying. While the whole prime rib would generally be slow-roasted, the high heat employed by pan-frying allows the fat to render in much the same way as with a roast, but it does so in minutes as opposed to hours. Pan-fried rib-eye steak allows for an extravagant meal without the wait.
Fat Equals Flavor
The visible fat present on a rib-eye steak should not deter you from making use of this cut of beef. You should choose steaks with the most visibly consistent fat marbling. Fat equals flavor, and when rib-eye is properly cooked, it results in a meal even a well-prepared filet mignon cannot rival. Rib-eye is the basis for such classic recipes as "steak au poivre" -- peppered steak -- and it's the steak that made Delmonico's Steakhouse famous in the 19th century. To this day rib-eye is often referred to as Delmonico by many of America's finest steak houses and is featured as the most succulent cut of beef available on their menus.
Steak Selection and Preparation
Choose consistently marbled steaks that are at least 1 inch thick but less than 2. Allow your steaks to come up to room temperature and liberally season both sides with salt and pepper. Preheat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until it is hot. A tablespoon of olive oil should smoke a little when added to the pan. Add a tablespoon of butter to the oil. When the butter has melted and the foam subsides, add your steaks. Fry for about four minutes on each side for medium-rare doneness, depending on thickness. Add about 30 seconds on each side for medium. Remove the steaks from the pan and allow them to rest -- lightly covered with foil -- for a few minutes.
Not only does fat equal flavor, but the fat present in a rib-eye steak offers protection against overcooking, allowing inexperienced cooks to create a superlative meal in a short period of time. The trick is not to be afraid of the heat of a smoking-hot pan, and trust that you will not overcook your steaks as long as you're attentive. Have an exhaust hood over your range, because cooking at this temperature will produce plenty of smoke. Keep an extra skillet handy. In the rare event that smoke overwhelms your exhaust hood, remove the cast-iron skillet from the heat, remove the steaks from the skillet with tongs, and cover the smoking pan with your extra skillet. Allow the pan to cool, covered, under the exhaust hood.
Pass the Salt
For an impressive variation, try salt-frying your rib-eyes. Rather than turning your steak into salt licks as the name implies, salt-frying results in a caramelized exterior and uses no additional fat for cooking. Begin with room-temperature, well-seasoned steaks. For two steaks, add about 4 teaspoons of kosher salt to a dry cast-iron skillet before preheating. Place the skillet over medium-high heat. The salt will smoke slightly when the pan is hot. Add your steaks and cook as described previously -- about four minutes on each side for medium-rare -- shaking the pan a few moments after each turn to loosen the steaks from the bottom. Remove the steaks from the pan and let them rest for five minutes. For an incredibly flavorful sauce, deglaze the pan with a half cup of red wine, reduce by half, and add a tablespoon of butter.