Flank steak: Going against the grain, beautifully

by Terry B on August 27, 2008

Slow marinating [in a mix of coriander, cumin, cinnamon, fresh ginger and garlic] and quick grilling make flavorful flank steak moist, tender and even bigger flavored. Recipe below.

Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.” When actor Robert Mitchum so beautifully uttered those words in a TV commercial voiceover, backed by Aaron Copland’s always stirring “Rodeo,” this is the kind of meal he was talking about.

As much as I talk about the blank canvas a chicken breast presents cooks or the underlying sweetness of a pork chop, there is something so satisfyingly rich and meaty about a good piece of beef well prepared.

And beef doesn’t get much more flavorful or meaty than flank steak. Also called London Broil or Jiffy Steak, this lean, flat cut is particularly known for its robust beefy flavor. With the right cooking and serving, it can be tender and moist too. Flank steak lends itself beautifully to marinating and then quickly grilling, broiling or pan searing. Don’t overcook it, though—that’s a sure way to make it chewy and tough.

I think it’s this reputation for potential toughness that unfairly puts a number of cooks off this delicious cut of meat, me included. Not anymore. Turns out there’s no voodoo to cooking juicy, tender flank steak—just two simple steps. I’ve already given you the first above: Don’t overcook it. Medium rare is perfect.

The second step is just as simple: Carve it across the grain after you cook it. According to Ask The Meat Man, it’s the only steak containing an entire large muscle. And unlike most other steaks, which butchers slice across the muscle fibers, flank steak fibers run the full length of the steak. You can see the fibers running across the tops of the slices in the photo above. So when you’re ready to serve the cooked steak, slice it into thin strips, cutting across the grain. Most sources suggest angling the knife blade at 45 degrees.

I can’t even remember now what suddenly put flank steak on my radar, but the more I read, the more I found recipes recommending marinating it, usually in some kind of spice rub. Not only does marinating it add to the already robust taste, it helps tenderize it. Some recipes call for a mere hour of marinating, but most said longer. This shouldn’t be a deal breaker; it just means you can’t do flank steak spur of the moment.

As usual, my spice rub marinade was the result of combining a couple of different recipes and then tinkering with them. In a somewhat unusual move for me, I resisted adding cayenne pepper or any other heat sources I frequently turn to. The spice rub mix smelled promising; my only concern was the meat itself. I needn’t have worried. The result was a delicious, complex complement to the rich beef flavor without any fire—and steak that was wonderfully tender.

Spice-rubbed Flank Steak
Makes 6 servings

2 large garlic cloves, minced
1-1/2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger, minced [see Kitchen Notes]
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons canola or vegetable oil

1-1/2 lb flank steak, trimmed

Mix first 8 ingredients in a small bowl to form paste. Pat steak dry, then rub paste all over and marinate steak, covered and chilled, at least 7 to 8 hours. One recipe I saw said you can marinate it for up to 2 days.

Prepare grill for cooking.

Bring steak to room temperature [do not leave out longer than 1/2 hour]. When fire is hot, grill steak on lightly oiled grill rack 5 minutes on first side, then turn and grill for 3 minutes on second side for medium-rare. Transfer steak to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes. You can cover it with foil or not, but it needs this time for the juices to resettle back into the steak, making the meat nice and juicy.

Holding knife at a 45-degree angle, cut steak across the grain into thin slices. Serve.

Kitchen Notes

Mincing ginger. Ginger is very fibrous, not unlike wood. And like wood [well, and flank steak, as it happens], it has a grain—a direction in which the fibers align. So trying to mince a large chunk is a thankless task. Instead, cut it into 1/4-inch slices. Once you’ve peeled the slices, quarter them and bash each piece with the side of a knife. This will pulverize it into little 1/4-inch threads, easy to separate with a quick mince. You can also grate fresh ginger—just peel the piece you’re grating first.

Also this week in Blue Kitchen, 8/27/2008

Don’t forget—have a glass of wine. A new study shows that “compounds commonly found in red wine and grape seeds may help treat and prevent Alzheimer’s disease.” Pour yourself a glass of wine and read all about it, at WTF? Random food for thought.

The Chicago Jazz Festival is coming! Part 2! In anticipation, I revisit another great jazz album, at What’s on the kitchen boombox?

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

ann August 27, 2008 at 11:45 am

I *heart* flank steak, and was considering grilling some. I’m glad I didn’t, because I wouldn’t have used such a nice rub as this one. But now I have it in my arsenal!

Have you ever heard of using a teaspoon to peel ginger? I can’t remember where I read about it, but, as long as you don’t mind getting a little ginger juice on you, it’s perfect. Just grab a teaspoon and drag its tip across your chunk of ginger. They skin will come off lickety split!

one food guy August 27, 2008 at 1:19 pm

I too am a big fan of flank steak. I made it one night when a friend who is a filet mignon kind of guy was coming over…he commented on the cheapness of the cut – then ate every last bit off the plate!

As for the ginger, I use a vegetable peeler to peel my ginger, and then grate it on a microplane.

Dea Anne August 27, 2008 at 3:04 pm

I *love* flank steak! So often, the cheaper cuts of meat have a much better flavor. This recipe looks fantastic and since my sisters, both enthusiastic beef eaters, are visiting this week this is a must. Thanks!

Cathy - wheresmydamnanswer August 27, 2008 at 3:27 pm

I forget about flank steak and I am not sure why because it is so Damn good!! Thanks for the reminder. I ditto DeaAnne on the cost it is a way cheaper cut but the taste is still there 100%!!

Terry B August 27, 2008 at 3:32 pm

ann—After this recent grilling adventure, I totally *heart* flank steak too! I hadn’t heard of using a teaspoon to peel ginger—of course, I love playing with knives, anyway.

one food guy—I tend to think of filet mignon more in terms of melt in your mouth tenderness than big beefy flavor, so I’m not surprised your friend scarfed down the flank steak. And yet another great tip on mincing ginger. Thanks!

Dea Anne—Interestingly, flank steak [and its alter ego London Broil] are not always reliably cheap cuts these days. Apparently, their popularity—particularly among chefs—is driving up their cost. When I bought the flank steak for this post, I actually saw strip steaks that were less expensive.

Cathy—You’re welcome! I remember reading on a website for foodservice professionals that the cost of flank steak actually varies a little during the year, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for lower prices. But even this site says that because of its popularity. it “retains its market value.”

Katerina August 27, 2008 at 5:56 pm

I love flank steak too. You should *have* to chew your steak, the meats that are too tender seem to lack flavour.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) August 27, 2008 at 9:50 pm

I’m a big fan of flank steak — which used to be a very inexpensive cut of meat, though it isn’t anymore. I tend to buy it in Asian markets, because flank is used so much in stir fry that the markets sell it already trimmed and beautiful — and of course the prices at Asian markets are great. For ginger, I also use a Microplane. If the ginger is fresh and young, you don’t even need to peel it.

Mike of Mike's Table August 28, 2008 at 2:16 am

I love flank steak and the marinade sounds like a good one. And if cayenne is the spice you have trouble holding back, for me in marinades/rubs, its ground chipotle. I’m a sucker for that smokiness!

maleesha August 28, 2008 at 3:36 am

thank you for posting this! I have been wondering about flank steak and what to do with it. its usually priced well but I never picked it up because I wasn’t sure what to do with it. well now I know~!

DocChuck August 28, 2008 at 7:42 pm

There is, in my opinion, only one steak that is better than flank. That is the Flatiron steak.

We use flank exclusively for fajitas, sometimes in salads, and occasionally as the main entree.

But the flatiron, again – in our opinions, has even a “beefier” taste (closer to the animal’s heart we were told by our butcher) and if cooked properly, is so tender that one can cut it with a fork.

GREAT post about one of our favorite subjects . . . the great American beef steak.

Terry B August 28, 2008 at 8:08 pm

Katerina—That seems to be the consensus, although there are a few tricks for tenderizing cheap cuts of meat.

Lydia—I was just reading about ridiculously cheap, very fresh produce in New York’s Chinatown and now you have this report. Unfortunately, even though Chicago is regarded as a great food town, it is somewhat lacking in good food shopping options. From our experiences, even the ethnic markets are pretty lackluster—and not much of a bargain, either.

Mike—Thanks! I’ll have to try ground chipotle. Even though this steak is grilled, it’s on an open grill for such a short time that there isn’t much in the way of a smoke flavor.

maleesha—I hope you’ll try it! Just remember to cook it quickly and slice it thin, across the grain.

DocChuck—You immediately sent me to Google! I’ve heard the term Flat Iron Steak a time or two, but had never seen it anywhere. From what I’ve read, I think I’ll have to see if I can get a butcher to sell me some.

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