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.
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?