Peppery watercress, tossed with a Dijon vinaigrette, serves as a lively bed for quickly pan-grilled flank steak topped with sautéed shallots. Recipe below.
Somehow watercress has picked up a genteel reputation, the stuff of crustless, triangular sandwiches nibbled on by ladies who lunch, preferably with tea. But this lively green has a peppery kick that probably made it the most exciting thing about those polite sandwiches; these days, it’s often used to spice up salads of more mild-mannered greens. And when tossed with a mustardy vinaigrette, it can even stand up to pan-grilled steak.
Watercress, a green in the mustard family, is a European perennial herb that has been naturalized in the United States. It now grows wild here, thriving in the clear, cold water of streams and creeks. It is also cultivated.
Watercress has long been used for its medicinal properties. Ancient Greeks and Romans thought it improved brain function. In medieval Europe, it was part of a salve for sword wounds. Various cultures have used it to cure everything from headaches to canker sores, eczema, gout and bad breath.
Personally, we use watercress just because we like it. Its flavor has been likened to radishes—and it does have that same pleasant bite. But there’s a greener, more subtle quality to watercress. For this recipe, I’ve paired it with flank steak, quickly pan-grilled and sliced thin. You could also grill the steak outdoors, adding a nice smoky finish. Use the mustard vinaigrette sparingly on the watercress; you don’t want to drown it or overpower its crisp, peppery taste. Drizzle additional vinaigrette over the steak slices to bring all the flavors together. This is a surprisingly light but satisfying meal that you can serve beginning in the spring and right on through summer.
Flank Steak with Watercress Salad
1 to 2 bunches of watercress
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tablespoon (1-1/2 teaspoons) Dijon mustard
1/2 tablespoon sherry vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1-1/4 to 1-1/2-pound flank steak, about 1 inch thick (see Kitchen Notes)
2 medium shallots peeled and sliced into rings
Prepare the watercress. Rinse thoroughly with cold water and remove thicker lower stems, keeping only the leaves and thin stems. Spin dry in a salad spinner and set aside. You want about six cups of watercress, enough to create satisfying piles on 4 plates; you’ll arrange the flank steak slices on top of each. One bunch did it for me, but if you buy two and have leftovers, you’ll find other great ways to use it.
Whisk the olive oil, Dijon mustard and sherry vinegar together in a bowl. Set aside.
Prepare the steak. Brush it lightly with canola oil and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat a grilling pan large enough to accommodate the steak over high heat. Brush the pan with additional canola oil and cook the steak about 4 to 5 minutes per side, turning once, for medium rare (alternatively, you can grill the steak or broil it). If the pan starts smoking as you’re cooking the steak, reduce the heat slightly.
Transfer steak to cutting board and let it rest for about 5 minutes, tented loosely with foil. Meanwhile, sauté the shallot rings in canola oil in a nonstick skillet until tender, about 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
Assemble the salad. Slice the steak across the grain into thin slices, about 1/4-inch or so. Give the Dijon vinaigrette another quick whisk and toss the watercress with just 1-1/2 tablespoons or so of the dressing. Mound watercress on 4 plates and top with a fan of steak slices. Scatter shallot rings over each plate and drizzle a little of the remaining vinaigrette over the top. Serve.
Taming “tough” flank steak. Flank steak is one of the most flavorful cuts of beef you’ll find. It also has a reputation for being tough. Follow two simple steps and it won’t be. First, don’t overcook it—medium-rare is perfect, otherwise, you’ll dry it out. Second and just as important, slice it thin and across the grain (look at the natural fibers in the meat and cut across those, not in the same direction). That’s it. For more about this delicious cut of meat, read my Spice-rubbed Flank Steak post.