Watercress. It’s not just for tea time anymore: Flank Steak with Watercress Salad

by Terry B on April 28, 2010

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
Serves 4

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
canola oil

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.

Kitchen Notes

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.

Hungry for more watercress? More flank steak? Try my Watercress Vichyssoise, the aforementioned Spice-rubbed Flank Steak or my Flank Steak Tacos.


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

The French April 28, 2010 at 4:09 am

So if my brain doesn’t function properly, can I blame it on a lack of watercress? I’ve been looking for an excuse.

This looks delicious and will definitely try this soon…thanks for the tips on taming the flank:)

TheKitchenWitch April 28, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Watercress always means Spring to me. I’m excited to see it every year.

Cindy April 28, 2010 at 2:27 pm

I love all of the spring vegetables in the market. I was thinking of getting watercress the other day but opted for ramps, spring onions, and fiddleheads before they were all gone. I think I’ll go back and get that watercress.

Kalynskitchen April 28, 2010 at 9:54 pm

This looks amazing. I love watercress, but rarely see a recipe that uses it!

Terry B April 28, 2010 at 10:21 pm

Well, no, The French. You’re French. I think it only works on ancient Greeks and Romans.

TheKitchenWitch—We don’t cook with it nearly often enough. I overbought, so we’re going to enjoy it!

Cindy—What, no scapes? Wow, you’ve been covering all the seasonal bases.

Thanks, Kalynskitchen! Another way to use watercress is wilting it. We’ll probably give that a try too.

Melissa April 29, 2010 at 3:31 am

Yummm, that steak looks like a perfect medium rare.This sounds absolutely amazing. I love watercress. My only rule is that I have to eat it with my fingers, no fork, just like I eat asparagus! I never seem to be able to get it in my mouth while using a fork. I love that spicy peppery bite it has. I bet the mustard vinaigrette is great with it.

Donald April 29, 2010 at 1:09 pm

we love watercress and the fact that it is uber-healthy is a bonus. this is a perfect application.

Duchess April 29, 2010 at 1:42 pm

You had me at Flank Steak lol. Although I love watercress too – very under-used green!

altadenahiker April 30, 2010 at 12:36 am

Oh, I find this kind of steak almost impossible to cook, but maybe if I eat the watercress before I start the steak, I’ll stay focussed.

Alta April 30, 2010 at 1:55 am

What a delicious dish. I haven’t made flank steak in a long while. Time for it!

Toni April 30, 2010 at 6:47 am

I remember coming across a patch of wild watercress when hiking in New Mexico. I spent the next week putting it in everything – I love the stuff! Never thought about it’s brain enhancing power, but that peppery flavor would certainly wake up a brain, I guess.

Your tips on the steak are spot on!

Linderhof April 30, 2010 at 11:40 am

Love watercress and one year I was able to grow some — that was a real treat!

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