Each week this summer, Cara Nicoletti of The Meat Hook is helping us get to know our favorite cuts a little bit better – and introducing you to a few new ones, too. Read on, study up, then hightail it to your nearest butcher.
Today: We're learning all about flank steak -- including how to cook it to perfection.
Friends, we made it! It’s grilling season! Which means that it’s time to talk about meat. While it isn’t seasonal like fruits and vegetables, there are definitely times of the year when certain cuts are more popular than others. In the fall and winter, for example, we tend to gravitate towards cuts that go in cozy braises and comforting stews, cuts that pair well with belly-warming red wines and toasty bourbons, ones that leave us sleepy and satisfied. In the spring and summer, we look for cuts that are easy to grill -- cuts that benefit from zippy, fresh, herb-laden marinades, and that pair well with ice-cold beers and refreshing cocktails.
One of the most popular steaks in spring and summertime is flank steak. If you’re unsure of what this cut looks like, check out the image of Lady Gaga’s meat hat and purse from the 2010 MTV Music Video Awards -- there it is! Flank is popular because it's affordable, flavorful, and works in a wide range of dishes. It’s great grilled and sliced into fajitas, tacos, steak salads, Korean bulgogi, stir fry, or steak sandwiches. However, it also works well on its own, sharing a plate with some grilled vegetables or a light salad.
Flank steak gets its beautiful, beefy flavor and satisfying chew from its location on the animal’s body. It lays across the belly of the cow, in between the ribs and the hind legs, in an area that is very well-exercised. Because these muscles are stronger, they are also chewier, and because they get a lot of blood flow, they are also more flavorful. Flank is recognizable by its teardrop shape and the long, thin muscle fibers that run down its length. These muscle striations are what can make flank tough if it isn’t prepared properly, so here are a few tips on how to prepare and cook it.
- Marinate your flank: The acid and the salt in a marinade will help to break up those muscle fibers. You only need to marinate the steak an hour or two -- don’t exceed 24 hours, or the acid in the marinade will begin to “cook” your meat. Be sure to pat the steak dry with a paper towel before grilling to avoid flare-ups.
- Ask your butcher to tenderize your steak for you with a Jaccard knife (or buy your own!). This will help to break up those testy fibers, and will also allow your marinade to penetrate the top layer of meat.
- If your butcher doesn’t have a jaccard knife, simply slice the beef across the grain all along the steak. Make 1/4-inch deep slices about an inch apart to break up the muscle.
- Cook it quickly at high heat. Flank tends to get chewier the longer it’s cooked, so cook it to a nice rare or medium rare (125° F to 130° F) -- about 3 to 4 minutes for the first side, and 2 minutes on the second side.
- Let your steak rest for 5 to 10 minutes before cutting it to seal in the juices and let the muscle relax -- this is a must for every steak. Tent some foil over it to keep it warm.
- Slice it against the grain. This is very important for a cut like flank. It's also quite easy, since the muscle graining is so apparent -- just slice perpendicular to the grain!
What are your tricks for preparing flank steak?