Steak Terroir

By • July 27, 2011 19 Comments

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Author Notes: I thought briefly about posting this in time for the Best Flank Steak contest. The idea for the marinade came to me one evening as the daughter and I were talking contentedly after dinner about what we love about Provence. Few places in France better embody the spirit of terroir: earthy, certainly, but that which derives from the very earth of the place itself. But think about where you live: great, locally raised beef is generally available most everywhere now; you can easily get your hands on a good red; where do juniper berries not grow; bay leaves, garlic, honey - about as earthy as it gets anywhere.

Well, the daughter and I were in Aix en Provence, we had a lovely studio apartment complete with a little fridge, a 2-burner electric glass-topped stove, one skillet, one large pottery bowl, 2 soup bowls, 2 plates, flatware (also for 2), one large cooking fork, and a bread knife. All we could possibly want to make something so simple and yes, earthy. Ok, I might have wished for a different cooking surface, but we were on vacation. And on vacation in France, so complaining was not on the agenda.

We had both bravely left our computers behind. So for internet connection, the daughter had brought along a small Ipod Touch. Emphasis on "smalI." It was great for keeping up with what was going on with food 52, for checking the weather, for getting (if we cared) news. But for actual correspondence, it was the new-age version of two-finger typing on a Remington manual. It wouldn't load any of my email accounts, which bothered me for all of a minute. Once I realized how tedious and difficult it was to use the teeny tiny touchscreen keyboard, I kept messages to brief, unpunctuated essences that made Morse code sound chatty. So, wonderful as our dinner was, and its story possibly better, I decided it would simply have to wait until we got home.

And here we are. So we went to our neighborhood market and prowled the beef counter for something resembling a flank steak. My French is good, but my knowledge of butchery in it isn't. But the butcher was a very helpful fellow, and we left with a very good imitation, a couple of lovely bavettes. Back in the apartment, we used our one large bowl to marinade it, then I speared it with the fork and held it over the sink to drain well. When the skillet and some olive oil were hot, I seared the steak nicely on both sides. The marinade was reserved in the 2 soup bowls. Meanwhile, the daughter washed the big bowl. She rinsed some lettuce and spun it dry Julia Child-style, whirling it overhead in our one kitchen towel. She tore it up, tossed it by hand with some olive oil and sea salt in the bowl, then divided it between the 2 plates. When the steak was done, we put it in the bowl (unwashed - it was only olive oil and salt, right?) covered it with our damp kitchen towel and set it aside for a few minutes to finish and relax off the heat. The skillet went back on the heat to reduce the marinade to somewhat less than half. Finally, I speared the steak with the fork, plopped it onto the one cold burner surface on the range and sliced up about half of it. I arranged the slices over the salads, then drizzled everything with the reduced marinade. We tore a beautiful fresh baguette (still warm from the oven when we bought it) into pieces, and sat down to what was one of the best meals we've ever enjoyed.

Serves 2 to 4

  • 1 2-pound or so flank steak, room temperature
  • Sea or kosher salt and pepper
  • 3/4 bottle red table wine
  • 2 glugs olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 4 juniper berries
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 glugs olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon capers
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Lemon wedges
  • Lettuce or potatoes of your choice over which to serve
  1. Gently salt and pepper both sides of the steak (you'll eventually be reducing the marinade, so be kind with the salt), then place it in a shallow, non-reactive bowl or baking dish. Pour about 3/4 of a bottle of decent red table wine over it. Add the olive oil, honey, garlic cloves, juniper berries, and bay leaves. Turn steak over a couple of times, then cover with plastic (or a kitchen towel) and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, lift plastic and turn steak over. Cover and again let sit for 30 minutes.
  2. Place a glazing screen or small cooling rack over a plate. Lift steak out of marinade onto the rack and let drain for a few minutes on both sides. Gently pat each side dry with paper towels, or the steak will not caramelize well.
  3. Preheat oven (if you have one) to 325 degrees. Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Add a couple of glugs of olive oil. When hot, add the steak. Sear for 3-4 minutes (depending on thickness), then turn and again sear for 3-4 minutes (2 to 3 minutes if steak is on the thin side). Remove from skillet and set on an oven-proof platter. Transfer to the oven and allow to finish to desired doneness - 10 to 15 minutes for medium-rare to medium.
  4. Meanwhile, back at the stove, strain reserved marinade into the hot skillet to deglaze those lovely browned drippings. Allow to cook down to about 1/3 its original volume. Remove from heat and whisk in a generous teaspoon of capers as well as a couple of tablespoons of butter. Allow to cool for a few minutes.
  5. Toss lettuce or roasted potatoes with olive oil and sea salt. Arrange in the center of plates. Remove steak from oven. Transfer to a cutting board. Slice across the grain (which runs the long way), with your knife at a fairly acute angle, making each slice about 1/2 inch thick. Divide steak slices among plates and drizzle the marinade reduction over them all. Serve with wedges of fresh lemon.

More Great Recipes: Entrees|Chicken|Steak

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