Salad

The Salad That Even Non-Salad People Go Crazy For

by:
May 29, 2018
The beefiness of skirt steak is front and center in this weeknight salad. Photo by Ty Mecham

Skirt and flank steak are perfect for the grill: They’re full of beefy flavor, inexpensive, and quick-cooking. For years, I’ve marinated them before grilling. But this summer, I’ll be skipping that step and heading straight to the grill, glass of rosé in hand. This Grilled Steak Salad With Fish Sauce Vinaigrette has taught me that there’s a faster, better way to prepare these flavorful cuts: Marinate them after they’re grilled.

My path from the grill to this steak salad recipe wasn’t a straight line. Here’s how a bottle of fish sauce, some research on marinades, and a whole lot of steak salads for dinner convinced me that post-grill marinating is the way to go.

Path 1: Dry-Aging With Fish Sauce

I love the boost of umami that fish sauce adds to grilled meats and vegetables, so when I came across a cheater’s way in Modernist Cuisine at Home to dry-age steaks by brushing them with fish sauce, I was intrigued. (Dry-aging forms glutamates, which is why glutamate-heavy fish sauce simulates the process.)

The problem? This dry-aging shortcut still takes up to a week: three days to marinate, plus three more if you want to air-dry the steak. It’s a cool technique (I read plenty of praise online from people who’ve tried it), but I never managed to test it despite every intention to do so. With two kids and consistently busy schedules, it's hard enough to plan dinner for the next night, let alone for the next week. But I knew that even if I had fallen hard for steak prepared this way, I would need a more practical approach for a weeknight grilled steak salad.

Path 2: Marinating in Fish Sauce, Pre-Grill

I went the more traditional path of marinating my steak the day of, and then grilling it, opting for a marinade heady with fish sauce, lime juice, garlic, and chilies (inspired by Vietnamese nuoc cham). It’s so good I even made extra and used it as a dressing for my salad.

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Top Comment:
“If I do not have a grill, can I broil the steak or using a stove top cast iron grill pan would be better? As for the snap peas, may be broil as well, blanched or saute’? Looking forward to a yummy meal.”
— Karen
Comment

The problem? The bright, crisp flavors of the marinade got muddled in the grilled steak. Also, it was hard to land on the right marinating time: 30 minutes wasn’t enough, 4 hours was too much (my skirt steak tasted more like fish sauce than beef after the longer soak; plus, it ended up steaming rather than charring). I knew from my research that, contrary to popular belief, most marinades don’t penetrate more than a fraction of an inch, so they have little to no tenderizing effect on meats. The best, simplest way to tenderize skirt or flank steak, then? Thinly slice it against the grain.

Path 3: Marinating in Fish Sauce, Post-Grill

Then, I remembered the post-grill marinade. Ali Slagle used it for her Bloody Mary Steak Salad in Mighty Salads. The idea: Grill the steak naked, then soak it afterwards to impart flavor.

I took this path but added a little brown sugar (along with salt and pepper) to promote caramelization in my steak. Also, I used a smart trick that I picked up from the cookbook Around the Fire: Grill skirt and flank steak straight from the fridge (not at room temperature as so many recipes instruct us to do) so the inside doesn’t overcook by the time the outside is well-seared.

The benefits! My steak charred on the grill beautifully and was a perfect medium-rare. A 10-minute soak (the same amount of time I’d normally rest my steak) in a spiky, flavorsome fish sauce vinaigrette was all that was needed to impart punchy-crisp flavors. What I liked most? The beefiness of the skirt steak was still front and center, accentuated but not overpowered by the fish sauce, and the texture of the meat was far superior to pre-grill marinating.


Have a Salad, Have a Cake

To complete my salad, I tossed the thinly sliced skirt steak with grilled sugar snap peas (grilling is my favorite way to prepare these treasures), shaved radish, a tangle of herbs and watercress, and more of the fish sauce vinaigrette. Other vegetables like grilled zucchini, eggplant, and cherry tomatoes would stand in beautifully should you choose to make this all summer long (trust me, you will).

Thanks to my post-grill marinating trick, this salad can be made whenever the mood strikes—no planning required beyond gathering up your ingredients and a bottle of wine. Especially in the summer months, this is precisely the path to dinner that I want to take.

Are you a steak person or a salad person? Let us know in the comments below!

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15 Comments

icharmeat June 5, 2018
I've been adding fish sauce to my pre-grill steak treatment for a couple of years now. I have never heard of the rapid aging with fish sauce. I can tell you from experience that steaks (or tri-tip roast) are more lip smacking when some fish sauce (the decent stuff is fine. i use the brand in a blue covered bottle for this- chef something brand- about a 1/3 the price of red boat) is rubbed in with more salt, pepper and olive oil while the charcoal fire is prepared.
 
Karen June 3, 2018
If I do not have a grill, can I broil the steak or using a stove top cast iron grill pan would be better? As for the snap peas, may be broil as well, blanched or saute’? Looking forward to a yummy meal.
 
Author Comment
EmilyC June 3, 2018
Hi Karen: either broiling or a cast-iron grill plan will work well (your preference)! For the snap peas, I’d sauté them in olive oil and/or butter, letting them get a little color on the first side before flipping. Please report back with results, and enjoy!
 
Karen June 4, 2018
Well, the broiler didn’t work so well. It was preheated to high for 20min, rack placed on the highest level, and the door kept ajar so the top elements would stay on and to get some sizzle. After 2.5min on each side, there wasn’t really enough color/browning but the meat was already more medium to med-well. Bottom line, may be the meat would char better with the direct contact of a heated cast iron pan. Nonetheless the post-cooking marinade was delicious and it makes for a refreshing dressing with the meat juices.
 
Author Comment
EmilyC June 5, 2018
Hi Karen: ah, sorry the broiler didn't work out! I think you're right about the cast iron grill pan being the better option in terms of getting a nice char. Thanks for reporting back--I'm sure your note will be beneficial to others! : )
 
lunule June 3, 2018
I am a salad person but love a steak salad and the dressing sounds absolutely amazing! I am making mango frozen yogurt and think it will be the perfect finish to this meal!
 
Author Comment
EmilyC June 3, 2018
That menu sounds perfect! Hope you enjoy the salad! : )
 
lunule June 3, 2018
Hi Emily. I made the salad tonight with items from my CSA. Did not have the sugar snap peas and used mesclun, pea and sunflower sprouts instead of cress. I used basil, parsley, and cilantro because that is what I had in the way of herbs and toasted the sesame seeds. The salad was delicious and your method of cooking and marinating made the best steak I have ever grilled. Wow. This recipe is so good. I will definitely keep it my regular rotation!
 
Author Comment
EmilyC June 5, 2018
Yay, so glad you liked it lunule! And nice substitutions on the vegetables! Thanks so much for trying the salad and reporting back! : )
 
Maddy M. May 30, 2018
I want to eat this everyday. It's the rare combination of easy, delicious, and *special*. Love it.
 
Author Comment
EmilyC May 31, 2018
Thanks so much Maddy!
 
Eric K. May 29, 2018
That beef is highly addictive, EmilyC.
 
Author Comment
EmilyC May 31, 2018
So glad you liked it!! : )
 
healthierkitchen May 29, 2018
This sounds great! I'm hoping for sugar snaps at the farm market this week.
 
Author Comment
EmilyC May 31, 2018
Thanks Wendy!! Fingers crossed on the snap peas! : )