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.
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
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.
For the grilled steak and vegetables
- 1 pound skirt or flank steak
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1 splash vegetable oil
- 1 small bunch of radishes, thinly sliced
- 3/4 pound sugar snap peas, trimmed and strings removed
- 1/2 cup chopped herbs (I like a mix of cilantro and mint)
- 1 handful Sesame seeds, for serving
- 3 handfuls watercress or arugula, for serving
For the fish sauce vinaigrette
- 6 tablespoons fish sauce (I like Red Boat brand)
- 2 tablespoons water, or more as needed
- 3 tablespoons lime juice
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
Are you a steak person or a salad person? Let us know in the comments below!