November 20, 2016
I’m looking out the window, and this is what I see: an entirely white world. The power’s out all over Columbia County, but we’ve got a back up generator and a fire burning in the grate. The scent of the stock I’m making for Thanksgiving gravy fills the house, making everything seem cozy.
And I’m hungry.
Happily, we had some warning. I knew we’d want some red meat on this winter day, so I marinated skirt steak. Lunch is almost ready.
Shopping list: 1 pound skirt steak, 1 loaf bread.
Staples: salt, vegetable oil, condiments.
If you love steak sandwiches, you need to make friends with skirt steak. It’s a fantastically flavorful cut that doesn’t cost much. It does, however, demand a bit of coddling.
The skirt is a bundle of abdominal muscles that have worked very hard, lending them great flavor and a tendency to be tough. Long and thin (a friend calls it “steak by the yard”), skirt steak has many aliases. In Texas it’s called “beef for fajitas,” and in the Jewish restaurants of New York’s Lower East Side it goes by “Romanian tenderloin.” But in my house it’s sandwich steak because the skinny slices can stand up to salsa, chimichurri, pesto – or simply mustard and a bit of butter.
If you buy your meat from an artisanal butcher, ask for the “outside” skirt, which is fatter and juicier than the inside cut. (If you’re buying meat from industrially-raised animals this is a pointless exercise; the Japanese import 90% of American outside skirt steak.)
Rub the meat all over with salt – 3/4 of a teaspoon per pound of meat and let it sit in this dry brine for 4 or 5 hours before cooking. This will draw out the liquid and concentrate the flavor. Just before cooking blot the meat very well with paper towels to remove all the surface moisture, and brush it with a bit of vegetable oil. (I prefer a neutral oil like grapeseed, but it’s your call.)
Skirt steaks prefer high heat (cooked low and slow the meat turns chewy), so get a grill or grill pan very hot. The steak will cook quickly; two minutes a side should give you beautifully rare meat.
Rest the meat for ten minutes. Now comes the most important part: the slicing. If you cut with the grain each slice will be a single tough muscle. If you cut against the grain, into very thin slices, you’ll end up with tender meat. (This means that when you’re cutting you want the grain to run up and down in vertical stripes, not horizontal ones.)
Now cut a crusty roll in half, butter one side, spread mustard on the other, and heap it with thinly sliced steak. You can add any condiments you like, but this meat is so tasty it really deserves the spotlight to itself.