When it comes to meat, and particularly beef, there are a few truisms that everyone should know.
- The more a muscle works, the tougher it is to eat, BUT the more flavour it has.
- The closer to the horn and the hoof, the more work the muscle does.
- Tough cuts of meat should be tenderised before eating. This can be done mechanically (mincing, chopping, perforating), chemically (acids: marinades, or enzymes: kiwi, papaya), or by cooking for extended periods of time.
- Tender cuts of meat are expensive, whilst tough cuts tend to be cheaper.
- Restaurants buy the best of the tender cuts, leaving the public to fight over the second grade leavings…whilst quality tough cuts can be found for a fraction of the cost.
So, knowing the best way to tenderise a tough cut of meat will mean you can not only save plenty of dollars from your beef budget, but you can get the best of the the most flavourful options available. It’s a win-win situation for us all.
Let me introduce you to what is arguably (though almost certainly dollar for dollar) the finest steak that you can buy. When the purse strings tighten, and I have the kind of hunger that only a steak can satisfy, there is only one cut of meat that I turn to.
Skirt Steak comes from the cows diaphragm, so it is a muscle that is used every second the beast is alive. The unique qualities that make skirt steak so attractive is that the muscle fibres are uniform in direction, and long in design. This means that whilst the steak is tough as old boots, thanks to it’s constant use, it is also very easy to mechanically tenderise…and it has flavour in spades.
- You can see there is a little surface fat, which can be easily trimmed, but very little marbling. Skirt Steak is very lean, and great for heart health.
- The fibres (running the length of the steak, and vertically, are very distinct and easily recognised. This is important later.
Step 1, and possibly the hardest step, is to find your Skirt Steak. Granted, it’s not the most popular of steaks on the market (despite my loud, but singular efforts), so don’t count on your local box grocery store to have any. Hit up a local butcher instead. If quality meat is what you want, you should be building a healthy relationship with your butcher anyway, and buying your meat from a source that knows it’s stuff.
Step 2, bring the meat to room temperature, and fire up your bbq. You want a heat source that is as hot as you can get it. You can cook this indoors, but I’d recommend a cast iron pan, 20 minutes preheat on a max burner setting, and several gas masks for the smoke you are about to produce. For me, it’s a flat out BBQ preheated to pizza oven or tandoor proportions.
Step 3, trim and season the meat. There can be an opaque membrane left on the muscle, and you should do your best to remove this. Trim the fat off as well, if you so desire. As for seasoning: I use cooking (or Kosher) salt, and little else. The salt will help draw a little protein ladened moisture to the surface and assist in the creation of that tasty crust. Note, this DOES NOT SEAL IN THE JUICES. That is a cooking myth. It does, however, taste delicious 🙂
Step 4, prepare a place to rest the meat after it’s cooked. And by prepare, I mean chop up some fresh herbs with a little garlic, oil, and salt/pepper. By laying the freshly cooked meat on this when resting, you will do more to add the fresh herbal goodness to your steak(s) than by trying to add them prior to cooking. Also have a sheet of aluminium foil ready.
Step 5, cook the meat. Medium rare is best (in my opinion), and it is not the thickest piece of meat on the market, so it wont take long. My preference is to cook for a couple of minutes on one side, then rotate the steak 90 degrees to allow the criss-cross pattern to form. After another minute, turn the meat over and repeat.
Step 6, rest the meat. This is probably the most important step in affecting the final result of the meat. Rest it for at least 10 minutes, and even 15 if you can. Use this time to make a salad, or prepare your other dinner elements.
Step 7, the slicing. This is the critical stage that will turn your shoe leather into butter tender slices of steak.
- Look at the steak, and note the direction of the grain.
- Using a large sharp knife, slice thinly (5mm slices) ACROSS the grain. Lay the beef on a cutting board in front of you, with the grain running left to right, and slice vertically (at 90 degrees) to the fibres.
There is nothing left to do but enjoy the steak. I promise you that this is a dish to try at home. Whether you cook it for yourself, your family, or a crowd of friends, you will be seen as a food hero when you lay this platter out. And just what is the best way to enjoy the results?