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Monday, January 18, 2010

The Tale of the Drunken Flank

J and I served grilled steaks at our wedding, as part of our enormous experiment in the gastronomy of a buffet. (By the way, our wedding menu was ridiculously amazing.)
Anyway, our caterers were friends, the wedding was at our house, and they left us some leftover products to freeze for later use. One of these products was a package of 6 gigantic, vacuum-sealed flank steaks. They have sat in our chest freezer, in our basement, ever since.

As we are living in post-holiday economic times, and always looking to save a buck, my brilliant husband decided it was time to break those suckers out. We defrosted them, in the fridge, over a 4 day period. Yesterday was finally the day they were thawed, and we needed to put them to use. Being "us" it was pretty much a no-brainer. Mexican. More specifically, mini-steak burritos. (I'm going to use the others to make some kind of slow-cooked bbq thing, and then possibly a beef stew. Both later this week, to be eaten NOT this week. I can't eat that much red meat in one week--it might send me into a major case of the meat sweats.)

I am very proud of my marination abilities. Seriously--when I first started really getting into cooking, one thing stood out among my skills. I make a MEAN salad dressing. And really, a marinade is just that--a salad dressing, with stronger flavors and the ability to worry less about the balance. When marinating a piece of steak like flank, something that is a bit tough and can stand up to some strong flavors, I say go big or go home. Yes, I know you can BUY marinades in the store. But I find those have a TON of sodium, sugar, sometimes MSG...and making one is so easy, why buy?

I'll give you the recipe below, but let me first give you a few pointers. If you're grilling a piece of meat like that, tenderize the heck out of it. Seriously. It can take it, and you'll have a much nicer result. You can tenderize with your marinade, but I like to give mine a head start by getting out major aggression with the "bumpy" side of a meat mallet. Wack it, hit it, and you don't necessarily need to be gentle. Bad day at the office? SMACK! Got a ticket on the way home from work? THWACK! You get the idea.

Then, think about what you're marinating with. Acid will help to break down the fibrous nature of things, and that's a great choice. I choose not to add oil to my marinades for meat. I have heard that it prevents the meat from taking the full effects of the marination process. That may or may not be true, but since I believe it...that's how I roll. Acid can be obvious, like lemons and limes, or vinegar, or a strong alcohol. And make sure to season! Salt and pepper, spices, herbs, garlic. It's really hard to over-flavor your marinade, in my opinion. 

WITH REGARD TO A TOUGHISH PIECE OF MEAT: Feel free to marinate long and hard. Yes, you don't always need to, but I love the flavor and texture of a piece of meat that has been well-marinated for hours and hours. Do it before bed at night the night BEFORE the dinner. Do it before you leave for work in the morning. Or, just make sure to give it a couple of hours. This isn't true for all meats, but for the recipe below, it helps in so many ways.

If you're grilling, make sure your grill is at a good medium-high heat, and well pre-heated. Let your meat come up to room temp before slapping it on a grill (or in a pan, oven, etc.) Take it out of the fridge about 30-60 minutes before cooking. Once you put the meat on the grill, let it sit there, and well...chillax. Don't move it around, don't play with it. When it's ready to be turned, turn it. That's it. Don't push down on it trying to get it to cook faster. You want juicy, delicious meat, after all! 

If you're cutting the meat on a wooden cutting board (and you should), oil the board with a drizzle of olive oil and rub it in. It helps keep the meat juicy while you're slicing it. And lastly, let it rest. I'M SERIOUS. We all know it's true, and yet we all rush. I know I do--all too often I just get so excited and then there goes all that flavor right out the first cut. Don't do it. Let it sit at least 10 minutes before you cut it. And for this recipe below, cut it super thin on an angle, with a sharp knife. Mmmmm, so good. 

Now, I'll be honest. A LOT of these tips (aside from the marination genius) come from my husband. He is the man with meat, especially when throwing it on a grill--outdoor, or the phenomenal cast iron huge flat top grill pan we got as a wedding gift. But I've watched, and learned, and together, last night, we made beautiful grilled meat music together. 

Wow, that's quite a statement...


Flank Steak (or skirt steak)
About 1 large piece for 4 people (probably about 2 lbs.)
3/4 C tequila, plus 1 shot glass full. (Doesn't have to be good quality at ALL!)
Zest and juice of 1 lime, plus the leftovers from juicing
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 TBSP ground cumin
2 TBSP ground coriander
2 TBSP salt
2 TBSP fresh cracked black pepper
2 TBSP hot sauce (I used Valentina last night--if you haven't had it, run to the Mexican Market and buy it!)

For Burritos/Tacos:
1/2 spanish onion, thinly sliced
1/2 avocado, diced
1 cup baby spinach, cut very thin
chopped tomatoes (if desired)
cheese (we used feta and grated sharp cheddar)
1 lime, sliced in half
salsa (of your choice)
hot sauce
Any other garnish you like!
tortillas  *A special note about the tortillas. WE had planned to make tacos with this, and would use good quality corn tortillas. Those weren't available to us, and we haven't quite           mastered making them ourselves, so we used large flour tortillas and made mini-sized burritos

Trim any unwanted fat off of steak, and then, using the bumpy side of the meat mallet (or just a heavy skilled) pound the meat  on each side. You want to tenderize it, not pulverize it, so be aware of how hard you're hitting. You'll be able to tell when it feels a bit less tough.

In a large freezer bag, combine all marinade ingredients and steak. Massage the meat WELL and place the bag in a bowl or pan and place in the fridge. TRUST ME ON THIS--you want to store the marinated meat in the bag IN something else, in case it breaks. Try and massage it once every hour or so, or as often as you remember. Your meat will love you for it.

Several hours later (hopefully!) take the meat out of the fridge and let it sit, in the marinade, for about 30-60 minutes, to come up to room temperature.
Heat a grill (we used our grill pan) to medium-high and let it get nice and hot. REALLY.

Remove meat from marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Place meat on grill and cook for about 8-10 minutes per side, only flipping once. For this preparation, we like the meat medium--like carnitas in a Mexican joint.

Remove meat from grill, let rest on an oiled cutting board. Slice super thin, on an angle. Should be almost like gyro meat, or cheesesteak. Very very thin.

Cut up any or all of the remaining ingredients to use in your taco or burrito. 

Sautee the onions a few minutes, to get some good char on them. We did this on the flat side of our grill pan (a cast iron griddle basically) but you could do it separately in a pan. Add the sliced meat to the onions and cook together for a few minutes. This will get a nice final char on the meat. Juice 1/2 remaining lime over the meat/onions while cooking.

Assemble your burrito/taco. I put all the ingredients above in, along with a last squeeze of lime. (A tip straight from the mouth of my husband: always put the cheese in FIRST! Then add the meat. The heat of the meat will melt the cheese--yummers! 

IF you're making burritos, assemble everything together, and fold 'em and roll 'em. 

Set them back on the flat top grill (or on the pan), seam side down--this will help keep it closed. Cook it enough on that side to get a bit of brown, and then flip. This shouldn't take more than 2 minutes, total. 

Serve hot, with chips and salsa, and possibly a nice cold beer or margarita, if you're in that kind of mood. Drink the remaining shot of tequila. 


  1. Hahah grilled meat music! Sounds awesome!!

  2. tcfordc: you had to see how many incarnations of that sentence I went through...