Flank Steak — Off the Beaten Aisle

By: J.M. Hirsch
balsamic pepper flank steak
So you think you know steaks? Maybe you do.

But truth is, you probably only really know the particular cuts you buy over and over again. That’s good, but there’s a world of great beef out there to explore.

And many of those cuts (and by the way, butchers are creating new ones all the time) are far more versatile than you think.

You could spend ages learning the different cuts of beef and the various names for each (there isn’t nearly as much naming standardization as you would think). But I think it’s better to simply pick a cut you haven’t often prepared at home and start playing around with it. That’s how I learned to love flank steak.

First, the basics. Flank steaks are lean cuts from the rear side of the cow and are characterized by rich, deep, beefy flavor and a slightly chewy texture. Traditionally, London broils were made using flank steaks, though today any of the leaner, less tender cuts often are substituted.

Flank steaks are easy to identify by sight because they are flat and have a long, horizontal grain that runs the length of the meat. These steaks are meant to be briefly grilled or broiled to rare or medium-rare, then thinly sliced across the grain. The result is deliciously beefy and substantial.

Flank steaks also love to be marinated. And because they have a heartier texture, they can handle more acidic marinades for longer, even overnight.

When shopping for flank steaks, note that some grocers will label them “London broil.” Just note that they also sometimes label other cuts as “London broil,” too. So when in doubt, it’s best to ask.

For the weeknight home cook, flank steaks are the perfect cut. They can be tossed with a marinade the night before and left in the refrigerator until dinner. And they cook in just minutes on the grill or under the broiler.

As with all meat, flank steak should rest for 5 to 10 minutes after cooking (before slicing) to let the juices redistribute.

What to do with flank steak?

• Flank steaks are perfect for fajitas. Marinate them in a blend of olive oil, salt, pepper and pureed chipotles in adobo sauce, then grill or broil and thinly slice. Serve with guacamole, salsa, sour cream and fresh vegetables.

• Sauté tomatoes and onions with garlic and olive oil. Season with thyme, salt and black pepper, then add thinly sliced flank steak. Cook for just a couple minutes, then use to top pasta or spoon onto rolls.

• Use thinly sliced grilled or broiled flank steak in fresh spring rolls instead of shrimp. Combine with cucumber, carrots and thin strips of red pepper. Serve with a spicy peanut dipping sauce.

• Make a chunky puttanesca (or buy jarred) and serve it hot over freshly grilled or broiled flank steak. Serve with warm crusty bread.

Balsamic-Pepper Flank Steak With Grilled Pears and Blue Cheese

For extra flavor, the marinade can be mixed with beef broth, then boiled and reduced until thick (while the steaks cook), then drizzled over the finished dish.

Start to finish: 1 hour (20 minutes active)
Servings: 4
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
Kosher salt
1½ pounds flank steak
2 pears, peeled, halved and cored
Crumbled blue cheese, for topping

In a blender, combine the vinegar, garlic, peppercorns and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt. Blend for 20 seconds, then transfer to a wide, shallow bowl.

Add the steak to the marinade, turning to coat. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 4 hours.

When ready to cook, heat the broiler with a rack 6 inches from the heat. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, then coat it lightly with cooking spray.

Cut each pear half into 4 slices, then arrange them on one half of the prepared baking sheet.

Remove the steaks from the marinade and set those on the other half of the sheet. Broil everything for 5 minutes, then use tongs to flip the steaks and pears. Broil for another 5 minutes for medium-rare.

Let the steaks rest for 10 minutes, then cut into thin slices against the grain. Divide the slices between 4 serving plates, then top each with pear slices.

Top each serving with a bit of crumbled blue cheese.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 360 calories; 110 calories from fat (30 percent of total calories); 12 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 60 mg cholesterol; 22 g carbohydrate; 39 g protein; 4 g fiber; 700 mg sodium.

J.M. Hirsch is the national food editor for The Associated Press. He is the author of the recent cookbook High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking . He also blogs at LunchBoxBlues.com.

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