Hello, summer. I’m so glad you’re here.
I missed your long days of sunshine. I missed your flip flops and freckles. I missed your buttered corncobs and fuzzy peaches, your perfect tomatoes and cold beers outside on patios.
And grilled steak. I think I may have missed grilled steak most of all. (Particularly with corn and tomatoes and cold beer and peaches for dessert, come to think of it.)
Lazy summer days need late lazy dinners, outside. Globe lights strung up in the backyard, some tinny jazz playing from somebody’s iPod or a radio perched in a windowsill. Barefoot dancing, maybe. Gin and tonics with lime.
Oh, summer. I’ve missed you.
This recipe is just the thing for the end of June: no fuss, done in a flash. Simple, summery flavors, with enough gusto to merit a big glass of red (a Malbec, probably, if you’re having dinner at my place) but not so heavy that you’ll wilt in the heat and want to curl up after dinner. My mother used to grill flank steak with a soy-sauce based marinade, and we had it nearly every summer when I was a kid. I’ve fussed with her version to dial down some of the salty notes, and added a little brown sugar and lime juice. I think you’ll like it.
Do buy the very best meat you can. (I’m hopping up on my soapbox, friends, and turning on the megaphone. Bear with me.) Look for beef labeled as grass-fed (cows are ruminants and not built to digest corn; so many ills of the industry stem from that basic fact), hormone and antibiotic-free and humanely raised. Cows, pigs and chickens aren’t widgets or shrink-wrapped units of production, they’re animals; as the top of the food chain and blessed with our big brains, we have an ethical responsibility to treat them as nature intended (and with a little extra grace and humanity on top of that). Factory-farmed meat is bad for the animals, obviously, but it’s also ruinous for the environment and the public health (e. coli scares, mad cow disease, antibiotic-resistant germs).
If nothing else: stressed out, cheap meat just doesn’t taste as good.
Buying high quality, humanely raised meats may require a special trip to a good butcher or a fancier market. And until there are more sustainable purveyors out there in the marketplace, good meat will more than likely cost you an arm and a leg. I’ve found the easiest solution to those problems: I don’t eat a lot of meat. Red meats and pork only show up on the table every few weeks, and when they do it feels like a special event. (And that event is delicious, by the way.)
Now it helps, I recognize, that my partner isn’t a strictly meat-and-potatoes kind of eater. (I crave juicy steaks and burgers more often than he does, and I was a vegetarian for 11 years. Maybe I’m making up for lost time?) If that’s not the case at your house, try serving meat as a side dish rather than the main event, or add a few vegetarian meals into your cooking rotation. Your pocketbook won’t even notice the upgrade when you buy the good stuff (and as an added bonus, you’ll sneak some variety into the diets of your meat-fiending loved ones).
Okay, I’m done. Thanks. Summer is no time for lectures, let’s get to grilling!
Skirt steak comes from the thin diaphragm muscle of the cow; you’ll usually see it rolled up in pound to pound-and-a-half portions at the butcher shop. (Oh, dear. Have I lost everybody, or can I assume there’s still a few carnivores reading?) It’s the meat traditionally used for fajitas and carne asada, with a beefy flavor and more fat than flank steak. It’s not as tender as other cuts, so it does benefit from a marinade. Cook it to medium rare, slice it thinly against the grain after grilling (the texture will feel a little stringy otherwise) and you’ll have a gorgeous meal ahead.
Since they’re thin, the steak will take on the flavors of the marinade quickly, which bodes well for the cook and her company: it marinates in the same time you need to bring it to room temperature, and grills up in a flash.
The roasted tomatoes and onions are a new addition to the repertoire this summer, courtesy of my younger brother (who got the idea from Saveur magazine, I think). They make good tomatoes great and great tomatoes amazing: smushy and warm and caramelized. (Toss with olive oil and pasta and herbs for a fast weeknight dinner.) If you happen to have one of those perforated grill plate thingies (what on earth do you call those?) or a grilling basket, give it a spritz of olive oil and throw the prepped onions & tomatoes on next to the steak or while it’s resting. Otherwise, follow the roasting recipe below.
Chopped romaine and a blue cheese dressing make for a traditional, tasty variation to the salad, and I’ll admit they have quite a bit more structure to stand up to the steak and tomatoes. I prefer the flavor of a vinaigrette (use a good quality store-bought brand to make it easier, if you like, but the recipe follows) and slightly bitter, tender greens. Up to you, my dears.
Grilled Skirt Steak Salad
- 1 pound skirt steak
- 12 oz salad greens (arugula, spring mix, spinach or chopped hearts of romaine)
- scant 1/2 C of crumbled blue cheese
- balsamic vinaigrette (recipe follows; or substitute blue cheese dressing and omit crumbles)
- roasted or grilled tomatoes & onions (recipe follows)
for the marinade:
- 1/3 C olive oil
- 1 T Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tsp lime juice
- 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Take steak out of the fridge while you prep the marinade. Whisk marinade ingredients in a casserole dish large enough to accommodate the steak (folding it into a U-shape). Marinate for 30 minutes (leave it out on the counter, covered), flipping the steak halfway through. (If you’re making the tomatoes & onions, get going on them now and you’ll have everything done around the same time.)
Season room-temperature steak with salt & pepper. Grill over medium-high heat, three minutes per side. (That is not a typo! It’s so fast.) Let rest 6 minutes. Slice thinly, against the grain. Reserve juice.
Toss salad ingredients with the vinaigrette (dress it to your liking) and a healthy splash of the juice. Layer steak, tomatoes and onions over the greens. Crack some ground pepper on top and give a toast to summertime.
Oven Roasted Tomatoes & Onions
- 1 1/2 lb tomatoes (Camparis, cherries or Romas)
- 1 T olive oil
- 1 T minced parsley
- salt & pepper
- 1/2 medium red onion, sliced
Preheat oven to 450.
Slice tomatoes, and with your thumb, scoop out the seeds. Season with salt and pepper and toss with olive oil, parsley and onions. Roast for 20-30 minutes, flipping onions if needed.
adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking
- 1/2 to 2 T vinegar (balsamic or red wine)
- 1/8 tsp salt
- healthy pinch of pepper
- 6 T best-quality olive oil
- 1 tsp dijon mustard
In a lidded jar, shake to mix all ingredients. (Do this over the sink, just in case.) Julia notes that the classic proportion of vinegar to oil is one to three, but you should “establish your own relationship”. Have a taste and adjust the vinegar and salt to your liking. Makes roughly 1/2 cup of dressing; reserve leftovers in the fridge.