How to cook steak in 4 minutes — and keep it tender

Skewered Southwest Steak (Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)
Skewered Southwest Steak (Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

Go shopping for a recipe's main ingredient and come home with something else — we've all been there. On the spot, you can figure out a suitable substitute on your own or consult with a grocery-department manager. For this recipe, flank steak became flat-iron, because the flank steak was sold out. But the switch proved beneficial.

Both beef cuts are flat, quick-cooking and not especially tender. They come from different muscles of the animal (flank/belly vs. flat-iron/shoulder). Typically, a rectangular piece of flat-iron steak will weigh less than packaged flank steak and be easier to slice raw.

Slicing is what happens here as part of the prep, against the grain. Why that way? To shorten the meat's long fibers and create a more tender chew. With a flat-iron steak, the process is simple: You only have to cut crosswise, with a long side parallel to the edge of your cutting board, and you will achieve success. The strips will be about an inch wide and not too long — just right for threading onto skewers.

Treated to a fast and piquant marinade (for flavor), they go under the broiler or on a gas grill for just a few minutes.

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Skewered Southwest Steak

4 servings

Flat-iron beef steak, cut from the shoulder muscle of the animal, provides a nice alternative to flank steak in this quick- marinade recipe (see the NOTE, below).

You'll need 8 to 10 mid-length metal skewers or you'll need to soak that same number of wooden skewers in water for 10 minutes; it's easy to do while the meat marinates. We tested this under the broiler but feel free to cook the skewers on a gas grill, if you'd like.

Serve with a mix of smashed/roasted small potatoes and roasted red peppers, or with baked sweet potato fries.

Adapted from the Cattlemen's Beef Board and National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

Ingredients

3 large cloves garlic

1 lime

Kosher salt

8 stems cilantro

1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce (regular or jalapeño-flavored)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

1-1/4 teaspoons ground cumin

1-1/4 pounds flat-iron steaks (may substitute flank steak; see headnote and NOTE)

Steps

Position an oven rack 4 to 6 inches from the broiler element; preheat the broiler.

Peel the cloves and put them in a mini (or regular-size) food processor; pulse until finely chopped, then cut the lime into 8 wedges and squeeze half of them into the food processor bowl. Add a two-fingered pinch of the salt, leaves from 6 of the cilantro stems, the hot sauce, oil, soy sauce and cumin. Puree to form a smooth marinade.

Starting at one of the short ends of the rectangular pieces of steak, cut crosswise (against the long grain) into 1/4-inch-thick strips. Lay them in a baking dish or place them in a gallon-size zip-top bag. Pour the marinade over the meat and toss to coat. Let sit for 10 minutes, then thread the strips, weaving them in a wavy in-and-out style to fill each skewer. (Think: Loch Ness Monster humps.) Place on a broiler pan or grill pan; broil (top rack) for about 4 minutes for medium-rare, or longer for the degree of doneness you like.

Divide the skewers among individual plates; season lightly with salt. Garnish with sprigs from the remaining cilantro stems and serve with the remaining lime wedges.

NOTE: If you use flank steak instead, trim any excess fat and cut it on the diagonal, against the grain, into long strips.

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