A series on things to make, eat and imbibe this summer.
The almanac says we've got a few weeks left of summer. But if you're like me, Labor Day is the bookend that marks summer’s close and the beginning of all things fall—that pivot point when the the state fair shuts down and college football starts up. While I can't get my head around summer ending just yet, I love the transition to fall, when grilling moves from the backyard to the tailgate. If you’re planning one final blowout of the summer in observance of our favorite socialist holiday, don't bore your guests with burgers and dogs. Instead, serve this ambitious-but-worth-it meal that encompasses the heat, sweetness and spice of the Southwest. Warning: lots of cilantro below.
Main: Marinated Flank Steak
Sides: Cornbread Salad and Heirloom Tomatoes
Booze: Mexican beer or Spanish wine
MARINATED FLANK STEAK
I always get my hanger, skirt, and flank steaks mixed up, so have to do a quick mental review every time I hit that section of the butcher’s case. Hanger and skirt steak are known as "the butcher’s cuts," because, as this article helpfully points out, “there was never enough of either cut to display, butchers would take them home for family meals.” Flank is often left to fajitas. I like grilling all three of them because they’re easy to prepare, require only a couple of minutes a side over high heat, and they serve you and your guests communally.
However, unlike the rest of my summer favorites, this recipe goes the marinade route instead of the dry rub route. I adapted these recipes from The Thrill of the Grill, published in 1990, a dog-eared and stained copy of which occupies a central place in our cookbook library. Ingredients and prep are usually customized based on the availability of seasonal ingredients and in the tradition of my father, who never wrote anything down.
Now, a marinade might seem a little high-maintenance, but you can prep a lot of the ingredients ahead of time, and the leftovers from this recipe are perfect for tailgating. You've got a long winter to look forward to, so let's draw this out as much as we can.
2-3 lb. flank steak
Flank may not be the most tender of the hanger-skirt-flank troika, but it's got a ton of flavor. Marinating helps tenderize as well as add some zing to it, while the BBQ sauce is smoky, spicy and sweet.
1 can chipotle chiles, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
4 tbsp olive oil
10 tbsp lime juice (say, 5 limes or so)
Coarsely chop the chipotle peppers, sauce and all, and mix with the rest of the ingredients in a large, shallow baking pan. Thoroughly coat the flank steak, cover, and marinate in the refrigerator for about 5 hours, turning occasionally. We're not going for ceviche here, so don't marinate to the point that the acid in the lime juice actually starts cooking the steak. The grill will start to get jealous.
¼ cup honey
2 tbsp peanut oil
canned chipotle chiles
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp brown mustard
8 tbsp lime juice (say, 4 limes)
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp cumin
2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
1 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
I'm not really into BBQ sauces, but sweet-and-sour combinations, like this one (and this one), are tremendous. Homemade sauces are kind of a pain in the ass to make, but so much more more rewarding. Combine all of the ingredients, save the cilantro, salt and pepper, and puree in a blender or food processor. You can adjust the heat in this sauce with the amount of chipotle peppers you add. I like a little bite that doesn't overwhelm, so three are probably just right, but feel free to step it up to suit your asbestos tongue and alimentary canal. Add the cilantro, salt and pepper and serve in something festive like a gravy boat.
Prepare a hot fire in the grill, we'll be using direct heat for this one. Remove the steak from the marinade, salt and pepper to taste, and cook over high heat for about 5 minutes a side. You're aiming for a nice char on the outside, so don't be afraid to let the flames caress each side. Let the meat rest for 5-10 minutes before carving. As with hanger and skirt steaks, you'll want to cut against the grain at a decent angle using a very sharp knife for very thin slices. Ladle the sauce over the slices as you serve them, or be the guy that dips them directly in the gravy boat.
3 cups cornbread, crumbled
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
1/2 red onion, chopped
4 tablespoons parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar
6 tablespoons lime juice
This Southwestern take on a panzanella uses cornbread and lots of peppers. Feel free to make homemade cornbread for this one (ooooh, la-di-da!), but don't be ashamed to go to the bullpen and get some nice store-bought stuff. I mean, look at the list of ingredients up there. You've got a lot on your plate already.
However you end up with it, crumble the cornbread coarsely and spread evenly on a cookie sheet. Bake at 250 for about 90 minutes, tossing every 30 minutes, until it is dry and nice and crunchy, like granola.
Combine the veggie ingredients in a large serving bowl, add the cornbread, and toss to mix everything up. In a small bowl, whisk the oil, vinegar and lime juice into a dressing, then add to the cornbread salad and toss to coat evenly. Fresh corn straight from the cob or similar complementary ingredients also work well in this salad, so go nuts.
Serve everything with sliced heirloom tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and a little salt.
There's a lot going on in this menu, and a lot of spice that's going to just bulldoze right through drinks with subtle or delicate flavors. With that much cilantro, chipotle and garlic, a nice Mexican beer provides a neutral, seasonal and refreshing accompaniment that can help cut the heat of the food. Since I'm not that interesting of a guy, I prefer Pacifico out of the bottle. Hey beer snobs: the limes are in the food, and at least I didn't say Corona.
Staying with the theme, full-bodied, spicier Spanish reds like Riojas and Priorats stand a fighting chance against the bold flavors in the marinade, BBQ sauce, and cornbread salad. Priorat can be on the pricier side of the spectrum, but Alvaro Palacios makes an excellent one for around $20, as does Onix. Might as well start getting that palate back onto reds.
Previously in Hot For Summer: T-Bone, For Two and How To Make Beer Ice Cream
If it's not snowin', John Ore is grillin'.