Flank steak, a long and flat cut of beef with a pronounced grain, has steadily grown in popularity over the years. In a matter of decades, this inexpensive butcher’s secret has come to occupy a prominent place in the meat case.
Flank is prized for its beefy, hefty flavor, and here, I’m cooking it quickly on the stovetop and topping it with a quick citrus salsa. This recipe – and flank steak in general — makes an excellent choice when you have a crowd to feed.
STEAK WITH MEXICAN FLAVORS
When I first started thinking about this recipe, I thought of the family barbecues we had in Indiana when my son was young. There was always a passel of relatives in attendance, with kids running around the yard, folks lounging in lawn chairs, and lots of beer on ice.
My brother-in-law, who hails from Mexico, often took over the grilling duties. Fidel’s specialty was grilled flank or skirt steak seasoned with his spicy chili rub and doused with beer. In our family, then and now, tortillas and salsa are always on the table when steak is on the menu, and we ate the thin slices of beef like tacos.
That got me thinking of a way to make this flank steak festive and fun, with Mexican flavors and a slightly different kind of salsa.
COOKING THE STEAK
For this recipe, I like to pound the steak into an even thinness, and then rub it with ancho chili powder to give it a subtle spiciness that pairs well with the salsa.
Pounding the steak does two things:
- It tenderizes an otherwise tough cut of meat.
- It reduces the cooking time.
Flank steak is best cooked to medium-rare. Too rare, and it is chewy. Too well done, it becomes tough.
Don’t skip resting the meat after cooking! This five minutes resting period allows the juices to settle and redistribute. Slice it too soon and those juices will gush out onto the cutting board when you slice the meat and you lose the extra-juicy flavor.
Speaking of slicing, flank steak has a pronounced grain – you can see the muscle fibers all going in one direction. To serve, cut across the grain at an angle to achieve the most tender results — the thinner the better. Even so, flank steak will never melt in your mouth the way filet mignon will, but it has a hearty, beefy flavor that can’t be beat.
MAKING THE SALSA
When oranges are in season, pick out several different varieties, such as navel, cara cara and blood oranges. They look pretty mixed together and also give you the opportunity to taste and compare flavors.
Queso fresco is a mild Mexican cheese available in the cheese section of most major grocery stores with a good selection of Hispanic ingredients. You’ll also find it at cheese counters or Mexican markets.
If you can’t find queso fresco, feta makes a fine substitute. Feta is slightly saltier and sharper than mild queso fresco, but still adds plenty of zest to the salsa.
Mix the oranges with lots of cilantro, then sprinkle the cheese and avocado over top. This simple salsa transforms the steak into a real standout with a Mexican flair.
SERVING IT UP!
Once cooked and sliced, arrange the steak on a platter and top with the salsa. Sprinkle it with more cilantro and crumbled cheese, and dot the platter with the sliced avocado. Let the fiesta begin!
Whether you cook this steak on the stovetop or grill it outside when the weather permits, it’s a crowd pleaser. In addition, the steak can be served warm or cold, so you can’t beat it as a make-ahead dish for a party.