Against the Grain (A Lesson in Slicing Skirt Steak)

 

I can remember the first time I ever had skirt steak. It was about 15 years ago and I was in Florida. I was out for dinner with my husband, his sister and her husband. I can’t exactly remember how we found this place. It was a Mexican restaurant called Armadillo. It was in a strip mall in Davie (just south of Fort Lauderdale). When we pulled into the parking lot I had my doubts. It looked like a dump, but the parking lot and restaurant were packed, always a good sign.

I just know my husband is shaking his head incredulously as he reads the above paragraph and thinking to himself, “She remembers a restaurant we ate in 15 years ago and she can’t even remember the details of our wedding day?” Sad but true, I am not a romantic, but food, I have a memory for.

I can even remember what my sister-in-law ordered. “Chile Rellenos”. Chile Rellenos literally means ”stuffed chile.” It is a roasted fresh Poblano pepper stuffed with melted cheese, usually Queso Fresco (a fresh white cheese), covered in corn flour and deep fried. It is typically served with a spicy tomato based sauce. This I remember, as my sister-in-law still talks about the Chile Rellenos she ate there 15 years ago. She also has an excellent food memory. We are great friends! Sadly,  Armadillo restaurant closed about 5 years ago.

I’m not quite sure what prompted me to order the skirt steak, as I had never heard of this cut of meat. But it was part of the Fajita platter and as I watched them bring a sizzling hot black cast iron plate covered in beef to the next table, I knew this is what I had to have. It was like no cut of beef I have ever had before. Rich and beefy, a little bit chewy and so flavourful. I was an instant fan. As soon as I got home I called my butcher and asked him to get it for me. It’s not always available, but I get it whenever I can.

Skirt steak is a long flat cut of beef. It comes from the plate section of the cow. In order to minimize toughness, it is typically grilled very quickly or braised slowly for a very long time. It has very strong graining and the key to tenderness is in slicing correctly. You must slice against the grain. If you slice with the grain you will end up with tough stringy beef. It wasn’t until years later, after I had eaten and enjoyed countless skirt steaks, that I discovered that the “plate” section of the cow is also known as the diaphragm. Had I been given this tidbit of information 15 years ago, I may never have tried this wonderful cut of beef.

The timing of this anatomical knowledge coincided with my taking up the practice of Yoga about 12 years ago. I had been practicing yoga for about 12 weeks and when we got to class one day, Cathie, out teacher said we were going to do a Pranayama practice that day. Simply speaking, Pranayama is the science of breath control. As we lay on the floor we learned different breathing techniques which focused on utilizing both the lungs and the diaphragm. As I lay there, trying to fill my lungs with oxygen, beginning at the base of the diaphragm, I had a hard time not thinking about skirt steak. To this day, over 12 years later, I still get hungry during Pranayama practice.

This week I marinated the skirt steak in cumin, lime, cilantro, jalapenos, garlic and olive oil. Sometimes I make a red wine marinade.

Cumin seeds are toasted and then tossed into the blender with all the other ingredients. The green cilantro marinade smelled like spring.

Just a note to all you cilantro haters out there. I used to be a member of your tribe. Cilantro smelled like wet running shoes to me. But then, one day, magically, I went over to the dark side and became a cilantro lover.  

After a few hours marinating in the fridge I grilled the skirt steak for 3 minutes per side and then let it rest for about 5 minutes before slicing.

The key to great skirt steak, (as well as to a great life)  is to, in the immortal words of Garth Brooks, “Go Against the Grain!”

To print recipe for Mexican Marinated Skirt Steak, here.

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