Tender and flavorful: Grilled Asian flank steak
Dry brining flank steak tenderizes it. Marinating steak in ginger, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, scallions, hot sauce, and more makes it a show-stopping main course.
I use the word flavorful a lot here, I know. Sometimes, I think I should reserve it for flank steak. Before going any further, let me share my own idea of what flavorful means. It’s not a one-note taste bud bomb, like a buffalo wing or a lemon wedge. To me, flavorful means engaging multiple corners of the palate at once, bringing layer after layer of tastes and combining them beautifully. If done right, flavorful means stopping conversation at the dinner table with the first bite. Which is what the flank steak pictured here did on Labor Day.Skip to next paragraph
Terry Boyd is the author of Blue Kitchen, a Chicago-based food blog for home cooks. His simple, eclectic cooking focuses on fresh ingredients, big flavors and a cheerful willingness to borrow ideas and techniques from all over the world. A frequent contributor to the Chicago Sun-Times, his recipes have also appeared on the Bon Appétit and Saveur websites.
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Flank steak makes such feats easy. Not only is it one of the meatiest tasting cuts of beef on its own – it takes well to marinating. It’s usually one of the more affordable cuts, too, which makes me wonder why it isn’t more popular.
Actually, I know why. Flank steak, cut from hardworking abdominal muscles with a pronounced grain of long muscle fibers, has a reputation for being tough. And it can be, if overcooked or carved improperly. But cooked to medium-rare or just barely medium and then sliced thin across the grain, it’s plenty tender. And, well, flavorful.
Still, a recent comment by a reader on an old post about tenderizing notoriously chewy (but also delicious) lamb shoulder chops with kosher salt had me wondering if the same technique would make flank steak even more tender. The technique is called dry brining. Essentially, you coat the meat with a generous layer of coarse kosher salt and let it sit for a while. Then you rinse the salt off. I hear alarm bells going off everywhere right now: “But that will suck all the juices out of the meat!” It does, at first. Then the juices are drawn back into the meat, along with the salt, changing the protein cell structure and tenderizing the steak (or lamb or pork or…).
It also flavors the meat, so don’t add any more salt before cooking – and don't use particularly salty ingredients in your marinade. Also, don’t use table salt for dry brining. It’s too fine, and too much will be absorbed by the meat. You certainly can make this recipe without the dry brining step. Just season the steak with a little salt before putting it on the grill. But it really did make the meat incredibly tender.
The marinade is a mash-up of a number of recipes I’ve seen, plus some of my own ideas. It’s an international mash-up, too, of ingredients that not only cross various Asian boundaries, but find their ways to other continents. One, the wildly (and deservedly) popular Sriracha hot sauce, is actually an American product created in the suburbs of Los Angeles by a Chinese-Vietnamese immigrant, David Tran. For as many big flavors as you’ll see on the ingredients list – and for as fragrant as the marinade is when you’ve mixed it together – the resulting flavor on the grilled steak is pleasantly restrained. It doesn’t overpower the rich meaty flavor of the steak; it just makes it – OK, last time for this post – more flavorful.