When you’re young and stupid and starting out and you don’t have much money (all accurate descriptors of myself at 22) you generally have two choices in stove-top hardware – thin aluminum or cast iron. I made the wrong choice. I bought aluminum, and then could never figure out why my efforts to reproduce the sautéed chicken breasts in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking burned on the outside while remaining raw in the center. It took a girlfriend from Oklahoma to show me the error of my ways (she also taught me that the “g” in Medaglio d’Oro instant espresso is silent, which ought to give you nine different ideas of just how uncut a diamond in the rough I was).
This week’s offering of salt-seared skirt steak is more in the way of instructions than a recipe. Recipe sounds far too complex for something with three ingredients and only three steps. We appropriated a technique from an article I wrote more than a decade ago about cast iron pans. I’ve always had a soft spot for cast iron. Before Caphalon, before All Clad, before copper disk aluminum-alloy sandwiches, even before Dehillerin, there was cast iron.
And it was cheap. Without much money, with seasoned cast iron you can do real cooking. You can sear, you can fry. And you can
make this recipe follow these instructions.
We replaced the original carnivore-fantasy 20-ounce Porterhouse with skirt steak; and instead of 20 ounces serving two, we now stretch 24 ounces into portions for four. We also reduced the salt. Thin skirt steak requires much less salt than an inch-and-half thick Porterhouse (we found this out the hard way, as you can see from the photos). Feel free to adjust portion size according to the limits of your conscience; you’ll need about 3/4 tablespoon coarse kosher salt per pound of meat.
Jody was at a loss about what to do with a dish that included only three ingredients. To keep her brain from exploding she made steak sauce. If you’ve never tried whipping up steak sauce from scratch, here’s your chance for a shot at glory. You made that? Holy cow! And it’s refrigerator friendly.
Note: Make your garlic press earn its spot in the back of your kitchen tool drawer with the expired lottery tickets and spool of twine you haven’t taken out since last Thanksgiving. Use the press on the garlic and ginger in the steak sauce recipe instead of mincing everything by hand. Assembling the rest of the ingredients is a snap.
Salt-seared skirt steak
Makes 4 servings
- 24 ounces skirt steak, cut into four pieces
- 1 – 2 tablespoons coarse kosher salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- Sprinkle a sparse layer of salt over the surface of a large cast-iron griddle (the side with the smooth surface, not the grill ridges), cast iron skillet or heavy-bottomed sauté pan. Think scattering of stars rather than unbroken layer of new-fallen snow. Heat the griddle over medium heat.
- Pat the steak dry with paper towels. Wait until the grill is hot before adding the meat. The steak will smoke a little as it cooks. This is fine. Don’t touch the meat until it gets a good sear (2 to 3 minutes), then turn and sear on the other side for just a minute or so. Skirt steak can easily overcook, so adjust your times as necessary. Better to err on the underdone side and have to return it to the griddle than to let it cook too long.
- Transfer steak to a wire rack, let it rest for at least 5 minutes. Sprinkle liberally with cracked black pepper. Slice into strips and serve with steak sauce.
Kitchen sink steak sauce
(as in, Everything but the. . .)
Makes a generous pint and half.
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 tablespoons minced ginger
- ½ cup chopped shallots
- 2 cups cold water
- ¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
- 3 whole cloves
- ½ cup dried figs, minced, stems discarded (I used black Mission figs)
- ¼ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes (the simple dry ones, not the kind stored in oil)
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons cider wine vinegar
- ¼ cup pomegranate molasses
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons garum (or Asian fish sauce)
- 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- Heat the oil in a saucepan with the garlic, ginger and shallots over medium-low heat. Cook for 5 minutes. They should start to brown. Add the remaining ingredients. Simmer for 30 minutes.
- Puree in a blender or food processor. You can use the sauce right away, but it tastes better if you give it a few hours in the refrigerator to chill and to allow the flavors to blend.
A cook from Trinidad once told me about dry cooking a steak on salt, but I was skeptical. I assumed the meat would stick to the pan since there was no oil. But then I tried it. Result: other than grilling, this is now my favorite way to cook steak. Putting the salt on the cast iron instead of on the meat seems counter-intuitive, but not only does it work, it gives the steak a distinctive flavor profile. The salt sticks to the steak as a crust and becomes an addition, rather than something that melts into the meat. It makes you sit up and pay attention.
I only use coarse kosher salt for this kind of cooking. Unlike fancy sea salts that are often packed while still moist, coarse kosher salt doesn’t clump; the crystals separate and sprinkle easily, and it provides a little protection between the steak and the pan.
Skirt steak is tasty in its own right, but I wanted to try my hand at a steak sauce. I was reminded of the stuff my kids used to make called “concoctions” — a little of this, a little of that, and keep your fingers crossed that it works. Getting the balance right took a few tries. Another spoonful of vinegar, a couple more pinches of sugar, but eventually it came together. The laundry list of ingredients may seem daunting, but once you have them assembled the sauce practically makes itself.