Sunday, October 08, 2006
I've always been a fan of low-budget cuts of meats. Big ribeyes or tenderloin filets are great treats every now and again, but they are pricey and best suited (for my pocketbook, at least) for special occasions. Many of my favorite dishes are rooted in creative ways to transform the less expensive cuts of meat into tasty delicacies (Braised short ribs, brisket, coq au vin, and osso buco come immediately to mind). While many of these require hours of long, slow cooking and are therefore not ideal for weekday cooking after a busy work day, I'm always on the look out of new, tasty, affordable cuts of meat.
So enter the flat-iron steak. I first saw this version of steak cropping up at my local Publix supermarket. It looked like a pretty nice cut and, at around four bucks a pound, was very reasonable priced. So I bought one and took it home and made a very passable steak dinner from it. It's now entered my list of regular weeknight dishes which can be made quickly and, at less than 2 dollars a serving, isn't going to break the bank.
But what is a flat-iron steak? As it turns out, it's a rather recent cut, and one with a lot of science behind it. Also called a top blade steak, the flat-iron is a cut taken from the top of the chuck (don't forget your handy cuts of beef chart, available here) and apparently is the result of some intensive research from a team at the University of Nebraska's Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources. Working in collaboration with a team from the University of Florida in a project funded by the National Cattlemen's Beef Assocation (yes, there were many people involved in this work), the Nebraskans systematically studied and characterized over 5,500 muscles in the beef chuck and round, searching for new, tender, and inexpensive cuts that traditional butchers had missed (full story here).
One of the cuts they identified was the flat-iron. Because the top shoulder has a big mass of connective tissue running down the middle of it, it looks tough. But, if you cut against the grain and remove the connective tissue, you are left with two thin filets that are exceptionally tender.
I'm always a little suspicious of food born from the science lab, but the flat-iron doesn't involve chemical concoctions or anything like that. It's just a different way to cut up the chuck. Some butchers claim that the flatiron is second only to the tenderloin in overall tenderness. I'm not sure how to verify that, but I cook my flat-iron steaks in the same way I do tenderloin filets, and they always come out great. Below is my standard stove-top version:
Pan-Seared Flat-Iron Steak with Red Wine & Shallot Reduction
2 flat-iron steaks (about 4 to 6 oz each)
coarse kosher salt & pepper
1 shallot, peeled & chopped
2 T parsley, chopped
1/2 cup red wine
1T olive oil
Heat a frying pan over medium high heat. When it's hot, add the olive oil. Season the steaks well with salt and pepper and add to pan. Cook on both sides till outsides are brown and crispy--about 3 minutes per side for rare, longer for more doneness.
When steaks are done, remove to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Return pan to heat and add butter. Once it is melted, add the parsley and shallots (the smell of the shallots hitting the pan is one of my favorites) and cook until translucent. Turn heat to high, add red wine, and deglaze the pan, stirring with a wooden spoon to get up all the brown bits. Let the red wine reduce till it's a thick sauce; I usually uncover the steaks a pour any of the remaining meat juices into the frying pan, too.
Put the steak on a plate, pour the reduce sauce over the top, and serve.
I usually serve this with mashed potatoes and either green beans or a salad. From start to finish I can do that meal in less than 45 minutes, with the steak taking only 15 or so, so it's perfect for a weeknight.
Posted at Sunday, October 08, 2006
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