I had to call on my friend Jim McCartt, manager of the meat department at Matherne’s Supermarket on Bluebonnet Boulevard, this week to ask about skirt and flank steak. Jokingly, he asked if it was concerning a mini or full-length skirt.
I needed a quick Beef 101 lesson as to where these cuts come from on a cow and why these alternative cuts are so popular now.
He told me, “Butchers used to have trouble selling meat cut from the breast or flank areas. They ended up as cube steaks, stew meat or in ground meat.” Now, names like skirt (Philadelphia), flat-iron, hanger and flank are appearing on menus in high-end restaurants. Innovative chefs are doing fancy marinating and injecting and delighting their patrons with delicious, thin slices of these flavorful parts.
If it’s talked about in restaurants, we want to re-create it at home. There are grill enthusiasts who are always up for challenges and no doubt they can grill up any of these to perfection. These beef cuts — skirt and flank steak — technically are not steak, but a belly muscle or cut from the diaphragm area. There’s less of these muscles on an animal than, say, sirloin steaks where you get more nice cuts or a better ratio per side of beef. In essence, it’s a matter of supply and demand. So, that’s why the cost of these now-popular cuts of meat, but once-lesser cuts, is right up there with more expensive meat.
There are serious “grillers” who prefer skirt over flank and vice versa. There’s lots of marbling and a strong grain running through both, so the look and texture is similar. All of these steaks benefit from marinating and the secret to successful cooking is obviously cook it quickly on very high heat just to medium-rare, let it rest 5 to 10 minutes and cut it across the grain. You have to serve this rare to medium-rare; otherwise, it’s dry and very tough.
Erin Van der Bellen, daughter of my friend Sylvia Spaht, served a grilled skirt steak while Spaht was visiting her in Maryland and Spaht thought it was exceptional. That’s what started my hunt for skirt steak. I had to settle for a flank because they were out of skirt steak, and I was short on time to go anywhere else. I barely had enough time to marinate and grill the flank steak before the photographer came.
Tucked in the background of the photograph is a top sirloin, which is less expensive than the skirt and flank. It, too, can be marinated and cooked the same way. Top sirloins make good fajitas and shish kebabs, and they’re good for cooking with gravies. You have a little more flexibility with sirloin than with the other cuts that you have to serve medium-rare.
Re-creating something the restaurants serve is sometimes not easy to do, but if you pay particular attention to time and temperature, you should have no trouble.
Corinne Cook is a columnist for The Advocate. Reach her at email@example.com.