Original story by Chow Food Team, updated by Miki Kawasaki
You'd think that once our prehistoric ancestors figured out that meat + fire = good, the logistics for cooking a steak would have been soon to follow. Heck, somebody, anybody, down the line could have come up with a definitive answer on the subject. This never happened, however. The debate over the best way of cooking beef to temperature and getting a nice, crusty sear is as heated as ever, and there are plenty of exhaustive explanations to back each side up. Steak ranks high on the list of things that seem so fundamental yet are improbably difficult to agree upon, right up there with world peace and Sunday brunch. But even if we can't come to a conclusion about simple matters of meat, we can at least try to hit upon a few basic truths. Steak doesn't have be a science. For most of us, it should suffice to know it as something intuitive, even if it doesn't come out perfect to the millimeter every time.
A few things first: although you can feel free to give this method a whirl on other cuts, it's especially suited to flank for a few reasons. First, flank steak has a fairly coarse grain, comprised of distinct bands of muscle that run parallel to the length of the steak. There's enough space in between these lines to hold a marinade, which you're not going to get so much with finer-grained pieces. Second, flank steaks are on the thin side, so they need higher, direct heat in order to quickly develop a brown crust before they overcook. Lastly, the flank comes from the hard-working area around the abdomen. On the plate, this can translate to some tough, chewy muscle strands. The last step, in which you carve the fibers up against the grain, helps break them down into smaller, workable pieces—your diners will thank you for it.
Ready? Let's check out the steps.
You will need:
- a bowl
- a knife
- a plate
- a frying pan
- a fork or tongs
- Worcestershire sauce
- your favorite mustard
- oil (olive, canola, etc.)
- salt and pepper
- one flank steak (one to two pounds)
- Make a marinade by mixing equal parts Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and oil in a bowl (these ingredients will add that traditional steakhouse-y flavor). Add a generous pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper—it's OK to overdo it a bit, since a good deal of the seasoning will be lost along the way.
- Cut the flank steak in half against the grain (that is, make your cuts perpendicular to the striated lines you see in the meat), so it will fit on the plate one half on top of the other. Pour the marinade over both pieces, rubbing it in with your fingers on all sides. Let the steak sit uncovered at room temperature for 20 minutes.
- Heat your frying pan over medium-high heat until hot, add a drizzle of oil, and heat until the oil shimmers (you want it just on the verge of smoking). Brush off the excess marinade from one of the steak halves and add it to your pan (it shouldn't be particularly wet when it goes in, otherwise the searing process will get slowed down).
- Now it's time to think about flipping. Some chefs will tell you to flip your steaks frequently for an even cook, others will give you a slap on the wrist if you dare flip it more than once (think about the crust!). Let's just take it easy here and go for the latter. Cook your steak without budging it or moving it around, three to four minutes per side for medium rare, depending on how thick your steak is. It should be nicely browned. Flip the steak with a fork or tongs and cook the other side just the same. Feel free to check the internal temperature at this stage, if you have a thermometer. Medium rare is around 125°F to 130°F.
- Remove the steak from the pan and transfer it to a surface to rest. Don't even think about carving right away. All those lovely juices inside need some time to settle, otherwise they will come gushing out and your steak will be sad and dry. I mean it—put down that knife! Let it sit for about 10 minutes (you can cook the other half while you're waiting). Once it's rested and the internal temperature has come down a few degrees, slice it thinly across the grain, ideally into strips no more than 1/2 inch thick (this will make it easier to chew). Season with salt and pepper. Repeat with the other half once it's fully rested.
Got this technique down pat? Here are a few other recipes to test it out on:
Bourbon-Marinated Flank Steak
For a boozy, pumped up variation, try this whiskey-based marinade. Get our Bourbon-Marinated Flank Steak recipe.
Balsamic-Marinated Grilled Flank Steak with Bell Pepper Relish
This grilling recipe can be adapted for the indoors by using the above method for the steak and charring the peppers under a broiler or over a stove top gas flame. Get our Balsamic-Marinated Grilled Flank Steak with Bell Pepper Relish recipe.
Flank Steak and Arugula Salad
Steak salads have the best of both worlds: fresh veggies to keep things light and simple and red-blooded meat to satisfy your inner carnivore. Get our Flank Steak and Arugula Salad recipe.
This article was originally published on December 15, 2008.