OFF THE BEATEN AISLE: Recipe for balsamic-pepper flank steak with grilled pear and blue cheese
So you think you know steaks? And maybe you do.
But truth is, you probably only really know the particular cuts you buy over and over again. That's good, but there's a world of great beef out there to explore. And many of those cuts (and by the way, butchers are creating new ones all the time) are far more versatile than you think.
You could spend ages learning the different cuts of beef and the various names for each (there isn't nearly as much naming standardization as you would think). But I think it's better to simply pick a cut you haven't often prepared at home and start playing around with it. That's how I learned to love flank steak.
First, the basics. Flank steaks are lean cuts from the rear side of the cow and are characterized by rich, deep beefy flavour and a slightly chewy texture. Traditionally, London broils were made using flank steaks, though today any of the leaner, less tender cuts often are substituted.
Flank steaks are easy to identify by sight because they are flat and have a long, horizontal grain that runs the length of the meat. These steaks are meant to be briefly grilled or broiled to rare or medium-rare, then thinly sliced across the grain. The result is deliciously beefy and substantial.
Flank steaks also love to be marinated. And because they have a heartier texture, they can handle more acidic marinades for longer, even overnight.
When shopping for flank steaks, note that some grocers will label them "London broil." Just note that they also sometimes label other cuts as "London broil," too. So when in doubt, it's best to ask.
For the weeknight home cook, flank steaks are the perfect cut. They can be tossed with a marinade the night before and left in the refrigerator until dinner. And they cook in just minutes on the grill or under the broiler. As with all meat, flank steak should rest for 5 to 10 minutes after cooking before slicing to let the juices redistribute.
For more ideas for using flank steak, check out the Off the Beaten Aisle column over on Food Network: http://bit.ly/Ov6NtC
Balsamic-Pepper Flank Steak with Grilled Pears and Blue Cheese
For extra flavour, the marinade can be mixed with beef broth, then boiled and reduced until thick (while the steaks cook), then drizzled over the finished dish.
Start to finish: 30 minutes (plus marinating)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 1/2 pounds flank steak
2 pears, peeled, halved and cored
Crumbled blue cheese, for topping
In a blender, combine the vinegar, garlic, peppercorns and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt. Blend for 20 seconds, then transfer to a wide, shallow bowl.
Add the steak to the marinade, turning to coat. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
When ready to cook, heat the broiler with a rack 6 inches from the heat. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, then coat it lightly with cooking spray.
Cut each pear half into 4 slices, then arrange them on one half of the prepared baking sheet.
Remove the steak from the marinade and set it on the other half of the sheet. Broil everything for 5 minutes, then use tongs to flip the steak and pears. Broil for another 5 minutes for medium-rare.
Let the steaks rest for 10 minutes, then cut into thin slices against the grain. Divide the slices between 4 serving plates, then top each with pear slices.
Top each serving with a bit of crumbled blue cheese.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 360 calories; 110 calories from fat (30 per cent of total calories); 12 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 60 mg cholesterol; 22 g carbohydrate; 39 g protein; 4 g fiber; 700 mg sodium.
J.M. Hirsch is the national food editor for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch.