"Cook" Adam gets Carnivorous.

In my last post, I hope I made it perfectly clear that I am a cook and not a Chef. As such, I know very little about the anatomy of my cuts of meat. This is exacerbated by the fact that I learned to cook in a Fish House, where the biology of the main course is quite simple. At one end of the fish is the head (not usually served). At the other end is the tail (served to those living on the wrong side the Washington/Idaho border). In between the head and tail lies what I call the “food.” With beef, pork, and poultry, the anatomy lesson becomes much more complicated. I'm not exactly sure where flank steak comes from, “flank” being a pretty non-specific term. I think it comes from somewhere near the “angus”, but don’t quote me on that.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that (from what I know), flank “steak” is actually flank “filet.” The difference is subtle but crucial if you want to improve your coefficient of food snobbery. It all depends on the orientation of the “grain” of the meat. Let me break it down. A steak is:

For a butcher - A piece of meat where the cut is made across the grain.

For a cook - A piece of meat that is seared with the grain perpendicular to the cooking surface.

For a consumer - A piece of meat served with the grain perpendicular to the surface of the dish.

For a biochemist - A sample of animal tissue excised from the specimen by severing peptide bonds rather than by separating muscle fiber from bone.

Okay, that last one was pretty gross, but you get the idea. In any case, my flank steak was cooked like a filet, then cut into small steaks and served. Enough with the jargon, this is how I actually cooked the damn thing…

I unrolled the raw “flank filet” and placed it on a cutting board (note: I recommend reserving a cutting board solely for meat and fish). I cut off the fatty pieces that Shock the Bourgeois is likely to stick up her nose at. Then I applied Rule # 1 for preparing any kind of meat: Season Early, Season Often.

In this day and age, there is one household item that is incredibly cheap considering how much it adds to quality of life. That item is salt (gasoline, alcohol and toilet paper are close behind, no pun intended). There are ancient salt mines in Austria (see Saltzburg, home of the Von Trapp family singers) that provided seasoning for nearly all of Stone Age Europe. The earliest artifacts of Celtic civilization are found at these sites, including evidence of copper smelting and rudimentary cookware. So you see, salt is the key to our whole civilization.

It amazes me how often people (professional cooks or just regular folks) under-salt their food. I know the old saying, “You can always add more, but you can’t take it away.” But seriously, nine times out of ten I find myself reaching for the salt shaker at the dinner table. Be civilized: Season Early, Season Often.

I sprinkled generous amounts of sea salt, cracked pepper, fresh rosemary, and lemon juice on both sides of my flank filet before grilling.

The next step was to prepare my comically tiny Hibachi grill. Here I made my big mistake. Flank filet is pretty thin for its overall size (for the nerds: large surface area to volume ratio). I intended to char the outside of the filet quickly while keeping the inside rare. Then I planned on slicing the filet into thin steaks, seasoning again, crusting with blue cheese and finishing the cooking process in the oven. Unfortunately, my grill was not hot enough, and by the time the meat was cooked on both sides... the middle was cooked as well.

Here I am, grilling caveman style.

I re-seasoned and tried to melt the cheese quickly, but the damage was done. The flavor was incredible, but we had to add a couple extra chews to the chew-chew-swallow routine. Learn from my mistakes!

Tasty, but a bit tough.

Lesson 1Cook with your hands, not with your eyes. There was a point in time when I should have FELT my filet overcooking, taken it off the grill and added more coals to increase the temperature. Instead, I watched it, and it looked done long after it was actually done.

Lesson 2Overcooked meat is best served cold. Most of the moisture comes from fat, and if you drop the temperature of the meat below the melting point of the fat, none of the juices will run off and be lost. In a moment of brilliance, I put half of my flank filet in the fridge immediately. Shock the Bourgeois and I enjoyed PERFECT flank steak sandwiches the next day.

Lesson 3Cut flank steaks very thin. If you look at the pictures, you will see that I hastily sliced thick dorns of flank steak (a dorn being a steak cut from a filet. I know, the BS never ends). The worst thing you can do with overcooked meat is to cut it thick. I should have performed what is known as a sashimi cut, thinly slicing the filet on a diagonal to emphasize the rare part of the meat. For a cook who prides himself on his knife skills, this was a devastating error, an error that Shock the Bourgeois pointed out immediately. Never again, I say. Don’t let this happen to you.

Definitely a feast for the eyes.

I am not a Neanderthal (but I am part Basque, which some say is close enough)- I did prepare a couple of side dishes to go with our heaps of meat. I'll talk about these next time, with an emphasis on tasting your food while cooking in order to balance fundamental flavors.

Said side dishes- carrot puree & roasted red potatoes.

Editor's Note: Sure, the steak might have been a teensy bit tough- but Adam's being way tougher on himself. Should this happen to you, I suggest thin slices and a big smile. Really, nothing puts a worse taste in your mouth than a cook talking smack about his own food (like, "shoot, should I not be enjoying this?"). Mediocre food can still make a memorable meal- just present it elegantly, host gracefully, and serve cocktails.

In our case, we enjoyed a romantic dinner for two three.
Matilda, what are you doing on the table??

Adam will be back on Thursday. In the meantime, we need to come up with a clever name for his column! Any suggestions?

3 Have Spoken.:

Rachel said...

Confession: I like my meat well-done, and I probably would've enjoyed the flank steak just like it was. Anthony Bourdain (who doesn't hide his contempt for well-done-meat eaters, and I am ashamed to think he hates me almost as much as he hates Rachael Ray) advises me not to get well-done because it might be from a crummy cut of beef (or whatever)*, but I just like it better.

Anyway, Adam, I want you to cook for me. Now. nomnomnomnom


Mold Anne Arundel County, MD said...

MMMM it loosk so good!

<3 Lindsay

Anonymous said...

"MMMM it loosk so good!" would be a good name for the column.