Which type of steak is best for marinating?
As any true lover of steaks will tell you, marinating your meat is a particularly good way to crank the flavor volume right up. It works great when cooking on a barbecue, where the extra smokiness adds even more amazing flavor but is equally beneficial when grilling or pan-frying too.
And because the acidity of a good marinade serves to break down the fibers of the meat, traditionally tough-but-tasty cuts can be used. A steak which is normally a little chewy can be transformed by the marinating process into tender, succulent meat that cuts like butter. And often these steaks are cheaper too — win-win!
Here are some of the cuts that are traditionally great for marinating:
Flank is a relatively flat, long cut with a distinctive, very obvious grain running through the meat. It is taken from the buttock muscles, or sometimes the abdominals, of the cow.
The fat and connective tissue present in flank makes it very flavorful but does mean it can be a little chewy if cooked incorrectly. This strong flavor and tendency to toughen up in some circumstances make flank an excellent candidate for marinating.
Flank is common in South America, particularly Colombia, where it is known as sobrebarriga (“over the belly”). It is also very common to see flank used in Asian cuisine, either braised as part of light Vietnamese soup, in a delicious Thai curry or as the succulent strips in a briskly-cooked stir-fry.
With this in mind, why not try a marinade incorporating dark soy sauce, garlic, scallions, fresh ginger and rice vinegar for a tangy, tender treat. After searing quickly in a pan, slice the steak into strips across the grain for maximum tenderness.
Practically unheard of in much of the steak-eating countries of the world, Picanha, sometimes called rump cap, rump cover or top sirloin cap, is another cut that is immensely popular in South America, with beef-loving Brazilians being particular fans.
This cut is found on the rump of the animal, and in much of the rest of the world, including the U.S., is often simply divided into other cuts from around that area.
Brazilians leave the thick layer of fat attached to the cut until after cooking, which usually takes places over a sizzling barbecue, giving the meat a deep, smoky flavor that perfectly compliments the often spicy marinade.
In this case then, why not go the south American route, with fresh, zingy lime juice, olive oil, pungent garlic and fragrant cilantro? The delicious aroma when this hits the barbecue will be irresistible.
Called skirt in the UK or onglet in continental Europe, this steak is very rich in flavor, but if care is taken when cooking, can also be genuinely tender too.
In days past, hanger was often kept back and not sold with the other steaks, earning it the nickname “butcher’s steak” — the cut most favored by the butchers themselves. It is found “hanging” from the diaphragm of the animal, where it develops its characteristic hint of offal flavor from its closeness to the kidneys and liver.
Hanger is well known across Europe in restaurant circles, especially within the bistros of France, where it is the cut most used for the classic dish steak-frites.
It is also held in very high regard in Mexican cooking. The arrachera steak, as it is known there, is normally marinated, quickly grilled, and then sliced into strips against the grain. Fresh salsa, guacamole, and tacos complete the meal.
Hanger steak is big on flavor, so can handle an equally powerful marinade.
Try starting with a dark lager like a rich, malty bock, then add oil, a dollop of piquant Dijon mustard, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. This deep, strong mixture will enhance the natural flavor of the beef, and, once cooked, will leave it soft and succulent.
So the next time you’re on the lookout for steak, why not ask the butcher for one of these lesser known varieties? With the right treatment — a fantastic marinade coupled with being cooked to perfection — will turn a cheaper, overlooked steak into a melt-in-the-mouth taste sensation.
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