There are three beef steaks that stand out as being unique. While most great steaks come from the loin and the rib, these steaks come from other regions and are not cut from thick roast sections. These three great steaks are the Flank, the Skirt and the Hanger. They are not sliced by the butcher, they are the shape and size they are. These three are full of flavor, but can be very tough, so they need to be marinated and properly cooked. And I am talking about some serious marinades here. Good strong marinades that these steaks are soaking in for a good long time. Before we get into the details of preparing these steaks, we'll look at them individually.
Of these three steaks the Hanger Steak is probably the least known. In part this is because this steak finds its way into restaurants and butcher's barbecues more than it does the display case. You will probably have to ask for this steak. The hanger steak, also known as the butcher's steak or hanging tenderloin, is a thick, tough, portion of the diaphragm. Of these three steaks this is probably the least desirable. It doesn't tend to have the same flavor as the other two and can be just too tough for even the best marinade to deal with. However, Hanger Steaks have become increasingly popular in many restaurants, particularly French Bistros. This is due to the unique flavor. Prepared right, this is a great steak.
The Skirt Steak is probably the best of the three. The skirt has more fat and therefore more flavor and grills up juicier. This steak is of course the original steak of Fajitas and because of that tends to disappear quickly as it gets bought up by restaurants. The skirt steak is however, worth the search. Find a good butcher and he’ll set you up. With skirt steaks you want to remove any traces of the membrane that surrounds it. Once cooked this will be too tough to get through.
The Flank Steak is actually one of my personal favorites. While it is leaner than the skirt it has great flavor and a fantastic coarse texture that you just don’t find in other cuts. The Flank steak is flat and great for rolling with stuffing. It grills like a dream. Flank steak is a common meat used in Fajitas and Carne Asada and, of course, it is the meat of a true London Broil.
So now you know what you are dealing with. So how to you deal with it? Like I said these steaks need to be marinated in a strong marinade for a good length of time. When I say a strong marinade I mean it needs to have a good source of acid. You get the acid from vinegars or fruit juices. Think of good Fajitas, loaded with lime flavor. Well that lime flavor comes from the lime based marinade used to make the meat tender. Citrus juices in particular have a strong acid that breaks down meat tenderizing it. You should plan on marinating these steaks for a good six hours if not overnight. Now don’t be too zealous or you’ll end up with beef mush. The marinade needs to tenderize not devour.
These three steaks were made for grilling. Any other way of preparing them that doesn’t require very long roasting times will make them tough and cook out all the flavor. You want to grill these steaks hot and fast. You don’t want to grill these steaks too long. If you like your steak well done choose a different steak. These cuts need to get out of the fire about as fast as you grill them. Medium is pushing the limits. Medium rare is perfect.
Once you have your Flat Steak grilled to perfection, get it off the grill, allow it to rest for about five minutes and carve. Carve? Yes, these steaks need to be properly cut before serving. Carve flat steaks across the grain to make them even more tender to eat and serve them up with practically anything. These steaks work for so many dishes it would take all day just to read through the list.
A final word of warning. While these are some of the best tasting cuts you can buy they tend to be very expensive. In the hands of a really good cook, the kind you find working at fine restaurants these steaks are flavorful and tender, so they are popular. This of course drives up the price. Also, while a cow can produce a good supply of all those other steaks (rib eye, New York Strip, Fillet Mignon) you get only one of each of these steaks so the supply isn’t great to start with. Call around, find a good butcher (aka Best Friend) and be ready to pay a little more than you normally would. These are great steaks and well worth the price.