Monday, June 1, 2009

Flankly, I like steak

Vegetarians, read no least not today's post.

In general, I try to subscribe to Michael Pollan's seven-word manifesto ("Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."), but mostly means mostly, not exclusively. And A&K were coming over for dinner last week! K, and to a lesser extent B, do NOT subscribe to Pollanesque philosophy, at least at dinnertime. It's all about protein, preferably of the flesh variety, at the end of the day, despite A's and my entreaties and references to this study in Archives from March, which showed an increase in the rates of cancer, heart disease, and overall death in people who ate more meat. (This article relies on an absolutely tremendous amount of research and details, with over 500,000 participants. For perspective, my current research project, admittedly about a totally different and rarer topic, involves several hundred patients!)

In terms of menu planning, I try to limit red meat to once or twice a week, and the dinner with A&K seemed like a good opportunity to eat it. Also, it was a weeknight, so I wanted to make a quick meal. Marinated flank steak quickly edged its way to the top of the menu planning choices. Flank steak is a lean cut of beef, corresponding to the rectus abdominis in the human musculature. Because it's lean, flank steak is cheap, which can be important in these tight economic times; flavorful, which is important at all times; and a little tough, which can be mitigated with marinating to tenderize the meat, as well as slicing the cooked meat diagonally against the grain.

Flank steak with buttered white rice and some green vegetable was one of my favorite meals as a child. As is often the case in this blog and my life (I guess because the blog is a microcosm of my life in many ways), some of my favorite recipes as an adult are inherited from my mother and my childhood. Which brings me to answer a question that a number of people have asked me over the years, and again more recently now that I've started the blog. How did I learn how to cook?

I was indoctrinated into the kitchen as a child. I have several shelves of cookbooks now, and I started collecting them when I was young. Here is a picture of the breakfront we have next to the dining table, with several shelves worth of cookbooks (though not yet a hundred and one). Some of my favorites are pictured prominently, and you can see our Tastebook on the bottom right that S and my brother E gave to us for Christmas.

As I child, I made simple recipes from my Anne of Green Gables Cookbook that I've already mentioned, and I had another literary cookbook based on Alice in Wonderland (with delicious tarts from the Knave of Hearts!). And speaking of a different Alice, I also had Fanny at Chez Panisse. From an early age, I kept myself busy helping in the kitchen. Sometimes I helped measure or stir, but I think my major job was tasting and smiling appreciatively.

In contrast, this is how B amused himself as a child.

Old habits die hard. As a grown-up, B still likes to ride his bike, usually in a more conventional fashion (he's on two cycling teams), and, as you can tell, I still like to cook. I spent a lot of time with my mom in the kitchen growing up, but it's impossible to learn cooking by osmosis. I experimented with baking in junior high and high school, but it wasn't until my senior year that I learned how to cook a real dinner-worthy meal. I was forced to! Not knowing where I was going to go to college, but rightly suspecting that I would end up three thousand miles away from home, my mom was worried that I would starve to death if I didn't know how to cook. Unfortunately, I ended up living in dorm rooms for four years, never having a proper kitchen, but she and I didn't know that would be the case at the time.

And so, every Monday night my senior year, regardless of how much homework I had or how late cross-country practice went, I was responsible for going to the store, purchasing ingredients for dinner, and making a real meal for the family. Sometimes I tried new recipes, but mostly I learned how to make the old favorites that had dominated my childhood. I made lots of kinds of pasta, and I grilled fish, and baked enchiladas, and, of course, marinated flank steak.

Marinating is a weeknight cook's friend, though it does take forethought. And when the marinade includes slightly Asian flavors (soy sauce and ginger), it becomes a weeknight cook's very best friend. Just mix all the ingredients together in a plastic Ziploc and place in the fridge for at least two and up to twenty-four hours, turning the bag and its contents occasionally if you get the chance. Because we live in a cold city and because it's hard to get to our outdoor barbeque the way our apartment is laid out, we usually make this flank steak indoors on our Le Creuset grill pan, and you can also broil it in the oven, but it's best on a real grill.

After a long day at work (or a long bike ride, in B's case), it's nice to have an old standby that only takes fifteen minutes to cook. It's also nice when it's meat, so that K will think it counts as a real meal. Enjoy!

Flank Steak
Edited to add: My dad informed me in July 2009 that he and my mom modified the "Sirloin Teriyaki" skewers from Craig Claiborne's NYT cookbook (1961) to make the now heirloom-status family recipe that follows.

Serves 4, generously
Time: 20 min active, at least 2 1/2 hours total (including marinating time)

1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 t. dried ginger
1 T. sugar
1 c. soy sauce
1/4 c. dry sherry, such as amontillado (Doesn't this make you think of Edgar Allen Poe?)
1 flank steak, usually 1 1/2 lbs

Mix onion, garlic, ginger, sugar, soy sauce, and sherry in a gallon-size Ziploc bag. Unroll meat and immerse in bag. Marinate for two to twenty-four hours in the fridge. Drain and grill on low for 10 minutes; flip and grill approximately five more minutes for medium rare to medium. Slice on the bias.


  1. Your readers should also know we were treated to the very delicious tomato tart, broccoli, lemonade, and three scrumptious ice cream flavors!

  2. Equally matched by the three scrumptious ice cream flavors YOU offered us last week!

  3. Ah, a classic MB. Erin has mastered this one.