Flank, skirt and hanger steak
Flank, skirt and hanger steaks are flavorful, coarse-grained cuts of meat that are great for grilling, pan frying, wok cooking and other dry heat cooking methods. Never stew these meats! Flank and skirt steak are often used in Mexican, Southwestern and Asian cuisines. Hanger steak, is used in French brasserie cooking, most commonly steak & frites, as well in Brazilian and Spanish cuisine.
Skirt steak comes in long thin strips and is very flavorful due to its higher fat content. It is great to use in fajitas, carne asada, and beef teriyaki. Skirt steak should always be tenderized with a tenderizing mallet before cooking. Some skirt steak is sold pre-tenderized. Skirt steak should also be marinated in acid and olive oil for a few hours to overnight to increase tenderness. Costco, by the way, sells a great skirt steak that is perfect for carne asada, fajitas or beef teriyaki.
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Flank steak is leaner than skirt, due to its lower fat content. Flank steak also benefits from tenderizing with a mallet and marinating in citrus and olive oil for a few hours to overnight.
Hanger steak, known as "onglet" in France, is relatively new to the US market, but has recently seen a big increase in demand. It is harder to find, partially because there is only one hanger steak per cow. You may have to go to a butcher to find it.
A hanger steak is typically 1 to 1.5 pounds. There is a tendon that runs through the middle of the steak. Ask your butcher to remove it for you. This will leave you with two long thin steaks, one slightly thicker than the other.
Unlike flank and skirt steak, hanger steak does not require an acid marinade to tenderize, but benefits from marinating in a little olive oil and herbs. Rub the steak with oil, garlic and chopped herbs, wrap in plastic wrap and let it set in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. I like to pan sear and finish in the oven.
How to achieve tenderness with these grainy cuts of meat
It is particularly important to tenderize skirt steak, but you can also tenderize flank or hanger steak. Use a tenderizing mallet or the bottom of a pan. Briefly pound the steaks on one side, turn them over and pound again.
Skirt and flank steak benefit from an acid and oil marinade, such as citrus or vinegar. The acid helps break down the connective tissue. Olive oil is the best choice of oils for marinating meat. The olive oil helps hold in moisture when grilling. Marinade for a few hours or over night.
Cook only to medium rare on dry heat
These tougher cuts of meat should be quickly dry-cooked in a pan, wok or on a grill. All three cuts should be cooked to medium rare. If you cook them longer they will be dry and tough, and if you under cook them, they will be chewy and inedible. Cooking time depends on the thickness of the steak. Thin tenderized skirt cooks very quickly with just a couple minutes on each side. Thicker flank and hanger steaks takes a little longer. The one exception to cooking these cuts of meat over dry heat is sous vide, or water bath preparation. We'll save that for another post. Mostly because I haven't figured out sous vide yet! But always good to have something new to learn.
Always let your meat rest 10 minutes before slicing. This helps the steak absorb its juices. If you cut into the steak too soon, the juices spill out and you are left with a dry piece of meat. Even piercing with a fork when you flip the meat will cause it to lose juices. Flipping hot meat is what tongs were invented for.
All three of these cuts of meat are very grainy. When slicing, it is important to cut through the grain by doing three things:
- Slice perpendicular to the grain.
- Cut down at an angle, and not straight down to your cutting board. This way you cut across the most fibers, which helps tenderize.
- Slice thinly.