I hopped off the organic produce bandwagon quite a while ago. I was never sold on the benefits of organic fruits and vegetables especially since it is such an ambiguous and arbitrary process. Not only are the parameters on qualifying organic produce different in Canada and the U.S., but there simply is no standardized process anywhere. What makes one product organic, may not make another product organic. Instead, I have opted in spending my money on what is fresh and local.
Meat, on the other hand, is a different story. Here is one area where I have no problem spending a little extra cash in order to get a superior product. And thanks to my local butcher, VG Meats I get local, responsibly raised meat. The pièce de résistance at VG’s is their beef. These happy, grass-fed cows graze in pastures and are raised, butchered and processed all by the Van Groningen family. The beef is then dry aged for maximum flavour and tenderness, lending to the superior qualities any shopper at VG’s is familiar with. My husband and I rave about VG to all of our family and friends and whenever we do, my husband likes to tell they story of when he bought a $22 New York strip for a stir fry! After he selected the cut and proceeded to pay, he knew he probably didn’t pick the right one for a simple stir fry. Nevertheless, he brought it home, I cooked the stir fry and let’s just say he still raves about it to this very day. It was the most flavourful, tender and juicy cut you can imagine and the most satisfying stir fry we ever ate.
VG are also purveyors of pork, chicken and carry lamb and veal when it’s available from their farms. On their gigantic price board that includes all of their meats, lamb and veal is labelled as, “our farmers are growing their stock,” a good sign when it comes to local meats – if it’s not available locally at that time of year, then it’s not available at their store either. They also carry in-house, specialty cured meats and sausages, farm fresh eggs and gourmet food products such as the highly acclaimed Stirling Butter, labeled as the best butter in Canada by Toronto Life Magazine and The Globe and Mail, due to its high fat content and likeness to European varieties. Another favourite product that VG carries is Kolzik’s mustard. A Canadian company dedicated solely to making quite possibly the best mustards out there. If you’ve ever been through the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto, walked past their shop and sampled their selection, you know what I’m talking about. From XXX Hot to my favourite, Horseradish mustard, the options are endless.
Quite possibly the best part of the shopping experience at VG are the wide range of specialty cuts that are available. From tomahawk steaks, thick rib eye steaks still attached to the rib that is trimmed of any remaining meat, leaving behind something that resembles a giant lamb chop, to flat-iron steaks, skirt steaks, hanger steaks brisket and my favourite, flank steaks. If by any chance they don’t have the particular cut you’re looking for, they are more than happy to get it for you, as I have learned on a few occasions. Needless to say, the service is impeccable.
Back to my favourite cut and the focus of today’s post – the flank steak. This cut is my favourite for its versatility, flavour and economic factor. It’s a cheap piece of meat and it can feed a lot of people. Since it’s cheap for its size and weight, the first thing that should pop in your mind is that it needs a little special attention in its preparation. When you’re selecting steaks, or any cuts of beef for that matter, you can use the price as a gauge on how it should be prepared. The cheaper the cut like the flank, chuck, brisket, the more TLC it needs, i.e. marinating, slow and low cooking times, or short and fast cooking times like the flank requires – fans of well done steak should probably stay away from the flank. More expensive cuts require a lot less fiddling around and actually, the more you fuss the more you take a way from the natural flavour and tenderness of the meat, so it’s best to leave these cuts alone and flavour with ample seasoning, some oil, garlic and herbs, if you like.
Flank steaks are often called marinating steaks because they benefit from a good bath in a flavorful marinades; some olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, fresh chilis are great. You can also slather on spicy and pungent rub, which is what I did here. Most of the time when we’re grilling, I prepare the meat, seasoning and marinating it accordingly, and my husband will do the grilling. When I marinate the meat, he often complains about flare-ups from the oil dripping down into the flames – of course he doesn’t let some of it drain away before throwing it on the grill. So to appease him and keep him helping me with the coking process – which is a huge effort, except when it has to do with grilling – I have been flavouring most of my meats with rubs. Lots of flavour with no flare-ups! The rub I use for this recipe, a blend of cumin, coriander, chili, cinnamon and oregano adds a huge flavour boost to the outside of the steak, but doesn’t cover up the beefiness that still shines through the centre of the steak.
What makes this steak truly sing is a good drizzle of chimichurri over the charred meat. Chimichurri is probably my favourite grilling condiment. It’s a sauce that originates in Argentina and being from the land that consumes the most beef in the world (and I bet you thought it was the U.S. – didn’t you?) you can bet that the Argentineans know how to serve up their beef! This stuff is amazing on just about anything, from grilled fish to chicken to vegetables; it freshens up and imparts such a fantastic punch of flavour to anything it dresses. It’s spicy, acidic, crisp and bold and when mixed with the robust flavours in the rub, it’s a flavour explosion in your mouth!
Unfortunately there isn’t a VG Meats in every city out there (locations) but there are many good butchers all over and these butchers more often than not carry superior products and cuts. If you haven’t tried flank steak in the past, give it a try real soon. It’s great in fajitas, sandwiches, salads, pastas, really anywhere; all it takes is a little imagination and ingenuity.
Rubbed Argentinean-Style Flank Steak with Chimichurri
The most important thing to remember when grilling flank steak is not to overcook it. Medium- rare to medium is as far as you should go; anything over will make for a tough steak. Another good tip to remember is to slice the meat on a bias (tilt your knife on a 45 degree angle). This will give you wider slices which just looks a lot nicer. Finally, cut the steak against the grain (for a flank steak that usually means, cut on the narrower end). Doing this ensures a more tender slice of meat, as you are making the muscle fibres shorter rather than at its full length if you were to slice with the grain.
Adapted from “Latin-Style Flank Steak”, Fine Cooking and “Mixed Grill with Chimichurri”, The Food Matters Cookbook, Mark Bittman
Serves 4 to 6
2 one pound flank steaks or 1 two-pound steak
2 Tablespoons chili powder
1 and 1/2 Tablespoons ground cumin
1 Tablespoon ground coriander
1-1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
2 cups fresh parsley
Salt and pepper
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon chile flakes
Mix all of the spices (except the salt) in a small bowl. Coat steaks in a thin film of oil and rub the spice mixture onto both sides of the steak. Set steak aside for half an hour at room temperature.
Meanwhile prepare the chimichurri. In a food processor, combine parsley, garlic, salt and pepper and 1/4 cup of olive oil and pulse for 10 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the vessel and add the vinegar and chile flakes. While the food processor is running, slowly pour in the remaining olive oil and process until smooth. Taste and correct seasoning.
Heat a gas grill to medium high (you should be able to hold your hand 2 inches above the grate for 3 to 4 seconds). Sprinkle both sides of the steak with salt. If your grill has a hot spot, position the thicker end of the flank steak nearer the hottest part of the fire. Grill until medium rare, about 4 to 5 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the steak. If using an instant-read thermometer, the temperature should read 130 to 140 degrees farenheit at the thickest point of the steak.
Transfer the steak to a cutting board and let it rest for 3 to 5 min. Slice across the grain and drizzle with some of the chimichurri. Serve the steak accompanied with the chimichurri.