Skirt Steak with 3 Chimichurris
The Spanish name says it all. Fajita, literally “girdle.” This robust steak from the underbelly of the steer (we call it skirt steak) has everything a carnivore hungers for: a bold flavor and no-nonsense texture you can sink your teeth into at a price you can afford. (Although we have noticed its recent popularity is driving the price up.) Anyone can look like a genius cooking a tender filet mignon. It takes skill—even cojones—to turn out a good skirt steak.
The skirt belongs to a family of cheap, fibrous, big-flavored steaks cut from the steer’s chest (plate) and underbelly. Related cuts include the flank steak, hanger steak, and flap meat. All come from well-exercised muscles (unlike beef tenderloin, for example, which owes its fork-tenderness to the fact that it rarely flexes), so all have well-developed muscle fibers and a correspondingly rich flavor.
There are actually two per animal: one is known as the outside skirt steak, and is preferred by restaurants and savvy meat eaters (NAMP 121C); the other is the inside skirt steak—this is what’s most often available at your local supermarket (NAMP 121D). The former might be slightly more expensive.
But don’t those muscle fibers make for tough meat and vigorous chewing? Normally, they would. But cooks from Mexico to Thailand have contrived ingenious techniques for making them tender. Simply stated, you flash-sear the steak at a high heat on a grill or in a skillet or wok, then slice it thinly across the grain before serving. The flash-searing cooks the meat without toughening the muscle fibers, while the paper-thin slicing shortens the length of each fiber to a few millimeters—reducing its overall chewiness.
Buying Skirt Steak
So what else do you need to keep in mind when buying skirt steak?
The whole nine yards: A whole skirt steaks measures 18 to 20 inches in length. (Most of what you buy in the supermarket has been cut into sections.) For an eye-popping presentation, buy and cook it whole. Note: the best way, the only way to cook a skirt steak that length is on the grill.
Try a little tenderness. There are two additional ways to tenderize skirt steak: chemical and mechanical.
Chemical Method of Tenderizing Skirt Steak
The chemical method involves marinating the skirt steak in some sort of acid, like lime juice or vinegar, for several hours or overnight. This helps break down some of the meat fibers. One of our favorites is a Dry Chimichurri. When you serve the steak, present it with Green Chimichurri and/or Red Chimichurri.
Mechanical Method of Tenderizing Skirt Steak
The mechanical method involves scoring the top and bottom of the steak with a sharp knife. (To score, make a series of shallow diagonal cuts in on direction, then the other, to form a crosshatch pattern.) Or perforate the meat with a meat tenderizer which pierces it with dozens of tiny stainless steel needles, thereby severing the meat fibers. Better yet, do both.
Substitute for Skirt Steak
Here are some related cuts you can substitute for skirt steak should the latter be unavailable:
A flat fibrous steak from the underbelly that measures 1/2- to 1-inch thick, 5 to 6 inches wide, and 10 to 14 inches long. This is one of the steaks often sold as “London Broil”—a term that refers to the cooking and slicing method rather than the anatomical source of the meat. Score, marinate, and grill or broil, then thinly slice on the diagonal across the grain.
A slender, flattish, cylindrical steak that hangs from the diaphragm near the kidney (hence the name—it “hangs” rather than being attached to a bone). Richly flavorful, but limited in supply (only one per animal). Quickly grill or pan-fry over high heat (most people eat it rare), thinly sliced on the diagonal across the grain.
A thin flat steak cut from the bottom sirloin butt. Many people swear by it for carnitas.
3 Great Chimichurri Recipes to Try:
Obsessed with steak like I am? Get more tips and recipes to try out on the grill:
- 10 Best Steaks for Grilling
- Hanger Steak with Mustard Sauce
- Tuscan-Style Porterhouse
- Secrets to Grilling the Perfect Steak