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Easy-Cooking Skirt Steak Is Full of Flavor

Pound it thin, add a rub or a marinade, and use intense heat for quick-cooking, juicy beef

For a change from traditional cuts, try skirt steak. This flavorful cut knows how to show off seasonings, as with this Korean-style marinated version.

by Richard Chamberlain

fromFine Cooking
Issue 22

I’m the chef and owner of a steakhouse in Dallas, so you’d probably assume that filet, sirloin, and rib-eye are what I usually eat at home. Not so. I love those cuts for sure, but skirt steak—easy, quick, and tasty—is often what I eat for dinner.

Skirt steak is a long belt of meat from the belly of the steer. It’s a thin cut with a visible grain, sort of like a loosely woven version of flank steak. You might not reach for this cut because you’re probably used to buying more familiar types of steak. But skirt steak is a big treat when you cook it right. Sear or grill it quickly, slice it thin, and you’ll have a lean, juicy steak with plenty of flavor.

Fatty-looking skirt steak is lean underneath

In the grocery store, look for cuts labeled “beef plate skirt steak” or just “skirt steak.” Be sure to buy only choice or prime grades. Steaks labeled “select” tend to be less tasty and much tougher. A 1-lb.skirt steak will feed four people; there’s little waste.

For good flavor, look for a fairly fatty piece of skirt steak. Underneath that top layer of fat, which you’ll cut off, the meat will be quite lean but marbled with a few small channels of fat. Leave them be—they’ll melt away during cooking, and they’ll go a long way toward good taste.

After you trim the fat from the skirt steak, cut it into equal portions. This makes pounding easier.

  • Trim the top layer of fat from the steak. Under that fat lies a lean, tasty piece of meat. The little channels of fat will melt away, leaving behind lots of flavor.
  • Slice the steak into even portions. Smaller pieces are easier to pound and to slice for serving.
Pound skirt steak into evenly shaped pieces
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Pound the steak 1/4 inch thick. Pounding helps even out the meat so it cooks faster and is easier to slice. It will be more tender, too.

Skirt is a long, tapered piece of meat, and pounding it will give it a thinner, more uniform shape that’s easier to cook and to slice. Pound the meat with the flat side of a meat mallet until the steak is about 1/4 inch thick. That may seem thin, but the steak pulls back together as it cooks. Pounding also tenderizes the meat by breaking down connective tissue.

Scoring after pounding is another way to tenderize, and it keeps the meat from shrinking too much as it cooks. The downside of scoring is that you may end up with a less juicy piece of steak because the cuts will let more juices out. To score, etch shallow, crosshatched cuts in the steak about 1/2 inch apart with the tip of a sharp knife.

Add a rub or marinade

Unlike more tender cuts of meat with subtler flavor (like filet), skirt steak has full flavor that comes through loud and clear. And it benefits from full flavorings, as long as you go easy. Asian-style marinades, spice rubs, or peppercorn crusts are delicious. Olive oil, fresh herbs, lemon, capers, and red wine all work well. I’ve tried mustard rubs on skirt, but they tend to overpower.

Skirt steak needs just a short marinating time. It’s quite porous and takes on flavors faster than just about any other cut of meat. Don’t leave skirt in a marinade for too long (a 20-minute dunk should be the maximum) or the meat flavors will get lost.

Flash the steak in a hot pan

There are two important rules when you’re cooking skirt steak—cook it at high heat, and cook it quickly. Because the meat is thin, it’s quite easy to overcook it. Searing the outside is important: you’ll get good flavor outside and meat that isn’t overcooked inside.

Sear the meat quickly in a sizzling skillet or over the red-hot coals of a grill. Both ways work well; just remember not to cook the meat beyond medium rare. Past that, the steak dries out quickly. Hot meat will continue to cook even after it’s off the heat, so it’s better to undercook skirt steak by a half a minute or so.

You should see a very rosy pink center when you cut into the meat. Stay away from broiling skirt; most home broilers can’t deliver the intense jolt of heat you’re looking for.

Let the meat rest for a few minutes before you serve it. Searing the steak forces the juices to the center of the meat. The resting period allows the juices to seep back into the rest of the meat so you’ll get a juicier, tastier result. Keep the steak under a tent of foil so it stays warm.

Cut skirt steak in thin slices. You can slice it either with or across the grain, but whichever way you slice it, slice it thin. Some people find that skirt sliced against the grain is more tender and less chewy. Try it both ways to see which you prefer.

Photos: Brian Hagiwara

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