Saturday, July 18, 2009

Rum and OJ infused Skirt Steak with Pineapple and Serrano Salsa -Ya Mon!!!

I love a challenge. I think most of us do. I especially like them when they are related to food. That’s why I had so much fun with this one. I was recently asked to cater a party for about 100 people. OK, I can handle that. It’s in Canada. I can handle that too. The theme is Caribbean. So far so good. The idea of fresh, clean island flavors begin swirling in my mind: citrus, seafood, sweet, spicy. Of course there has to be a twist. I was told that the folks hosting the party and the guest of honor do not like cilantro. This is a constraint that is difficult to overcome. When I think of the Caribbean, I think of rum drinks and foods with heavy doses of cilantro. Now if you enjoy a good salsa, it almost always has cilantro. The flavor is unmistakably bright and unique and screams of steel drum bands and sand in your toes. Leaving it out seems wrong on many levels to me, but hey, it’s not my party. Also, she wanted everything to be finger foods. No fussing with forks and sit down place settings; just small plates that guests could walk around and mingle with was the mandate. It didn’t take me long to draw up a rudimentary plan. The proteins were easy enough. A shrimp dish, a scallop dish, chicken, vegetarian, beef. I could use skewers, lettuce cups and bread as the vessels for these. As I thought of lime and rum and seafood, I was feeling a bit better. Things were coming together. Still, the absence of cilantro seemed problematic. I made a trip to the grocery store for a few ingredients to see what I could come up with. 8 courses plus a dessert later and I was all set. 1000 individual pieces. I’m pretty sure this will be a hit but I won’t be able to report back until early September because the party is at the end of August.

In particular, I was especially proud of the skirt steak skewers. Marinated in rum and orange juice then grilled, they’ll be served in a Bibb lettuce cup with a pineapple Serrano salsa. I decided to make a version of this for Lisa. She’s by far the pickiest adult eater I know. Difficult to take out to most restaurants much less cook for, she is a terrific critic. When she likes something I make, I am beyond thrilled. I wasn’t holding my breath on this one but I felt she might enjoy it. I just thought the flavors were consistent with what she likes. First I made the salsa. For me the key to salsas (or relishes, if you prefer that term) is flavor combinations and texture. While there is often a star in the condiment, no one flavor should be too overpowering. The tastes should marry and, in fact, be allowed some time in the refrigerator to meld. Getting the right texture comes from the size of the ingredients. A small dice is best. A good dose of lime juice and a splash of dark rum rounds out the salsa. I almost forgot about the cilantro.

With the pineapple concoction doing its magic in the fridge, it was time to turn my attention to the steak. Now skirt steak is a very interesting cut of beef. When deciding on which cut to use, I tried four different varieties. Sirloin, filet, strip and skirt all went into the marinade. After an overnight bath, my beef and I went to the grill. The sirloin dried out. It was beefy tasting but too little fat made it dry. The filet felt out of place because while it still had that beautiful buttery flavor, the salsa on it seemed distracting. Same with the NY strip. The skirt steak, though, was magnificent. Perfectly seared and exquisitely moist, the sweetness of the salsa contributed to humble nirvana. Skirt steak comes from the belly of the cow. It’s often considered a tougher cut of meat but I find it very easy to get around this by marinating it. Because of its texture, it’s the cut of choice for fajitas. Personally, I think it stands up beautifully on its own with very little effort and it’s well suited for the grill. Skirt steak also has just the perfect amount of fat to it. Not at all gristly but instead wonderfully moist and tender at medium rare, this should do well. Experimenting over. Let’s eat. I forewent the skewers and lettuce cups for Lisa’s home rendition. Instead I just removed the meat from the marinade and went straight to the grill. A few minutes on each side over the hot coals and I had a perfect medium rare steak.

After an appropriate resting time of about 10 minutes, I sliced it (against the grain completely eliminates toughness) and plated it topping it with the pineapple salsa. On the side I put some potato rounds roasted with garlic and bacon drippings and a salad. The verdict? Lisa ate every bite. She loved it. The heat of the Serrano chilies with the sweetness of the pineapple that topped the citrus and rum infused beef was enough to transport me to a far off island where Jimmy Buffet was holding a personal concert for me. The only thing missing was a coconut with a straw hanging out of it.

I’m really excited about sharing this with you because, honestly, this is one of the best original recipes I’ve created in a while. Even though the marinade and salsa require some forethought, the entire kitchen time is less than 30 minutes, maybe 40 if you count clean up. Give this a try and feel free to report back any twists of your own.

Island skirt steak with pineapple and Serrano chili salsa

1 cup orange juice
1 cup Meyer’s (or other dark) rum
2 tsp grated ginger
3 cloves garlic, chopped or grated
Salt and pepper to taste

2 lb skirt steak

1 cup diced fresh pineapple, ¼ inch cubes
½ cup diced red bell pepper
1 Serrano chili, very thinly sliced
2 large green onions, very thinly sliced
Juice of 2 limes
Dash Orange juice
Dash of Meyer’s (or other dark) rum
Salt and pepper to taste

Lay the skirt steak on a cutting board and pierce throughout meat with a fork. This allows the marinade deeper penetration. Combine all of the marinade ingredients and place in a reseal able plastic bag along with the steak. Take as much air out of the bag as possible and place in the refrigerator for 4 to 8 hours.

For the salsa, combine all of the ingredients and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.

Grill the steak over high grill heat (depending on your grill) for 4-6 minutes per side for medium rare. Remove from grill and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Slice the meat against the grain and plate topping with the pineapple salsa.
Serves 4

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Anonymous said...

Now that salsa sounds GREAT. I'm gonna try it right now!
Your loving and hungry MOM.
P.S. I'll let it marry overnight cuz J and I are going to Durants tonight...old timey Phx classic steakhouse with red flocked wallpaper, Oysters Rockefeller and the coldest martinis in town!

Anonymous said...

You used outside skirt steak. Try inside skirt steak (2/3 at most the cost fo outside). Put in a food saver and let sit in your refrigerator for a couple of weeks. You wont need to marinate for tenderness. Ask the butcher not to over trim it.