Food & Drink

Bistro at home: It’s all in the right steak

After cooking, let the steak rest on top of salsa verde, which slightly softens the greens and mellows the garlic, part of the preparation for butcher’s steak with leafy greens salsa verde.
After cooking, let the steak rest on top of salsa verde, which slightly softens the greens and mellows the garlic, part of the preparation for butcher’s steak with leafy greens salsa verde. New York Times

One of the most cherished relationships I’ve developed since moving to my new neighborhood is with the butchers at my local meat shop. They’re always happy to see me, sneak me a snack of whatever cured meat they’re slicing, and offer me the best, most honest opinion when it comes to what type of meat I should be buying.

Ever hear of “the right tool for the right job”? Well, there’s also a right steak for the right dish. A good butcher will help you find it.

A few weeks ago, I went in looking for a cut of steak that wouldn’t break the bank, something I could casually sear for a quick weeknight dinner, without sacrificing tenderness and good, beefy flavor. One of my guys at the butcher shop recommended hanger steak, which I had cooked before (and loved!), but I never thought of it as an affordable replacement for something like rib-eye.

After taking it home, searing it and realizing it was almost better than the expensive steak I usually spring for, I felt as if my butcher and I were in on a secret – an affordable, delicious secret, usually known only to small, charming bistros and neighborhood restaurants.

Now, every time I walk into the shop, I like to ask, “What’s your favorite cut of steak today?” – especially if they happen to be out of hanger steak (which they can sometimes be: There’s only one per animal, making it a more exclusive cut). This is how I was introduced to other supertasty, affordable cuts that could be seared and served rare, like boneless short ribs (no braise required), thicker pieces of flank (avoid thinner pieces, which can overcook) and bavette (the bottom part of the sirloin).

These cuts will vary, depending on where you live, the type of butcher shop or meat counter in your area, and general availability. It may seem obvious, but opening up the conversation and talking to an actual human not only got me out of my rut of buying the same two types of steak over and over again; it also provided me with expert tips that definitely made me a better cook.

If it’s a new cut I’m bringing home, I like to season it simply, with nothing more than kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to truly assess its unadulterated steak flavor. From there, I give it the faux-bistro treatment with a garlicky salsa verde and a bowl of almost-too-salty potato chips, which one could argue are essentially weeknight french fries. (That means you just made steak frites.)

For the salsa verde, I love using dark leafy greens, like kale, mustard greens or Swiss chard. I find that resting a seared piece of steak on a bed of these hearty leaves wilts and softens them into submission, almost as if you had quickly sautéed them. Also great are the juices from the meat that season the salsa verde, creating a deeply savory, meaty sauce that tastes like you spent way more time on it than you did.

A couple of charred green onions on top (cooked in the skillet with all those browned bits, naturally), a squeeze of lemon on the side, and I feel as if I’ve opened my own little private bistro. With a little help from my butcher, of course.

And to drink

Most good red wines will go well with steak. It’s primarily a question of matching the wine to the mood and occasion. For example, a fine Bordeaux that you’ve been aging for years would be delicious with a simple hanger steak, but wouldn’t you enjoy it more on a celebratory or romantic night rather than with a quick, informal meal? This is the time for a less rarefied, but nonetheless excellent bottle, a Chianti Classico rather than a Brunello di Montalcino, a Crozes-Hermitage instead of a Côte-Rôtie. Have a cabernet franc from Chinon or the North Fork of Long Island, or a Rioja Reserva. Try an Irouléguy or Cahors from the southwest of France, or a cabernet sauvignon from Paso Robles. Trust me, any of these will be great.

Butcher’s Steak With Leafy Greens Salsa Verde

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 30 minutes

1 1/2 pounds hanger, thick skirt or flat-iron steak

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 scallions

1/2 small bunch kale, Swiss chard, collard greens or mustard greens, leaves and stems very finely chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)

1 garlic clove, finely grated

1/3 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon canola or grapeseed oil

1 lemon or lime, halved

Flaky salt

Potato chips (optional)

Season steak well with salt and pepper and set aside.

Cut 4 of the scallions into 2-inch pieces; set aside. Finely chop remaining scallions and add to a medium bowl with kale, garlic and olive oil; season with salt and pepper. The mixture won’t exactly be saucy yet, but as it sits the kale will soften and loosen up.

Heat canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add steak and cook, without moving it, until deeply golden brown on one side, 3 to 5 minutes.

Flip steak and continue to cook until equally browned on that side, another 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer salsa verde to a large plate, and place steak on top. Add remaining scallions to the pan, letting them sizzle in the leftover fat. Season with salt and pepper and cook until they’re wilted and lightly charred, 2 or 3 minutes.

Let steak sit 5 to 10 minutes to allow it to rest and juices to mingle with the salsa verde.

Slice the steak and return to plate with salsa verde. Top with seared scallions. Squeeze lemon or lime over everything and sprinkle with flaky salt. Serve with potato chips, if you like.

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