flank steak

In guest on December 28, 2009 at 6:06 pm

today’s guest report comes from icf’s british correspondent, who has spent several years undercover as a “professor” and “furniture conservator,” while actually doing a close and thorough study of british food.

i’ve been teaching historic furniture making and conservation of historic furniture at a small arts and crafts college near chichester in the south of england, going on 3 years.  it is a bucolic area with pretty much everything i need…in the food department.  the pubs are historic and provide everything from fish and chips to wild game that the local hunters drag in from the woods.

imperial left-overs like curries, kabobs and chinese run the spectrum of quality, and the various pizza chains just creep onto a yank’s scale of acceptability.  (they have the strange habit of taking the 4 ingredients, say, mushrooms, pepperoni, cheese and anchovies, and separating them into quarters.  fortunately they don’t seem to mind mixing them all together, ‘a la americaine’.)

puddings (desserts) tend toward ‘sticky toffee’, and ‘spotted dick’, all made with heaps of treacle.  i love the 19th century tins it comes in, but treacle is my idea of nothing.  on the other hand, they do a great job with fruit crumbles, generally served with custard that greatly appeals to my new england background.  (for my taste, english beer does not favourably compare with sam adams boston ale, so i’ll stay away from discussing the drink.)

one thing i do miss is rare beef, and in particular a properly prepared flank steak, so when the opportunity arose for an open house in my department at college, we needed finger food for the guests.  i floated the idea with my students for a platter of thinly sliced, rare strips of flank steak, served with similarly sliced french bread.  a previous open house in the ceramics department, overwhelmingly female and asian, featured sushi and veggies, and the furniture students (including one female asian) unanimously wanted something meaty.

the problem was that the brits hadn’t heard of flank steak.  what?  the protein staple of modestly-incomed offspring-endowed families in the states…unheard of across the pond?  how odd.  the first step then was to track down what the brits called it.  a quick search came up with ‘skirt’ steak… ‘thin’ and ‘thick’.

thin skirt was considered a frying, minute-steak sort of cut, so we assumed we needed to find the thick.  visits to the usual suspects, sainsbury’s (middle of the road), waitrose (high end…what passes for whole foods) and tesco (costco-esque) all resulted in blank stares.  my student, matthew, is quite the gourmet cook and volunteered to take over the search.  his butcher knew of the ‘olde style’ cut, and ordered up twenty pounds for us from his supplier in london.  matthew prepared the marinade.

we had decided to grill it the day before in the workshop courtyard to tease the other students and ensure a good turnout for our open house, so requisitioned a big bbq grill from the college food service and stoked it in readiness.  when matthew showed up with the goods, the problem was immediately apparent.  instead of the big, wide flat steaks i was expecting, he had three footballs…massive hunks of marinading meat in plastic bags.  obviously the brits skipped the third, goldilocks version of skirt steak: ‘just right.’

each one had to be cut horizontally into thirds to get them down to the proportions we needed to avoid having to pot roast them.  matthew handled the grilling: a smart spank on both sides, and then into the fridge to chill.

that evening he prepared the dipping sauce, and the next day the seemingly endless task of carving began.  flank steak, being on the tough side, needs to be sliced thin, and across the grain, ending up with pieces that look like giant red sandworms with dark brown fringe… mm, mm, good… and the amount of beef we bought produced a beachload of the little devils.  the groaning board was a slab of maple, 12 inches wide and 3 feet long, and we could barely fit all the carved steak on it.  i could not imagine all of it being eaten, but with the appetising aroma of grilling still wafting around the courtyard, the rest of the student/faculty chow hounds were at the door on the dot… no one was interested in fashionably late.  it was a smash hit; an ambivalent veggie even fell off the wagon.

i was even able to score a couple of cases of sam adams from a local distributor at crippling cost, but the brits loved the party and we kept up the side of the special relationship.

matthew and the steak

flank steak marinade and dipping sauce

this recipe was for 6.4kg steak, you may want to reduce the amounts by half for smaller quantities of meat

for the marinade:

10oz soy sauce (preferably naturally brewed)
10oz sherry
4 tbsp pouring honey
4 tbsp toasted sesame oil
4 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
8-10 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 tsp dried chilli flakes (more if you want more heat!)


score the top of the flank steak to a depth of ¼ inch approximately 1 inch apart.

refrigerate and soak in the marinade for preferably 1 to 3 days or at least 4 hours.

remove the meat from the marinade and reserve the marinade for the dipping sauce:

for the dipping sauce:

pour the reserved marinade into a large pan.


10oz water
1 beef stock cube
port to taste
more honey to taste
3 squares of good quality cooks dark chocolate (at least 70 percent coco solids) green and blacks is a quality brand i use.


bring to the boil and taste regularly as you add the port and honey.

once you have the taste to your liking add more chilli flakes to make a much spicier dip (or divide the mixture into 2 and add more chilli to one so you have one mild dip and one spicy dip).

simmer and reduce by half till thick and sticky, enjoy!!

  1. that’s a lotta beef! looks delish.

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