From America’s Test Kitchen Season 9: South-of-the-Border Supper
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS:
Upscale steak tacos usually get their rich, beefy flavor from the grill, but cooking outdoors isn’t always possible. We wanted an indoor cooking method that would always yield steak taco meat as tender, juicy, and rich-tasting as the grilled method.
We didn’t want to wrap a pricey cut of beef in a taco, so we explored inexpensive cuts and chose flank steak for its good flavor and ready availability; when sliced against the grain, it can be just as tender as pricier cuts. To add flavor, we poked holes in the meat with a fork and rubbed it with a paste of oil, cilantro, jalapeño, garlic, and scallions; salt helped draw all the flavors into the steak and ensured juiciness. Pan-searing, with a sprinkling of sugar to enhance browning, gave us a crust that mimicked the char of the grill. To maximize this effect, we cut the steak into four long pieces, which gave us more sides to brown and turn crispy. For additional flavor, we tossed the cooked steak with some marinade that we had reserved and garnished the tacos simply with onion, cilantro, and lime wedges. In Mexico, steak tacos are often served with curtido, a relish of pickled vegetables; we devised a quick recipe for pickled onions to accompany our good-as-grilled steak tacos
Serves 4 to 6
For a less spicy dish, remove some or all of the ribs and seeds from the jalapeños before chopping them for the marinade. In addition to the toppings suggested below, try serving the tacos with Sweet and Spicy Pickled Onions (see related recipe), thinly sliced radishes or cucumber, or salsa.
- 1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
- 3 medium garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 3 medium scallions, roughly chopped (about 1/3 cup)
- 1 medium jalapeño chile, stemmed and roughly chopped (see note)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 1 flank steak (1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds), trimmed of excess fat and cut lengthwise (with grain) into 4 equal pieces (see below)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 12 (6-inch) corn tortillas, warmed (see note)
- Fresh cilantro leaves
- Minced white or red onion
- Lime wedges
1. FOR THE HERB PASTE: Pulse cilantro, garlic, scallions, jalapeño, and cumin in food processor until finely chopped, ten to twelve 1-second pulses, scraping down sides as necessary. Add oil and process until mixture is smooth and resembles pesto, about 15 seconds, scraping down sides of workbowl as necessary. Transfer 2 tablespoons herb paste to medium bowl; whisk in lime juice and set aside.
2. FOR THE STEAK: Using dinner fork, poke each piece of steak 10 to 12 times on each side. Place in large baking dish; rub all sides of steak pieces
evenly with salt and then coat with remaining herb paste. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour.
3. Scrape herb paste off steak and sprinkle all sides of pieces evenly with sugar and pepper. Heat oil in 12-inch heavy-bottomed nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until smoking. Place steak in skillet and cook until well browned, about 3 minutes. Flip steak and sear until second side is well browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Using tongs, stand each piece on a cut side and cook, turning as necessary, until all cut sides are well browned and internal temperature registers 125 to 130 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 2 to 7 minutes. Transfer steak to cutting board and let rest 5 minutes.
4. FOR THE TACOS: Using sharp chef’s knife or carving knife, slice steak pieces across grain into 1/8-inch-thick pieces. Transfer sliced steak to bowl with herb paste-lime juice mixture and toss to coat. Season with salt. Spoon small amount of sliced steak into center of each warm tortilla and serve immediately, passing toppings separately.
CORN TORTILLAS FOR TACOS
The rule of thumb when buying tortillas is to buy a brand made with nothing more than ground corn treated with lime (an alkali that removes the germ and hull) and water. Look for brands sold in the refrigerator case of the supermarket, as these have few, if any, preservatives and tend to be more moist and flavorful.
KEYS TO TENDER, FLAVORFUL BEEF
1. Cut: Slice flank steak into strips that can be browned on all sides.
2. Poke: Pierce steak pieces with fork to allow herb paste to penetrate.
3. Salt: Season meat and coat with herb paste; let stand at least 30 minutes.
4. Sear: Cook steak in generous 2 tablespoons oil to promote browning.
5. Slice: Cut steak thinly across grain to ensure tenderness.
6. Toss: Mix steak with more herb paste and lime juice to brighten flavors.
HOW TO WARM TORTILLAS
Our preferred method for warming tortillas is to place each one over the medium flame of a gas burner until slightly charred, about 30 seconds per side. We also like toasting them in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until softened and speckled with brown spots, 20 to 30 seconds per side. You can also use the oven: Divide the tortillas into 2 stacks and wrap each stack in foil. Heat the tortillas on the middle rack of a 350-degree oven for 5 minutes.
Keep the warmed tortillas wrapped in foil or a kitchen towel until ready to use or they will dry out. (If your tortillas are very dry, pat each with a little water before warming.)