November 14, 2007

Carne Asada

In the quest for a perfect No Problemo taco clone, I stumbled on Carne Asada, which is a Mexican-style steak. In 2005 I posted a full recipe for delicious tacos. The kids weren’t really thrilled by the meat in that recipe, although the adults loved it.

This weekend I decided to try something slightly different, and it was a hit with the kids and us adults.

You start with two pounds of beef — traditionally flank steak. When Maggie went to the local butcher, they suggested something I’d never heard of before: “flap steak.” It was on sale for $5/lb, sold in 2lb portions. When I went back to get more, I was told it’s the same meat as steak tips. If you look at the diagram of the steer, the flank (which is where flap is supposedly from) is close to the bottom sirloin1. Ask your butcher what he’s got for making fajitas - flank steak or flap steak and that will probably be enough info for you to get what you need.

I started with this recipe for marinade and modified it based on what I had in the house, what I wanted, and the fact that cilantro isn’t really popular with the wife or kids:

Carne Asada Marinade

(for 2 pounds of flank/flap steak)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed (or more)
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, ribs and seeds removed and chopped fine
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/4 cup dehydrated onion flakes
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Adolph’s meat tenderizer2
  • 1/4 teaspoon of Kosher salt OR 1/4 tsp Accent3 (MSG)
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, ground
  • 1/4 cup white wine (if you’ve got an open bottle — skip it if you don’t)
  • 1 shot tequila (for either the meat, the chef or both)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
Mix up that marinade, put your steak in your favorite marinating container (I like a ziplock bag for maximum marinade-meat contact) pour the marinade over the meat, and let it sit for at least two hours in the fridge.

When you’re ready to cook, choose a high-heat method. you want this a little pink on the inside when you’re done, because this cut of beef will get tough if overcooked. I cook until the internal temperature is greater than the medium-rare temperature (145 degrees F) but below medium rare (160 degrees F). Using a thermometer really takes the guesswork out of cooking meats.

While it’s cooking, sprinkle some kosher salt and fresh ground pepper on the meat.

When it’s done, take it off the grill onto a warm plate to rest for 5 minutes.

Now, you’re going to need a sharp, long knife. The longer the side of your steak is, the longer you’re going to want your knife. But a very sharp chef’s knife is fine. If your knife is sharp, use your honing steel and then go to it. If your knife is not sharp, shame on you for cooking with dull knives! You need to read the Razor’s Edge Book of Sharpening4!

Hold the meat steady with a fork while you slice against the grain. Make long, thin strips. As you cut the grain, you’re making the meat easy to chew. If you don’t do this, your diners will have a nightmare trying to swallow this stuff, but sliced across the grain this meat is just great.

You could serve this with the previously mentioned taco recipe or just with pico de gallo on the side, rice, beans and some guacamole. Just make sure everything else is already prepared by the time you’re ready to slice the beef, because it’ll get cold quickly once you slice it.

¡Buen apetito!

1 Flap steak was completely new to me, but it was a good recommendation. They were perfect for carne asada. It grilled perfectly, sliced nicely, and tasted great with this marinade. Flap steak is described on Wikipedia here, and here is a Flap steak article in the SF Chronicle. You could certainly use steak tips with this marinade, but part of this recipe involves cutting the steak a certain way, which is much easier with these steaks. The cuts of meat that traditionally go into tacos and fajitas are often more fibrous, but flavorful cuts that benefit from marinating and slicing across the grain. So steak tips would taste similar, but be harder to chew unless you can manage cutting it up small. If you look at a flap steak, it looks like a bunch of sirloin tips that haven’t been cut into strips yet. And that’s pretty much what it is.

2 I think it’s amusing that the Lowry’s website entry for Adolph’s Original Unseasoned claims that the tenderizer features a unique blend of seasonings. oops! Remember when using Adolph’s not to make the marinade very salty. In fact, even though I love salt, I favor lower-salt contents in marinades because of the possibility of making the meat too salty if you end up wanting to marinade for longer. Meats take kosher salt really well during and after cooking, so there is little need to infuse meat with saltiness.

3 MSG is a better flavor enhancer for marinade than salt is. if you are cooking for someone who objects to monosodium glutamate, just omit it. MSG gets a bad reputation, but it’s not worth arguing about. There are people who have an MSG sensitivity, but if someone regularly eats foods with soy sauce in them without burning sensations, numbness, headache, nausea, rapid heartbeat, and other symptoms, they are probably not actually sensitive to the stuff. MSG is in tons of food under different names. But as I said, not worth arguing about, so omit it if people object.

4 Hey: The Razor Edge Book of Sharpening Look! An affiliate link, Karen! Seriously, this book taught me what it means for a knife to be sharp.

Posted by James at November 14, 2007 8:43 AM
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Oops - pooched the affiliate link! I'll have to fix it later.

Posted by: James at November 14, 2007 8:57 AM

I had forgotten that the first recipe you used was a lot like a margarita. This sounds good too.

Come to think of it, it would probably make a nice burrito.

Posted by: Julie at November 14, 2007 9:52 AM

[Resist temptation to be pedantic...]
Thanks for posting that.

[Resist temptation to be pedantic...]
It's always great when someone posts some good food stuff.

[Resist temptation to be pedantic...]
And this looks like a nice one.

[GAAAAAAAAA, give in to the damned temptation!]
Um, it's "problema". Feminine. You can't say no problemo! Aiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeee!

Whew. That's better. NingĂșn problema.

Posted by: Barry Leiba at November 14, 2007 10:34 AM

Barry, dude.

No Problemo

Posted by: James at November 14, 2007 10:50 AM

Well, sure, don't take the name of the restaurant in the spirit it was intended. I don't care what they call it, their food is delicious. But James has really gotten the tacos perfecta, LOL, and the children will eat them, which is like winning a small military battle. I am going to have one for lunch.

Posted by: Maggie at November 14, 2007 10:52 AM

Julie: yes - it'd be good for a burrito. Or, frankly, anything. It's delicious.

In fact, if you wrap up my serving suggestion above in a big tortilla, you basically have a burrito.

Posted by: James at November 14, 2007 11:07 AM

You think we pedants care whether you're citing the name of a restaurant? Hell, these restaurateurs are as illiterate as the rest of the country. This place is going to Hell in a handbasket, and no mistake! People just don't care any more. They say any old th[WHAP!... drag, drag, drag.........]

Posted by: Barry Leiba at November 14, 2007 2:27 PM

Mmmmmmmm. Carne asada. We love that out here. It's a restaurant staple. Sounds like you came up with a pretty good recipe.

Posted by: briwei at November 14, 2007 2:48 PM

I've had carne asada at two Mexican restaurants out here and really liked it.

But if you make this recipe, you get something better. Especially if you use flap steak.

Barry: LOL!

Posted by: James at November 14, 2007 3:04 PM

Hey Brian, from what I hear from my good friend Karma, all you guys eat out there is chicken, rice, and some kind of vegetable.


Posted by: Julie at November 14, 2007 3:20 PM

Heh. It's true. We don't really have carne asada out here. We have pollo asada. We eat it with rice tomatillos.

Posted by: briwei at November 15, 2007 12:48 PM

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