It’s a sure bet that as we speak a few transformations are taking place in my kitchen: from eating outdoors to indoors; from less fresh tomatoes to more frozen and canned; from the kids eating less at home to more at school; from using the grill less and the oven more; and from flank or New York strips steaks to a flat iron steak. Yes, even the beef I cook is in flux.
Many of our family dinners could be labeled “vegetarian”; no meat appears on our plates. That being said, about once a month I like to cook a decent piece of steak. (I think that makes my family a bunch of “flexitarians”.) Nutritionally, beef provides a respectable quantity of zinc, iron, and B12, nutrients everyone in my family needs. (For more information about beef nutrition visit the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.) I’d argue that beef steaks when sautéed for fajitas, or flame-cooked for a simple entree, are one of the quickest and easiest cuts of beef to cook at home. According to my calculations, and the reviews of my customers, I can cook a steak dinner that rivals any restaurant for a lot less dollars.
For many years flank steak was my go-to cut. Although generally leaner (and somewhat tougher), flank steak was also typically less expensive than other high end cuts of steak. If I bought a nice flank steak all I had to do was marinate, cook, and slice; I was never disappointed no matter how dressed up, or unadorned, we ate it. If I wanted a steak bursting with beefy flavor, that was inherently tender (albeit less lean), I would splurge and buy a New York Strip making this special occasion steak a most appealing choice for its simplicity and flavor.
Last year I read an article in The New York Times about the effects of rising beef prices on restaurant menus. Many chefs discussed how they were incorporating new cuts of beef into their menus to achieve a significant savings in their food costs. The article described the success many chefs experienced by using a cut of beef called a flat iron steak.
A flat iron steak comes from a modified version of a top blade roast, a cut of beef from the shoulder of the cow. For years, butchers were faced with a problem – what to do with the blade roast – a relatively tender and flavorful cut of meat. The problem was it had a tough piece of connective tissue running down the center, something cooks did not want to deal with. Leave it to researchers from Nebraska to devise a method of cutting the blade roast to remove the connective tissue, leaving a large, flat piece of beef from the “top” of the roast. This top blade steak (or flat iron steak) weighs about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds, is evenly thick all the way across, and resembles a triangular-shaped iron (yes, like an iron used to press clothes). This new way of cutting the meat resulted in the rising popularity of a piece of beef that barely made its way out of the back of meat case.
It wasn’t long after I read the article that I found myself shopping for beef at a local supermarket. Out of the corner of my eye I spied a flat iron steak, lying innocently among the filets and flanks. Remembering the restaurant chefs success, I immediately snatched up the steak and took it home for a spin in my kitchen. Rubbed with my Brown Sugar Rub, and cooked medium-rare on the grill, I was pleasantly surprised by the results. The flat iron steak was tasty, tender, and juicy, a meal rivaling any flank or New York strip I have ever cooked. As a result, I rarely buy New York strips, or flank steak, but instead buy a flat iron steak any time I need a piece of steak for our meals.
Flat iron steaks, the darling of restaurants, must be gaining solid ground in home kitchens. Since my epiphany I’ve seen flat iron steaks at about every market where I regularly shop. The “stakes” are high but I’d put my money on the success of any cooking experience with a flat iron steak. When not overcooked, the downfall of any meat cooking, flat iron steaks are tender and full of rich, beefy flavor. That’s a sure thing in my kitchen even during these days of change as I watch the long, hot summer days turn to shorter, cooler days of autumn.