Thu Sep 1, 2011
I was racking my brain on what type of grand piece of meat I'd present to all of you for Labor Day. The more I thought about it, the more I got a little depressed as the grandness of this grilling holiday is quickly followed with grills being covered and quickly forgotten. It's this that got me thinking about treating the Labor Day lead-up just like any other day on the Meatwave—which still involves a lot of incredibly delicious meat, just without a grand gesture. So what I have prepared for all of my meaty minions are these Thai beef satay skewers, which would be an excellent addition to any cookout menu, even if it doesn't have the presence of, say, brisket or pulled pork.
For a long time I had equated Thai food with peanut sauces, which really are not my cup of tea. In the many years since I've corrected that misconception, I have found a deep and unending love for Thai food, yet still steer pretty clear of the peanut dishes—there's something about peanuts with meat that doesn't quite work for my palate. Like many things before, it wasn't until making a peanut sauce at home that I've find myself loosening my stubborn ways, and this particular sauce is so killer that it's bound to make a peanut lover out of almost anybody.
What I have found an affinity for is the way other Thai flavors play off meats, especially beef. My favorite beef for skewers is flank, which has a decent amount of flavor, so unlike chicken or pork, it can be difficult to get a marinade to really penetrate and stand out against beefiness, but the mixture of Thai ingredients seems to be able to strike the right balance.
So what's in it that works this special magic? I attribute a lot to fish sauce, whose briny saltiness is a strong and distinct flavor that really gets absorbed into the meat. Also in there lending a hand is soy sauce, Sriracha, brown sugar, cilantro, garlic, and scallions.
The beef gets cut thin on the bias, creating slices that maximize surface area and minimize height, creating a quick and even cooking piece of steak. With such strong flavors in the marinade, the beef really only needs about an hour to pick those up, as opposed to some overnight marinades that still barely impart much on beef.
After the quick marinade, the beef gets put on soaked bamboo skewers. For these long, thin pieces of beef, I like to thread the meat onto the skewer to ensure it stays secure through the cook—any lost meat would be a downright shame.
These flank skewers are best cooked over high heat, where they brown incredibly quickly while still remaining just a tad below well done. This is crucial for making sure all this work done is not done in vain by overcooking and drying out the meat.
The salty and spicy marinade did its job in creating a flavorful piece of steak throughout, but the real star was how the beef played with sauce. Not being a peanut sauce fan, I was a bit apprehensive at first, but that creamy, nutty sauce with a hint of spice paired incredibly with the skewers, and by end the of the plate, I couldn't image one without the other.
So there you have it, a beautiful, tasty piece of meat for your Labor Day cookout. What's that? You want something bigger and better? Ok, I'll give that to you next week, but that means you have to keep up the flames past the unofficial end of grilling season...sneaky, aren't I!
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated
For the Peanut Sauce
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup hot water
2 tablespoons lime juice from 1 to 2 limes
2 tablespoons Sriracha
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro leaves
1 medium garlic clove, minced
2 scallions , white and green parts, sliced thin
For the Satay
1 large whole flank steak (about 2 pounds)
1/8 cup fish sauce
1/8 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons Sriracha
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
4 scallions , white and green parts, sliced thin
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
1. Whisk peanut butter and hot water together in medium bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients for the peanut sauce; transfer to serving bowl and set aside.
2. Freeze flank steak for 30 minutes until firmed up. While the steak is is in the freezer, combine the fish sauce, oil, chili sauce, brown sugar, cilantro, garlic, and scallions in a small bowl. Remove from the freezer and slice the steak across grain on a bias into 1/4-inch-thick strips. Place the steak in a Ziploc bag, pour in the marinade, seal and toss to evenly distribute; open and reseal the bag, removing as much air as possible. Let marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour. Weave meat onto individual skewers and lay flat in shallow container.
3. Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over the charcoal grate. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place the skewers on the grill and cook until the meat is cooked through and is lightly charred around edges, about 7 minutes, flipping them over halfway through grilling. Transfer to a platter, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve with the peanut sauce.