I can remember, only a few years ago, when the cuts of beef you could find at a supermarket, where most of us buy our steak, were severely limited. Filet mignon and New York strips have always been standards, and cheaper cuts like flank and blade steak were sometimes available too. But really, that was it.
Butchering, like the cattle-raising industry it depended on, had become so cookie-cutter-a-fied that we were left with fewer, and in some cases poorer, choices for our steak dinner.
Thankfully, that sorry state has changed, because there is far more than one way to cut up a steer. Now you can find much better cuts at regular-old supermarkets, cuts like tri-tip and skirt steak and flat iron steak.
We have a handful of real crazy young butchers to thank for this: Tom Mylan in Brooklyn; Amelia Posada and Erika Nakamura in L.A.; Rob and Allie Levitt in Chicago. These people are really nuts. What kind of cray-cray, with a college education and other seemingly more promising career options, opts to learn the lost art of cutting up a cow?
But they did it, and it caught on. These young Turks have learned that, for example, when you carve out the individual muscles of the bottom sirloin you end up with a steak like tri-tip, one of the most marbled cuts in the animal. And when you filet the top blade subprimal muscle from the shoulder instead of cutting it crosswise, you end up with two flat iron steaks instead of several gristle-filled blade steaks. This is meat geometry we can all celebrate.
Flat iron steak is the second-most tender cut in the animal, only a touch tougher than the pricey filet. It is far more marbled with fat, however, which means it has more flavor than filet, and it’s on the cheap side—which is why I’m covering it in this column.
It helps to know what these steaks look like, because it is often mislabeled. Just this week I stopped by my local meat shop and found a flat iron steak labeled as a French-Style London Broil. That’s confusing. First of all, London isn’t in France. Second, sometimes flap meat, called bavette in France, is labeled as French-Style London Broil, but sometimes flank steak is labeled the same. They are not the same. And flat iron is none of those things.
My advice is to find a young Turk butcher near you and ask them to show you a flat iron. Learn what the steak looks like so you can identify it every time, then buy it and cook it using the recipe below.
Moroccan-Spiced Flat Iron Steak with Carrot Salad
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 (1 to 1 1/4 pound) flat iron steak
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
For Carrot Salad:
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 large carrots
1 tablespoon fresh dill
Cook the steak: Grind spices together in a spice grinder. Season the steak with the salt then rub the spice mixture all over the steak. Let stand 10 minutes.
Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until hot (don’t sear over high heat or you might burn the spices). Cook the steak, turning over once, until well-browned, 8 to 10 minutes total for medium rare. Let steak stand 10 minutes before slicing.
Make the carrot salad: Whisk together the shallot, zest, juice, oil, salt and pepper in a bowl. Peel carrots, then shave into ribbons with a vegetable peeler. Toss the carrots with the dressing and dill.
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Ian Knauer has traveled the world for Gourmet magazine, written for too many other magazines to list, cohosted three food television shows and written a cookbook, The Farm. @iknauer | TakePart.com