If you love steak sandwiches, you need to make friends with skirt steak. It’s a wonderfully flavorful cut that gives you true beef flavor for not much money - but it has to be handled correctly. The skirt is an abdominal muscle, and it’s very hardworking, which means that it has great flavor and a strong desire to be tough. Long and thin (a friend calls it “steak by the yard’), it has many aliases. Down by the border it is the classic cut for fajitas; in New York it goes by “Romanian tenderloin” in the Jewish restaurants of the Lower East Side. But in my house it’s the favorite for sandwiches because it has the right chew, and the skinny slices can stand up to salsa, chimichurri, pesto—or simply mustard and a bit of butter.
1. If you have a choice you want the “outside” skirt, which is fatter and juicier than the inside cut. But unless you’re buying from an artisanal butcher this will be hard to find; the Japanese import 90% of American outside skirt steak.
2. “Dry brine” the meat by showering it with salt well in advance, about 4 or 5 hours before cooking. This not only seasons the meat, but it draws the salt and juices back into the core of the cut.
3. Dry the meat well before cooking, and rub it with a bit of neutral oil for a good sear.
4. This is one of the important parts: Skirt steaks like high heat and they turn flabby and chewy when cooked low and slow. So crank up the grill (or a grill pan) and cook your skirt steak over very high heat. It will cook fast; two minutes a side should give you beautiful rare meat.
5. Rest the meat before slicing. Five minutes is good; 10 minutes is better. The resting lets the steak hold on to its juices and prevents “bleeding” when you cut it.
6. This is the MOST important part: cut the meat against the grain, into very thin slices. Skirt steak is bundle of muscles, and if you cut against them, you will end up with a tenderly tasty steak. If you cut with the grain, so that each slice is a single muscle, your teeth are going to get a serious workout.
Better Steak for Sandwiches
1 pound skirt steak, preferably “outside skirt”
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Bread and condiments, your choice
Salt the beef: Season steak all over with the salt, and let it rest, in the refrigerator, for 4 hours, up to overnight. Take it out for 30 minutes or so before cooking, to let it come to temperature.
Heat the grill or pan, and dry meat: Fire up your grill or a sturdy, heavy pan on high heat. Meanwhile, dry the meat well with paper towels, and rub with the vegetable oil.
Sear and rest: When the grill or pan are nearly smoking hot, sear the steak without flipping for two minutes, very gently pressing it down just to maintain contact with the pan if necessary. Flip and sear for another two minutes for beautiful rare meat. If you like it more cooked, give it another minute or so on each side for medium rare. When cooked, let it rest off heat for 5 – 10 minutes.
Slice and serve: Because of its long shape, skirt steak tempts you to slice it in strips along its length. But what you really have to do is turn it 90 degrees and cut it against the grain of the meat. The easiest way to do this is to cut it into 3 or 4 inch squares along its length, turn them, and cut slices across the muscle fibers. Lay onto bread with your favorite condiments and serve.