I get it. I love an amazing ribeye, striploin or tenderloin steak as the next person – ok, probably even more. I mean seriously, a perfectly cooked steak is one of life’s great pleasures. Add the perfect bottle of red wine, and hooah – it’s happy days indeed!
But beyond these “big three” cuts of steak, there’s a wide world of deliciousness at fingertips. Your local neighbourhood butcher will be the first to tell you that cuts like Hanger, Flank, Flat-Iron and Skirt pack pleasure per penny that will have your palate singing a carnivorous song all summer long.
In some cases, these cuts have been overlooked by some because they require a bit more love and attention than others, but it’s hardly a secret that cuts of meat that tend to be less tender also pack amazing flavour. Add to this mix the benefits of marinating these steaks (both in terms of flavour and tenderness) and suddenly you’ve opened to the door to some exciting new flavours – and wine pairing potential.
In a sentence or two, let’s take a look at a quick snapshot of these four gorgeous cuts:
(i) Hanger: surrounded by the loin and ribs, this is a piece of meat with some wicked tasty pedigree; the classic choice for steak-frites, this is a reasonably well-marbled steak with great flavour and tenderness that doesn’t necessarily require enormous effort to make tender enough to enjoy sans-marinade; give this steak a quick sear on either side and then cook it at lower temperatures to a perfect medium rare; consider rich flavourful sauces, bold seasoning and rustic presentations to showcase the best of this cut.
(ii) Flank: near the hind-legs of the cow, this is a super-lean cut that is an amazing “sponge” for flavour; once known as the butcher’s cut (a piece the butcher would take home because it was tasty and affordable) it has today become a trendy show-stopper; it will absorb flavour like no other, but making the most of it is more about carving technique than tenderizing through marinades; be sure to slice this thinly across the grain of the meat and dress it up with either marinades, sauces or rubs.
(iii) Flat-Iron: near the front shoulder around the blade steak, we find a small flat cut (go figure!) called the Flat-Iron; the most tender of the four steaks we’re discussing today, you’ll want to treat this as you would a finer cut of beef as it most closely resembles a NY striploin in terms of flavour and tenderness; dress it up with your favourite flavourful sauces and accompaniments; there is no need to take extra steps to “tenderize” this cut through lower temperature cooking or marinades.
(iv) Skirt: the classic cut used for fajitas, think of this cut – which comes from the upper chest of the cow – as a more marbled version of a flank steak; somewhat tougher than even flank, but incredible flavour for beef lovers; for best results, give this cut some extended time in marinade, particularly with a bit of acid to help tenderize; a thin cut, sear this off on high heat on either side and bring it to medium rare temperature; like flank, best served sliced thinly across the grain.
With these steaks in mind, we’ve hand-selected 8 wonderful recipes (2 for each cut) that you should try and work into your culinary repertoire this summer. And how could we introduce mouthwatering dishes like these and not offer some thoughts on wines! Rather than drilling down as far as to pair a single wine with each dish, as a devout carnivore, I wanted to highlight three red wines I always have on on-hand should the craving for a steak strike me.
There is something quite magical about the relationship between Grenache and a great steak. Most reds made from Grenache tend to include a splash of their cousins, like Syrah or Mourvedre. Whether we’re looking at reds from France’s Southern Rhone Valley, like Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas or even a Cotes-du-Rhone, I find these expressions of Grenache to offer richness and spicy herbals notes that are natural pairings for a nice piece of beef. Across through Languedoc and Roussillon we find amazing wines as well, albeit in a somewhat lusher, often less tannic expression of this grape, which works well with sauces made from red wine or dried fruits.
Finally, on par with the quality (and often pricing) of the acclaimed wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape we cross over into the Spain were we come upon the inspired and emerging wines of Priorat. This terroir produces wines of amazing concentration, minerality and complexity, and importantly – particularly amongst better examples – a real freshness and vitality which makes these expressions of Grenache absolutely sing at the table next to a grilled piece of steak.
The second wine that should appear on every steak-lover’s shopping list is Pinot Noir. Born from the limestone rich rolling hills of Burgundy, Pinot Noir has become a wine with global reach – and origins. I love the classic refreshing and complex mineral expressions of Burgundy, and favour emerging regions that produce Pinot Noir that retains freshness and elegance; places like Santa Rita and Santa Lucia in California or Australian bottlings from Tasmania. Midweight reds produced from Pinot Noir offer a perfect bright and refreshing counterpoint to full-flavoured meaty steaks.
And finally wine pick #3 – for those who like to indulge their inner-carnivore – is well-aged expressions of Rioja – specifically Reserva and Gran Reserva level bottlings. There are varying opinions and philosophies when it comes to matching wine with food; some prefer wines that mirror and complement food, while others appreciate bright contrasts and refreshing counterpoints between wine and food. I see merit in both countervailing approaches, but my experience is that the best matches arrive with some balance of these two extremes.
Enter Rioja and a fine piece of steak. Here we discover a match where the wines offer dazzling bright red fruit and balanced acidity which offer refreshment next to a meaty, fatty and salty dish like steak. At the same time, great well-aged Rioja delivers amazing complex flavours and aromas of leather, smoke and indeed even aged meat itself. This harmonious and multifaceted wine offers a remarkable and profound pairing – and equally profound value when one compares it to red wines of similar age.
So now that we’re fixed up for great steak wines, let’s take a quick look at 8 of my all-time favourite recipes featuring 4 cuts of steak you need to fall in love with – right now!