I rarely eat meat, but I’ll confess to a weakness for a really good flank steak. When I buy one, the first thing I do is cut it in half across the middle and freeze a piece. A whole one is more than I can eat up for dinner and leftovers in a reasonable amount of time. I knew I had one lurking in the freezer, so I moved it to the fridge yesterday to thaw for Valentine’s Day dinner. I love treating myself to dinner every night, and thought what better time than Valentine’s Day for one with nothing but happy memories attached to it.
Flank steak will forever make me think of France. Huh (?), you might be thinking. I can explain. This idea came to me one evening as the daughter and I were talking after dinner about what we love about Provence. Which is where we happened to be. Few places in France better embody the spirit of terroir: earthy, certainly, and that which derives from the very earth of the place itself. Not that I’m about to give you a recipe you don’t have a prayer of duplicating. Think for a moment about where you live: excellent, locally raised beef is generally available most everywhere now, and by “locally” I don’t mean the local factory feedlot. You can easily get your hands on a good red; where do juniper berries not grow; bay leaves, garlic, honey: all are about as earthy as it gets anywhere.
The daughter and I were in Aix en Provence. We had a perfect little studio apartment with a small fridge, a 2-burner glass-topped stove, one skillet, one large pottery bowl, 2 soup bowls, 2 plates, flatware (for 2), one large cooking fork, and a bread knife. All we could possibly want for the good, simple dinner we had dreamed up. Ok, I might have wished for a different cooking surface, but we were on vacation. And on vacation in France; complaining was not on the agenda.
So we went to our neighborhood market and prowled the beef counter for something resembling a flank steak. While my French is good, my knowledge of butchery in it isn’t. But the butcher was a very helpful fellow, and we left with a couple of lovely bavettes and made one more stop for the few ingredients we didn’t already have. We returned to the apartment to start our steaks marinading in our one large bowl while we poured a glass of wine and read in front of the window that was open to the courtyard below.
To drain the steaks, I speared them with the large fork and held it over the sink. When the skillet and some olive oil were hot, I seared the steaks nicely on both sides. The marinade was reserved in the 2 soup bowls. Meanwhile, the daughter washed the big bowl. She rinsed some lettuce and spun it dry Julia Child-style, whirling it overhead in our one kitchen towel. She tore it up, tossed it by hand with some olive oil and sea salt in the bowl, then divided it between the 2 plates. When the steak was done, we put it in the bowl (unwashed – it was only olive oil and salt, right?) covered it with our damp kitchen towel and set it aside for a few minutes to finish and relax off the heat. The skillet went back on the heat to reduce the marinade to somewhat less than half. I speared the steaks with the fork, plopped it onto the cold burner surface on the range to slice it. I arranged the slices over the salads, then drizzled everything with the reduced marinade. I set a wedge of lemon on each plate for a final spritz of bright flavor. We tore a beautiful fresh baguette (still warm from the oven when we bought it) into pieces, and sat down to what was one of the best meals we’ve ever enjoyed.
Serves 2 to 4
1 2-pound or so flank steak, room temperature
Sea or kosher salt and pepper
3/4 bottle red table wine
2 glugs olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
6 juniper berries, lightly crushed
2 bay leaves
2 glugs olive oil
1 teaspoon capers
2 tablespoons butter
Lettuce of your choice over which to serve
- Gently salt and pepper both sides of the steak (you’ll eventually be reducing the marinade, so be kind with the salt), then place it in a shallow, non-reactive bowl or baking dish. Pour about 3/4 of a bottle of decent red table wine over it. Add the olive oil, honey, garlic cloves, juniper berries, and bay leaves. Turn steak over a couple of times, then cover with plastic (or a French kitchen towel) and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, lift plastic and turn steak over. Cover and again let sit for 30 minutes.
- Place a glazing screen or small cooling rack over a plate. Lift steak out of marinade onto the rack and let drain for a few minutes on both sides. Gently pat each side dry with paper towels, or the steak will not caramelize well.
- Preheat oven (if you have one) to 325 degrees. Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Add a couple of glugs of olive oil. When hot, add the steak. Sear for 3-4 minutes (depending on thickness), then turn and again sear for 3-4 minutes (2 to 3 minutes if steak is on the thin side). Remove from skillet and set on an oven-proof platter. Transfer to the oven and allow to finish to desired doneness – 10 to 15 minutes for medium-rare to medium.
- Meanwhile, back at the stove, strain reserved marinade into the hot skillet to deglaze those lovely browned drippings. Allow to cook down to about 1/3 of its original volume. Remove from heat and whisk in a generous teaspoon of capers as well as a couple of tablespoons of butter. Allow to cool for a few minutes.
- Toss lettuce or roasted potatoes with olive oil and sea salt. Arrange in the center of plates. Remove steak from oven. Transfer to a cutting board. Slice across the grain (which runs the long way), with your knife at a fairly acute angle, making each slice about 1/2 inch thick. Divide steak slices among plates and drizzle the marinade reduction over them all. Serve with wedges of fresh lemon and some very good bread. Ciabatta would be great here. Don’t forget to use a piece to clean your plate.