What on Earth is a Flat Iron Steak?

Flat Iron Steak has been around as long as cattle have been around, but nobody recognized it as having potential as a steak until fairly recently. Cleverly surrounded by a lot of hard working muscles, this cut managed to escape exercise AND discovery.

If you’re interested in the history, lore, and controversy surrounding the flat iron steak, click here for a thorough explanation.  Meanwhile, we will devote ourselves to preparing and enjoying this fabulous alternative to the more familiar cuts of steak.

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  • I was surprised to see a huge bin of  24 oz. packages at the market, and $5.99/lb is quite reasonable for flat irons. They’ve become all the rage, sort of like tri-tips, and they’re frequently hard to find.  There’s only about 6 lbs of flat iron per steer, so there are some availability issues.

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  • There’s some marbling evident, but the appearance of marbling can be deceptive.  You can see what appears to be some connective tissue.  A lot of people go to great pains to remove that.  We’re going to leave this particular cut intact, and see if we encounter any tough parts.
  • (Note:  we didn’t)

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  • This is not really a “whole” flat iron, because the whole flat iron has a piece of very tough connective tissue running horizontally through the cut.  I was glad to see that the butcher removed it, which yields 2 pieces (4 per animal). This piece is about 24 oz.

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  • I split into 12 oz portions, to get a better look at the marbling, and to better fit the Ziploc Quart Bag.

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  • On the advice of a friend, I bought some Red Boat Fish Sauce to use as a sort of brine.  The guideline is 24-72 hours, as a basic model.  We went with 24.  Red Boat is a fairly high brow version of the Asian staple, to the point of calling itself “Extra Virgin” Fish Sauce.  No shellfish, super fresh anchovies only, no MSG added, etc.  I have to say, the aroma is very exotic.  I put about a half oz in each bag.
  • According to the research,  salt (or Sodium Ions, to be precise) is the only flavoring that can penetrate the complex matrix of tangled proteins that we call meat.  There is lively debate about this, but the science insists that “flavonoids” (yes, there is such a thing) are just too big to penetrate.  Smoke can penetrate, but it’s not really considered a flavonoid.  More on that later.

But, but, but…! 

Does this mean that everything else in the bag is only a “surface treatment?”  Yes, it does.  As juices slowly exit the meat, this surface treatment may be washed away somewhat.  The flavors of some surface treatments linger more than others after processing. Beyond that, once the meat is out of the bag, there are simple procedures which can be used to reattach these flavorings.

When it goes in our mouths, and we start chewing it, our palates have difficulty distinguishing what was on the surface from what was on the inside.  This explains a lot.

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  • There are two egg whites (2 oz) in the glass, to which I will add 1 oz of liquid smoke, and blend with the stick blender.

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Let the Sous Vide Commence – 129Fx12 hours

  • Fresh out of the tank

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  • Put on a paper towel, and dry well.

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  • Make sure you harvest the purge, about 5 oz.  It varies.  Save it for another purpose.  You can see that slight darkening on the surface in some areas–that is Myoglobin stain, which dissipates during searing.

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Flour? Really? “Trust Me”

Dust both sides lightly with flour–that’s right, flour.  There’s a reason.
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  • Paint with the egg white/liquid smoke mixture.  The flour makes the liquid cling  This method imparts a very very light hint of smoke to the meat, which is more than enough for most people. BBQ aficianados can’t get enough smoke, but the general public doesn’t want that flavor to linger in their upper G.I. tracts for the rest of the day.

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Time for Some Rub

After painting with the liquid, sprinkle lightly with your favorite rub.  There are several on the market, I make a very simple one:

  • Kosher salt (One part)
  • Sugar (One part)
  • Smoked paprika (One part)
  • Ground black pepper (One part)
  • Garlic powder (One part)

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  • Apply to both sides, so go easy.

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  • I heat my pan (you can use your BBQ) to about 500F, the infrared thermometers are great for this.

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I have some  SV hollandaise, some heavily reduced Demi, Broccoli, Sous Vide Mushrooms, and Kosher Crusted Roasted Sous Vide Potatoes.  I don’t like to process broccoli via Sous Vide. When heated, cruciferous vegetables emit gasses  that can cause darkening.  This also applies to green beans and asparagus.  I use the old fashioned, furiously boiling water poured over the broccoli, uncovered.  Let it sit for five minutes, drain and shock.

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  • 2 oz of Sous Vide Mushrooms.

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Crack a window, try to have your pan at about 500F…

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  • Give it a good, hard sear, so as to get nice dark marks.
  • We’ll serve one of the steaks today, and shock one cold for “later”.

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  • An extreme crusty, crispy, spicy, closeup to get the full effect.  Getting excited now!

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  • Be sure to slice on the bias. Believe me, it matters.

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  • Very tender, very sanguine.

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  • Quick, bring me a plate!

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  • I put some back on the fire for my wife, she’s more of a Medium to Medium Well kinda gal.

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  • The Money Shot, very simple.

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  • The old fashioned “Smiley Face” presentation.

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It doesn’t get much better than this.  The Red Boat Fish Sauce definitely contributed flavor, but not detectably “fishy.”  It’s sort of like Caesar Salad–everybody loves it, as long as you don’t tell them there’s anchovies in it.  Cured anchovies also dominate the flavor of Worcestershire sauce, which finds its way into all kinds of non-seafood items.

NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNEXT!!!!

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Does THIS look like LEFTOVERS?

I mentioned that we were saving one of the Flat Iron Steaks for “later,” and here it is.  I make jokes about it, but seriously, there is no such thing as a “leftover.”  There is only food prepared “before midnight” and food prepared “after midnight.”

The notion that restaurants prepare everything fresh every day is not only false, it would be impossible.  You can’t possibly run out of every thing, every night–and, even if you did,  you couldn’t afford to just throw it out, either.

Prime Rib is the most obvious example of this truism–it really MUST be fired the day before service, “low and slow,” to come out right.  And that imported Prosciutto you’re enjoying?  That got packed into salt over a YEAR ago.

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After I sliced the cold Flat Iron on the bias just like I did when it was hot, I shingled it out on the plate.  I painted it with a little bit of clarified Sous Jus (purge), which is gelatinized enough to stick to the surface and provide flavor and sheen.  Then, dolloped with Mustard Sauce.

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A few drops of Kecap Manis, which I make, but can also be purchased at the Asian market.  It is a very thick, very sweet variant of soy sauce.

Some like it HOT, some just like it…

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There’s a “leftover” floret of broccoli, from the other night, some blue cheese crumbles, and some fennel fronds, so fresh and mild.

It’s much easier to succeed when you start with quality products. Keeping that in mind, the combination of the various flavors (yes, there’s even a bit of ketchup on there) provides so much contrast, this dish may even be more enjoyable than the the hot version.  Leftovers, indeed.