Cook's Illustrated (May/June 2012)
Our names are Zach and Clay, and we're carnivores.
Don't get us wrong: We love vegetables. We've been eating more meatless meals, and for lots of reasons -- our health, our budget, the environment -- we're very happy to be doing that.
But, man, sometimes nothing beats a steak.
So we were more than happy to try out the spice-rubbed steak in the latest Cook's Illustrated. As recipe author Andrea Geary says, a spice rub can be a great way to dress up an inexpensive cut of meat, turning "cheaper steak into 'choice.'" The problem? Spice rubs can often leave a steak tasting dry and dusty -- or worse, the spices fall off completely on the grill.
Cook's comes up with a solution, and as usual, it involves some extremely clever techniques.
It starts with scoring the steak and marinating the meat in tomato paste, spices and, surprisingly, fish sauce. (The tomato paste and fish sauce are both glutamates, Geary explains, meaning they enhance the meat's flavor while also changing its muscle structure, allowing it to retain more moisture. That gives you a juicer, more expensive-tasting final result.)
While the meat marinates, you make the spice rub, starting with toasting all the spices to give them a more complex depth of flavor.
After you grind the spices and rub them on the steak, Cook's throws in another great tip: Give the steak a quick spray of cooking oil. That helps the rub adhere to the meat, and it helps the spices further "bloom" on the grill, meaning you're not left with that raw, dusty taste.
Grilling is pretty straight-forward: Three to four minutes per side. Done.
But then this recipe offers another innovative twist: Let the steak rest on a wire baking rack instead of a plate. As soon as we read that, we realized we've been doing it wrong for years. We've always rested steaks on a plate. Resting them on a wire rack (still tented with foil) keeps the bottom from "steaming" and getting soft. It's a way to help preserve that great off-the-grill char on both sides of the steak. Very smart.
So how did all these innovations taste?
We opted for the Ancho Chile-Coffee variation you'll see at the end of the recipe, because, hello? Coffee and chocolate on a steak? Obviously.
We served it with some mashed sweet potatoes and some quick-sauteed kale florets (which we picked up on an impulse at the farmers market last week and were awesomely delicious and we've got to tell you about sometime!).
We thought the steak was very good! As promised, the marinade and the rub made our cheap-o sirloins taste like much nicer cuts. And we really liked the flavor of the chile-coffee-cocoa rub we opted for.
Here's the thing, though. As we said, we love steak. We love the meaty flavor and the...steakiness. All this spice rub? For us, it sort of masked the steak a little rather than enhancing it. Our steak tastes run more toward the simple salt and pepper approach, but if you like that whole spicy, blackened thing, you will absolutely love this steak!
And even if we don't make this spice-rubbed steak again, we're definitely going to incorporate some of these awesome tips:
- Scoring steak and marinating it in glutamates will give you a juicier, pricier-tasting piece of meat.
- If you do a spice-rub, toast the spices first and then shellac 'em on the meat with cooking spray.
- Resting the steak on a wire rack is a brilliant way to preserve the crispy, crusty char on all sides.
Do you have a go-to grilling tip? Please share it!
Serves 6 to 8
2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
2 (1½- to 1¾-pound) boneless shell sirloin steaks, 1 to 1¼ inches thick
2 dried New Mexican chiles, stemmed, seeded, and flesh torn into ½-inch pieces
4 teaspoons cumin seeds
4 teaspoons coriander seeds
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon paprika
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
Vegetable oil spray
1. For the Steak: Combine tomato paste, fish sauce, salt, onion powder, and garlic powder in bowl. Pat steaks dry with paper towels. With sharp knife, cut ¹⁄₁₆-inch-deep slits on both sides of steaks, spaced ½ inch apart, in crosshatch pattern. Rub salt mixture evenly on both sides of steaks. Place steaks on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet; let stand at room temperature for at least 1 hour. After 30 minutes, prepare grill.
2. For the Spice Rub: Toast chiles, cumin, coriander, pepper flakes, and peppercorns in 10-inch skillet over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until just beginning to smoke, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to plate to cool, about 5 minutes. Grind spices in spice grinder or in mortar with pestle until coarsely ground. Transfer spices to bowl and stir in sugar, paprika, and cloves.
3a. For a Charcoal Grill: Open bottom vent completely. Light large chimney starter mounded with charcoal briquettes (7 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour two-thirds evenly over grill, then pour remaining coals over half of grill. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.
3b. For a Gas Grill: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Leave primary burner on high and turn other burner(s) to medium.
4. Clean and oil cooking grate. Sprinkle half of spice rub evenly over 1 side of steaks and press to adhere until spice rub is fully moistened. Lightly spray rubbed side of steak with vegetable oil spray, about 3 seconds. Flip steaks and repeat process of sprinkling with spice rub and coating with vegetable oil spray on second side.
5. Place steaks over hotter part of grill and cook until browned and charred on both sides and center registers 125 degrees for medium-rare or 130 degrees for medium, 3 to 4 minutes per side. If steaks have not reached desired temperature, move to cooler side of grill and continue to cook. Transfer steaks to clean wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 10 minutes. Slice meat thin against grain and serve.
Grilled Steak with Ancho Chile-Coffee Rub
Substitute 1 dried ancho chile for New Mexican chiles, 2 teaspoons ground coffee for paprika, and 1 teaspoon cocoa powder for ground cloves.
Grilled Steak with Spicy Chipotle Chile Rub
Substitute 2 dried chipotle chiles for New Mexican chiles, 1 teaspoon dried oregano for paprika, and ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon for ground cloves.