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Texas and Beef

How to cook a steak

by David Bulla

Texas and Beef -- the words are almost synonymous. If I go a day without beef of some kind, I start feeling...wrong. I almost always have some kind of beef on hand that I can use to create a fantastic meal. And there is usually a roast of some kind that I bought on sale and put in the freezer for that I-want-beef-and-potatoes meal. If I am in a bind, I just have a burger.

I am not going to go on a rant about beef here; I will save the statistics and facts for another day. Beef is good food. It's THE agricultural business in Texas, and we sure do know how to cook with it around here.



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Steak-Grilling Tips

I do want to give a few tips for cooking steak on a grill that some people may not know and will see definite results from following.
  • When grilling your favorite steak, always season it with salt and pepper before putting it on the grill. Some chefs say that the salt will start to cure the meat by bringing the juices out before it's cooked. This is true, but only to a certain extent. It takes hours for this process to cause any noticeable effect. Give your steak a generous seasoning with salt and pepper at room temperature about 30 minutes before you grill it and you will have a nicely seasoned steak when all is said and done.
  • The trick to getting those beautiful grill marks is simple: DON'T MESS WITH IT! I know the temptation is overpowering at times to move your steaks around on the grill. Just put them down and let the grill do the work. If you start getting one of those pesky flare ups, turn the heat down a little or move the steak to another part of the grill to get your grill marks, and finish your steaks in your oven at 450 degrees. Many restaurants cook this way. They mark the steaks on the high heat grill, and finish them in the oven on high heat. This prevents the outsides from burning and allows the steak to cook more evenly.
  • How do I know when the steak is done? The only SURE method is to use a thermometer. Those aren't always handy. Here is a simple meter test system that gives you a pretty good idea of where your steak is in the cooking process. Looking at the palm of your right hand, bring the tip of your index finger and the tip of your thumb together until they touch. Don't press them hard together; just make them touch. Using the index finger of your other hand, press into the fleshy part of your right palm just beside the thumb. This is roughly the texture of rare- to medium-rare beef. Now, one at a time, touch your right thumb tip to the middle finger on the right hand and test the same fleshy area by your thumb with your left index finger. You'll notice that the texture of this area gets firmer as you work towards your pinky. These are successive temperatures of the beef as it cooks. Thumb and middle finger make medium, thumb and pinky make well done. So, with a little practice, you can just touch a piece of steak to tell what temperature it is. You can practice with the first recipe for Flank Steak.

Flank Steak Taco Salad with Marinated Black Beans and Fresh Avocado

Flank Steak is one of those quick to cook items that I can never seem to get enough of. It's juicy, tender, and versatile. Here is an idea for cooked flank steak served cold. This could be something to do with leftover flank steak from dinner the day before, but it's good enough to make the flank especially for this dish.

For the Flank Steak, you can prepare this ahead of time:

  • 1 Flank Steak, 1 to 2 lbs.
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ bunch cilantro
  • ½ cup olive oil
Combine all ingredients except oil and the Flank Steak in a food processor or blender. Blend on high, and slowly add the oil to make an emulsion. This should be like a salad dressing. Use half of this mixture to marinate the flank steak, set the other half aside in the refrigerator. Marinate the Flank Steak for at least 1 hour or overnight. Cook the flank steak on a grill or in a large pan on the stove to desired doneness. Medium seems to work best here. When the steak is done, allow to rest for 10 minutes or refrigerate until ready to use.

Marinated Black Beans

  • 1 12 oz. can Black Beans
  • ¼ cup finely diced bell pepper
  • ¼ cup finely diced red onion
  • Any remaining marinade from the flank steak above
  • Remaining ½ bunch cilantro from recipe above, chopped
Drain and rinse the beans, toss all ingredients in a bowl, season to taste with salt and pepper. You can do this a day ahead of time for best flavor.

To build your salad, first place a layer of your favorite tortilla chips on a plate, and top with your favorite salad greens. Top the salad greens with shredded Monterey Jack cheese. Spoon the marinated black beans over the top. Slice the flank steak into thin strips and arrange on top like the spokes of a wagon wheel. Place a slice of avocado between each slice of beef. Place a generous amount of your favorite salsa on top and a dollop of sour cream, and you are in business.

Tex-Mex Beef Kabobs

When making skewered beef kabobs, try to use a tender cut of meat that you would use for a steak, like beef tenderloin or ribeye. The reason for this is that you are going to cook the kabobs quickly over high heat. The meat will be a nice medium, and your vegetables will be roasted tender-crisp. A cut of meat with more connecting tissue or a better exercised muscle will not be tender when cooked like this. Cuts such as chuck or brisket are best served after a long, slow cooking.
  • 1 lb. Beef Tenderloin or Ribeye, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
  • 1 Sweet Yellow Onion
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper
  • 12 cherry tomatoes
  • 2 Fresh Jalapeno Peppers
  • 8 limes
  • 1 orange
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Tabasco sauce
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 8 large wooden skewers soaked in water overnight.
Prepare the veggies. Cut the onion into quarters and then cut the quarters in half. Cut the bell pepper into pieces slightly larger than the beef. Cut the jalapeno peppers in quarters, remove the pith and seeds (you may want to use gloves for this -- the heat doesn't wash off your hands easily), then cut each quarter in half length-wise. Leave the cherry tomatoes whole. Place all the veggies into a bowl with the prepared beef.

Roll the limes and orange on the counter with the palm of your hand, and apply pressure to start breaking down the fibers. Cut in half and squeeze the juice into the bowl with the veggies and beef. (Don't worry too much about the seeds.) Don't throw away the limes; they are used as "caps" on the ends of your skewer. Add the minced garlic, salt and pepper, Tabasco sauce and the olive oil. Toss lightly to evenly coat. Let marinate for 1 hour.

Skewer the beef and the veggies alternately with the soaked skewers, using the limes on each end of the skewer. You can cook on a grill, or you can broil in a preheated 450F degree oven until the veggies are slightly brown, but still crisp. Check the beef to make sure it's done to your taste; it should be medium by the time the vegetables are starting to cook. If you like your beef well done, the veggies won't mind if they cook a little longer. Serve with beans and rice and a pile of warm tortillas. Serves 4.

Tex-Mex Shredded Beef Brisket in Chipotle Mango Barbecue Sauce

Sometimes in Texas you just want barbecue. Unfortunately, it takes all day and a good smoker to make real Texas barbecue brisket. Not everyone has the equipment or the time. Here is a recipe for barbecue beef that will satisfy your craving with minimal effort. All you need is an ovenproof pot with a tight-fitting lid. For all you purists out there, this is not intended to duplicate a real slow smoked Texas barbecue brisket. It's something a little different. The chipotle pepper adds a mild smoky flavor and a little heat. (Chipotles are smoked, dried jalapeno peppers. They are available in small cans marinated in adobo sauce.)

Serve the shredded brisket on white sandwich buns with sliced sweet onions and sliced pickles. You can also serve it as tacos with taco fixings and tortillas.

  • 2 to 3 lb. beef brisket, trimmed of large pieces of fat and cut into several pieces (you can also use Chuck Roast)
  • 1 mango, diced
  • 1 medium red onion, diced small
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 chipotle pepper from a small can, minced. If unavailable, use a fresh jalapeno.
  • 1 cup black coffee (use the stuff leftover from the pot you brewed in the morning)
  • 1 cup chili sauce or ketchup
  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup dark cane syrup or dark molasses
  • ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
Combine all ingredients for the sauce in a bowl. Check the sauce for desired seasoning and adjust to your liking. If you like more heat, add more chipotle peppers. If you like more sourness, add more vinegar. This is an important step when cooking with recipes. Use them as guidelines and feel free to experiment a little. Keep in mind that the onion and mango will add a little sweetness to the finished product when they cook down. Set aside.

Season the beef with salt and pepper. In a large non-reactive pot (stainless steel or enameled cast iron) on medium-high heat, brown the beef on all sides in the olive oil. Do this in several batches being sure not to crowd the pan or you will never get the beef browned. You also want a "fond" to form on the bottom of the pan. This is all the browned bits and caramelized juices from the meat and it adds a significant amount of flavor. When all the meat is nicely browned, return the meat to the pan with the sauce. Bring the sauce up to a simmer, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to remove the browned bits. Cover the pot, reduce heat and simmer on low heat. The easiest way to do this is to put the whole covered pot into a preheated 300F degree oven or dump the whole thing into a crock pot set on low. Simmer for at least 2 hours. Check occasionally to make sure the liquid has not evaporated. If you start to run out of liquid, add a little beer or water. The beef should be fork tender. As you check on it, you can begin to break up the meat into shredded chunks with a fork. When it's all done, you should be able to easily pull the meat apart with a fork. Serves 6 to 8. Freezes well.

Save the chickens! Eat More Texas Beef!

David Bulla is a chef living in Austin, Texas.

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