Thursday, April 23, 2009

At Long Last!

I have a disclaimer to make.

Believe it or not, I am NOT a vegetarian. One certainly could have gotten that impression from reading this blog. With the exception of my Happy Clams recipe from mid-January, I realize that all of the recipes I’ve posted over the past seven months have fallen into either the vegetarian or dessert course categories. Not that I see anything wrong with that, but perhaps it is time for me to branch out a bit in my postings.

I actually love eating meat, something I do frequently whenever I go out for meals, but I just don’t usually cook it myself. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe I’m a little intimidated, always afraid I’m going to misfire and end up with an inedible main course, either from being raw or horribly overdone. For that reason alone, I should work on developing my confidence in this area so that I feel more well-rounded in the kitchen. But I think my reticence also stems from my college years when I had a very limited cash flow and tried to cook as economically as possible, which translated into a diet that focused on grains and beans and lots of vegetables. Even though my purse is a little more flush now than it was fifteen years ago, I still really enjoy cooking and eating that way.

However, I had an uncontrollable craving for red meat last night. Instead of going out for a steak, I decided to be brave and cook one myself. I must admit that I got enormous satisfaction from tapping into my inner carnivore last night in my own kitchen! I also got a lot of pleasure out knowing that I’d be able to switch gears on this blog tonight. Instead of teasing you with tales of decadent chocolate experiences or rhapsodizing about radishes and avocados the way I often do, I am thrilled to have this fabulous skirt steak recipe to share with you tonight. In fact, it is a recipe for Sumac Skirt Steak With Pomegranate-Shallot Sauce, to be exact.

I have to give credit to my friend Lorra for introducing me to this deliciously dazzling dish earlier this month. She made me an offer I couldn't refuse when she invited me over for “just a little sumac-rubbed steak with a special pomegranate reduction”, delivered oh-so-casually as if that were the most normal thing to whip up for dinner with friends on a Monday evening! Lorra is extremely partial to any dish that boasts the word REDUCTION in its description, and I think she likes the complexity of flavors and concentration of tastes that a “reduction” suggests. While I was already looking forward to the sauce with reduced pomegranate juice in it, I had to admit that I didn’t really even know what sumac was.

As it turns out, sumac is a spice derived from the dark red berries of a wild bush that grows especially in the southern Mediterranean and Middle East regions. When these berries are dried and crushed, they form a coarse reddish-purple powder with a slightly fruity and astringent taste, quite similar to lemon. Sumac figures prominently in Middle Eastern cuisine, as it complements everything from vegetables to fish to meat. It is frequently used as a souring agent the way other cuisines might use lemon or vinegar for acidity and brightness.

After experiencing a gorgeous meal at Lorra’s inspired by this particular recipe from Gourmet, I knew I had to have this sumac-rubbed skirt steak in my own repertoire. I found a beautiful little tin of this crucial spice at Dean&Deluca, and once I had that in my possession, I was ready for action in my own kitchen.

I made a reduction of the pomegranate juice with a pinch of salt and sugar, boiling it down until it had reduced to a thickened syrupy mixture that would form the base for a truly outrageous sauce. 

While the pomegranate juice was reducing, I made a simple rub for the skirt steak by combining a heaping tablespoon of the ground sumac with coarse salt and pepper that I sprinkled over the meat, and then I broiled it on both sides till medium rare. It couldn’t have been easier. No grills to heat, no start-the-dish-on-the-stove-but-finish-in-the-oven techniques, just a simple quick broil on both sides until the meat was done to my liking.

Letting the meat rest after cooking it is an essential step. If you have ever cut into a piece of meat immediately after cooking, you may find that an initial rush of juice runs out all over the cutting board but then the meat is dry afterwards. The internal temperature of meat continues to rise even after it has been removed from the heat, so by allowing the meat to rest after cooking, this gives the juices a chance to redistribute and be reabsorbed during this standing period. By letting the meat rest, it will lose much less juice when you cut into it and it will be much more tender.

While the broiled skirt steak rested, I finished my sauce by sautéing some minced shallot in butter and adding the reduced pomegranate juice along with some port, fresh lemon juice, and a spoonful or two of the juices from the steak. When I tasted the sauce for seasoning and balance, I let a whoop of joy and was tempted to just devour the sauce straight from the saucepan with a spoon. I don’t know if it was the pomegranate reduction or if it was the juice that ran off the sumac-rubbed steak that made my knees want to buckle out from under me. Maybe it was the generous addition of shallots softened in butter that tied it all together, but all I know is that this was one hell of a sauce.

But in the end, I’m really glad that I sliced the steak and spooned the sauce over it. The sour notes of the sumac played off the sweetness of the pomegranate quite brilliantly, and all the flavors and textures complemented each other beautifully. As for any apprehension I may have when it comes to cooking certain cuts of meat, I can say without any hesitation that this recipe was a great confidence booster. Straightforward and simple, this really provides a major bang for the buck. Open up a gorgeous bottle of a big jammy zinfandel or choose a deep chewy cabernet to drink when you serve this special skirt steak to your friends. I can assure you that you will have extremely happy people at your table when you make this for them!

Adapted from a recipe in Gourmet, September 2006

Look for ground sumac in your specialty foods store or in a market that specializes in Middle Eastern foods. It is worth seeking out for the unusual flavor it imparts, but if you can’t find it, simply sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper and follow the recipe as written. Squeeze a bit of fresh lemon juice over the finished sliced steak before drizzling with the pomegranate sauce.

2 cups bottled pomegranate juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sumac
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 pounds skirt steak
3 tablespoons butter
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
¼ cup ruby or tawny Port
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Combine the pomegranate juice, sugar, and ¼ teaspoon salt in a 2-quart saucepan over moderately high heat. Bring to a boil and cook until reduced to about 1/3 cup. This will take approximately 20 to 30 minutes.

Preheat the broiler. Stir together the sumac, pepper, and remaining ¾ teaspoon salt. Cut the steak into pieces and fit into a large rimmed shallow baking pan. Pat the meat dry and sprinkle evenly with sumac mixture. Let stand about 10 minutes.

Broil the steaks 3 to 4 inches from heat, turning over once, 2 to 3 minutes total for thinner pieces, 3 to 4 minutes for thicker pieces for medium-rare. Transfer the steaks with any pan juices to a large plate and let them stand, loosely covered with foil, for about 10 minutes.

While the steaks rest, heat 1 tablespoon butter in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides. Add the chopped shallot, cooking till golden while stirring occasionally, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the Port and simmer until reduced to a glaze, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add any meat juices that have accumulated on the plate and bring to a simmer. Whisk in the pomegranate reduction and fresh lemon juice. Remove the pan from heat and whisk in remaining 2 tablespoons butter until incorporated.

Holding your knife at a 45-degree angle, thinly slice steak diagonally and serve with sauce. Serves 4 to 6, depending on how carnivorous you and your guests are!


sashaknits said...

What is the yummy looking grain/rice side dish?

louise said...

Lately my favorite rice has been the Lundberg Family Farms Mahogany Rice Blend, something that I've found in many of my local health food stores. It has a wonderfully nutty flavor and chewy texture, and when it's cooked, it turns that gorgeous deep purple color which you see in the photos. I spooned some of the pomegranate sauce over the rice, and though there wasn't much color differentiation, it was a wonderful complement to the skirt steak!