Swiss steak is a method of slow-cooking a relatively tough cut of beef, such as a round steak. The meat is browned, and then braised in a tomato sauce.
According to The American Century Cookbook, recipes first starting showing up for Swiss steak in the 1930s. Reynolds Wrap Aluminum popularized it in the late 40s by promoting the recipe as a use for its foil.
You can cook this steak on a stove-top (which is the method we describe here), or wrap it in foil and place on a cookie sheet and cook it in the oven.
The “Swiss” in Swiss Steak has nothing to do with Switzerland, but refers to the process of tenderizing a tough cut of meat. The following is my mother’s method for making Swiss Steak.
- One 2 to 2.5 pound round or top round steak, about an inch thick
- A couple tablespoons of flour
- Salt and pepper
- 3 Tbsp grapeseed oil, or other high smoke point oil for browning (canola)
- 1 onion, roughly chopped
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 2 cups puréed tomatoes (canned or fresh)
- 2 teaspoons each of fresh thyme, sage, marjoram, or 1/2 teaspoon each of dried
Optional: Vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, or green beans
1 Sear the steak on both sides: Rub flour into both sides of the steak. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat 2 Tbsp of oil in a wide, shallow (3 inches) pan (with cover) to medium high heat. Place the steak in the pan, and cook for approximately 10 minutes on each side, enough to brown the steak.
2 Sauté onions and garlic: Remove the steak from the pan and set aside. Add onions and garlic to the pan and another tablespoon of oil. Cook the onions and garlic for 3-5 minutes, using a metal spatula to scrape up any steak drippings, mixing them in with the onions. Add half of the herbs to the onions.
3 Add steak, herbs, tomato purée: Return the steak to the pan, placing it on top of the onions. Crowd the onions around and on top of the steak. Sprinkle the rest of the herbs on top of the steak. Add the 2 cups of puréed tomatoes to the pan.
4 Cover and simmer: Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid. Use a high lid if available. A high lid will help circulate the steam and moisture from the cooking juices and keep the steak moist.
Bring the steak in the tomato purée to a simmer and then lower the heat to the lowest heat possible to maintain a low simmer (we use the warm setting on our electric range). Cook for 1 1/2 hours.
5 Pre-cook vegetables: While the steak is cooking, you may want to slightly pre-cook vegetables that you want to serve with the steak. For example, for this dish we steamed 4 small, peeled, quartered russet potatoes and 2 carrots, quartered lengthwise and cut into 2 inch segments, for 5-10 minutes. (You could use other vegetables, such as green beans, or no vegetables at all.) After 1 1/2 hours of cooking time for the steak, we uncovered the pan, turned the steak over, added the potatoes and carrots, covered the pan and cooked the steak and vegetables for another 30 minutes.
The reason that you might want to pre-cook the vegetables a bit first is that the steak is cooking at a very low heat. You'll have more control over how cooked the vegetables are if you pre-cook them a bit first.
6 Slice and serve: The steak should be done after a total cooking time of 2 hours. To check it, you can poke it with a fork. The meat should be quite tender. To serve, remove the steak and slice it on a carving board. Alternatively, you could have started with individual steaks that were smaller. Spoon the sauce over the steak.