Flank steak, a long and flat cut of beef with a pronounced grain, has steadily grown in popularity over the years. In a matter of decades, this inexpensive butcher’s secret has come to occupy a prominent place in the meat case.
Flank is prized for its beefy, hefty flavor, and here, I’m cooking it quickly on the stovetop and topping it with a quick citrus salsa. This recipe – and flank steak in general -- makes an excellent choice when you have a crowd to feed.
Steak With Mexican Flavors
When I first started thinking about this recipe, I thought of the family barbecues we had in Indiana when my son was young. There was always a passel of relatives in attendance, with kids running around the yard, folks lounging in lawn chairs, and lots of beer on ice.
My brother-in-law, who hails from Mexico, often took over the grilling duties. Fidel’s specialty was grilled flank or skirt steak seasoned with his spicy chili rub and doused with beer. In our family, then and now, tortillas and salsa are always on the table when steak is on the menu, and we ate the thin slices of beef like tacos.
That got me thinking of a way to make this flank steak festive and fun, with Mexican flavors and a slightly different kind of salsa.
Cooking the Steak
For this recipe, I like to pound the steak into an even thinness, and then rub it with ancho chili powder to give it a subtle spiciness that pairs well with the salsa.
Pounding the steak does two things:
- It tenderizes an otherwise tough cut of meat.
- It reduces the cooking time.
Flank steak is best cooked to medium-rare. Too rare, and it is chewy. Too well done, it becomes tough.
Don’t skip resting the meat after cooking! This five minutes resting period allows the juices to settle and redistribute. Slice it too soon and those juices will gush out onto the cutting board when you slice the meat and you lose the extra-juicy flavor.
Speaking of slicing, flank steak has a pronounced grain – you can see the muscle fibers all going in one direction. To serve, cut across the grain at an angle to achieve the most tender results -- the thinner the better. Even so, flank steak will never melt in your mouth the way filet mignon will, but it has a hearty, beefy flavor that can’t be beat.
Making the Salsa
When oranges are in season, pick out several different varieties, such as navel, cara cara and blood oranges. They look pretty mixed together and also give you the opportunity to taste and compare flavors.
Queso fresco is a mild Mexican cheese available in the cheese section of most major grocery stores with a good selection of Hispanic ingredients. You’ll also find it at cheese counters or Mexican markets.
If you can’t find queso fresco, feta makes a fine substitute. Feta is slightly saltier and sharper than mild queso fresco, but still adds plenty of zest to the salsa.
Mix the oranges with lots of cilantro, then sprinkle the cheese and avocado over top. This simple salsa transforms the steak into a real standout with a Mexican flair.
Serving It Up!
Once cooked and sliced, arrange the steak on a platter and top with the salsa. Sprinkle it with more cilantro and crumbled cheese, and dot the platter with the sliced avocado. Let the fiesta begin!
Whether you cook this steak on the stovetop or grill it outside when the weather permits, it’s a crowd pleaser. In addition, the steak can be served warm or cold, so you can’t beat it as a make-ahead dish for a party.
More Great Steak Recipes to Try!
Flank Steak with Orange and Avocado Salsa
To grill the steak: Build a two-level fire (mound the coals on one side of the grill, leaving the second side empty) Sear the steak on both sides over the hot side. Slide the steak to the cooler side and let it cook to the desired temperature.) The time will be about the same as cooking on top of the stove, but have a thermometer handy (125ºF for rare or 130ºF for medium rare) to test the temperature, since the intensity of heat varies depending on your grill. Transfer the steak to a cutting board and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
Recipe Tester Note: Try cutting the citrus and avocados into chunks rather than slices! It's a little easier to eat as tacos this way.
- For the salsa
- 2 tablespoons finely diced red onion
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 1 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 4 to 5 oranges, any kind
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
- For the steak
- 1 1/2 pounds flank steak
- 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons ancho chili powder
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- To serve:
- 4 ounces queso fresco, crumbled
- 1 avocado, sliced
- 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
- Warm tortillas or salad greens, for serving (optional)
Begin making the salsa:
In a bowl, combine the red onion, lime juice, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper. Let stand for 5 minutes while you slice the oranges. (The acid in the lime and vinegar takes the edge off the raw onion so it doesn’t overpower the salsa.)
Prepare the oranges:
With a serrated knife, trim the ends of each orange. Place one orange flat end down on a cutting board. Using a sawing motion and going from top to bottom, cut away the pith and peel from the orange following the curve of the orange.
Cut the orange into slices. Cut the slices into halves if small, and quarters if large. Repeat with the remaining oranges.
Finish the salsa:
Add the sliced oranges and any accumulated juices to the bowl with the onion and lime juice. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if you like.
Pound and season the steak:
Cover a cutting board with a piece of plastic wrap and set the steak on top. Place another sheet of plastic wrap on top of the steak. Using a mallet, a rolling pin or a heavy frying pan, pound the steak to an even thickness of about 1/2-inch.
Uncover the steak and rub each side with 1/2 tablespoon of the olive oil. Sprinkle each side with ancho chile powder and pat it into the meat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Cook the steak:
Set a cast-iron pan or griddle over high heat and heat until hot. Add 2 teaspoons of the oil and tilt the pan to spread it over the bottom.
Add the steak and cook for about 2 to 3 minutes on a side, or until it is lightly browned and the internal temperature registers 125oF for rare or 130oF for medium rare.
Rest the steak:
Transfer the steak to a cutting board and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
Slice and serve the steak:
On a cutting board, slice the and transfer it to a serving platter. Top with the salsa. Finish with queso fresco and cilantro scattered over top and the avocado slices arranged alongside. Serve with warmed tortillas, if you like.