Few folks know their beef like they do in Argentina. On a family trip there a few years ago I was talking to a local about the famous Argentine cattle. When I asked him what makes the beef so delicious, wondering aloud what the cows eat, he looked at me like I was nuts. “What do you think they eat?” he said in his heavily accented English. “They are cows. They eat grass.”
I felt like a bozo. But I was coming from the U.S. where the notion of cows feeding on grass was a trendy new idea. At that time, “grass fed beef” was a term just starting to find its way into the American lexicon.
In the few years since then, I’ve become a lot more thoughtful about the meat I choose to eat. Recently, Sam Mogannam, who owns Bi-Rite here in San Francisco, arguably one of the best small markets in the country, graciously agreed to be a guest teacher for one of my middle school cooking classes. The topic was beef, a subject about which he waxed so passionately I thought I might cry. The take away: know what you are buying.
The best case scenario is to purchase meat directly from the rancher, which you can do sometimes if you go to the farmer’s market. Barring that, know your butcher and where he or she gets their meat. Organic, grass fed, sustainably and humanely raised are all good things.
None of this, of course, comes cheap. Good quality meat, like good quality almost anything, is pricier, which perhaps isn’t such a bad thing because when it comes to meat, less is more. Raising cattle is hard on the environment, and meat is better for your body in small doses. I approach eating meat no different than eating ice cream. I’d rather have the good stuff less often than the junky stuff all the time.
This recipe here is part of the 15 Minute Meal series: Dinners that go from stove to table in no time. Blow in from work at 6:00 p.m. and be sitting down to a steak dinner by 6:15.
You can use either skirt or flank steak: Both are more economical than many cuts, and are thin so they cook quickly. Flank steak is the leaner of the two. At the bottom of the recipe you’ll find a few ideas for speedy side-dishes to accompany the main course.
The key to the recipe is to season the meat well, not overcook it, and use great ingredients. If you can swing it, invest in a quality, aged balsamic vinegar. It’s delicious on these greens. Not so sure about the arugula? You might be surprised to find your kids like it, but if that’s too much of a stretch, feel free to substitute baby spinach. If you have a few slices of steak left over, incorporate those into a lunchbox sandwich the next day.
This recipe is quick enough for a weekday supper, but decadent enough to save for Saturday night. Invite your Argentine friends over. They might like it too, particularly if the beef is grass fed.
PAN-SEARED STEAK ON ARUGULA WITH PARMESAN AND BALSAMIC
- 1 ½ pounds skirt steak or flank steak
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for cooking
- 5 cups gently packed baby arugula, washed and dried
- 2 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar
- 1 small hunk Parmegiano Reggiano cheese
Get out a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan or grill pan. If your steak is longer than the pan, cut it in half crosswise so it will fit. Season the steak liberally with salt and pepper on both sides.
Set the pan on the stove over high heat and get it good and hot. Turn the heat down to medium-high, lightly coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil and lay the steak in the pan. Cook to desired doneness; the time will vary depending on the thickness of the steak. Three minutes per side is a fair estimate for medium-rare. You can always remove it from the heat, cut into it with a paring knife and have a tiny peek to see if it’s done enough.
While the steak cooks, put the arugula onto a large serving platter and drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar. Gently toss to coat the greens. Add more oil and vinegar if the greens seem underdressed. Season with a generous pinch of salt and arrange the arugula on a platter.
Take a vegetable peeler and peel paper thin slices of Parmesan onto the arugula. Shave as much cheese as you like.
Once the steak is done, set it on a carving board. If you have the luxury of a few minutes, let it rest for a good five. Cut the steak across the grain into ½-inch thick strips. Lay the steak on top of the arugula.
Makes 4 servings
Ideas for speedy side dishes:
- Asparagus roasted in the oven
- Blanched green beans or broccoli served with lemon and olive oil
- Crusty whole grain Italian bread
- Boiled or roasted baby potatoes
- A salad of thinly sliced fennel and oranges
- Pre-packaged polenta, sliced and browned in a pan