"What are you doing for dinner tomorrow night?" I asked Annie over the phone. "Nothing," she answered. "Why?" I explained that I had just been making a marinade for some some skirt steak I was planning on grilling for dinner for Mark and myself, but when I checked to recipe to see how long it needed to marinate, was mortified to discover that it needed 12 to 24 hours. She burst into gales of laughter. "So what are you going to do for dinner tonight?" she asked. "Go out," I replied. She asked why I couldn't just make it the next night. "Mark already has dinner plans with a friend of his," I told her. "Well then," she said, "I guess you're grilling me some skirt steak for dinner tomorrow."
What made my mistake particularly shameful is that I wound up doing what my dear friend, my cooking partner is notorious for. You see, Annie has a habit of not reading recipes completely though before she starts making them. I call this "pulling an Annie." She will very methodically measure out ingredients and yet she almost never reads the recipe all the way through unless I remind her. As such we'll be cooking and all of a sudden she yelps things like, "Oh (expletive) I wasn't supposed to add the lemon juice yet!" or "(expletive)! The custard has to chill for several hours before we put it in the ice cream maker!" I just shake my head and sigh in an exasperated and condescending way.
I on the other hand always read the recipe through, several times. So why did I miss such an important instruction, you ask? Well in my defense, this was a recipe that Annie and I saw demonstrated at a cooking class we recently attended at Border Grill in Santa Monica and during the demonstration, Mary Sue and Susan, the two women who own the restaurant, made this particular marinade and then a few moments later, were grilling the meat. I guess I forgot the part when someone from the kitchen ran out a piece of skirt steak that had been marinating since the day before. You can understand, right? And now, the tables have turned. And Annie is not the kind of person to take the higher road.
Anyway, the next afternoon, I packed up my skirt steak along with the ingredients for the sides I had been planning on serving with it and headed down to Annie and Pierson's house in Culver City. Annie answered the door and just shook her head and sighed, a self-satisfied smirk on her face. I was not proud.
1/4 cup cumin seeds
6 jalapenos, stemmed, seeded (seeds reserved) and coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
2 bunches cilantro
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/2 to 3 pounds skirt steak, trimmed of excess fat
Lightly toast the cumin seeds in a dry medium skillet over moderate heat until the aroma is released, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Transfer the seeds to a blender or food processor. Add the jalapenos, garlic, salt, pepper, and lime juice.
Puree until everything is finely chopped and the seeds are ground. Add the cilantro and pulse some more until finely chopped and mixed well. With the processor running, slowly drizzle the olive oil through the feed tube until the mixture becomes thick and creamy. Taste the marinade and if you desire a little more heat, add some of the reserved jalapeno seeds and then pulse again until combined. I used about half of the reserved seeds. Set aside half the marinade in a separate bowl to use later as a sauce.
Using your hands slather the skirt steak generously with the marinade then roll each piece into a cylinder. Arrange the steak rolls in a shallow casserole dish spooning over any remaining marinade.
Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours.
About 30 minutes before cooking, remove meat from refrigerator. Heat a barbeque, grill pan or broiler to very hot. One thing I didn't do but would recommend, is fold a paper towel into a small thick square. Blot the paper towel with some olive oil and then quickly rub the grates of the grill. This will help prevent the meat from sticking. Cook the steaks until just seared on both sides, about 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium rare.
Transfer the steaks to a plate and let rest for 10 minutes. Slice the skirt steak against the grain (very important to slice against the grain, otherwise the steak will taste tough) into thin slices and serve immediately with a small dish of the reserved marinade to spoon over.
This whole meal was incredible, not to oversell. I'm just being honest. The marinade is slightly spicy with a smoky subtext. My food processor didn't completely pulverize the cumin seeds and as such the marinade had an interesting texture. If you prefer, maybe grind the toasted cumin seeds in a spice grinder before combining them with the rest of the marinade ingredients. The lime juice and cilantro imbue freshness, and even if you think you don't like cilantro, do give this a try. The cilantro flavor is not at the foreground, rather it combines with everything else and the results are a bit more complex and interesting. I sort of wonder what it might be like with some mint added as well.
I served the skirt steak with some sliced avocado, a mound of black beans that had been cooked with bacon, garlic and some earthy ancho chile powder, and some grilled corn on the cob, Mexican style, which is to say, slathered with a mixture of mayonnaise, lime juice, and cayenne pepper, then showered with cotija cheese. To drink, Annie made round after round of Blackberry-Thyme Margaritas.
This marinade is fantastic on the skirt steak although I used the leftover to marinate a couple pork loins with favorable results. I would expect it working well with chicken too. But do take the time to let whatever it is you choose to marinate really soak in the flavors. It does make a difference.
Serves 6 or so