August stars: steak and salsa

Melissa Clark / New York Times News Service /


Published Aug 20, 2013 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

I’ll admit that most of the grilled meals I make are about as basic as it gets. Throw some combination of protein and vegetables onto the grill, set the table, open the wine and call it a meal. Sauce is just a drizzle of olive oil and maybe some herbs from the deck. It keeps the kitchen cool, feeds the family and is about as easy as can be.

This chili-rubbed flank steak with tomatillo-pineapple salsa is a dish of a higher order. It’s a company-friendly endeavor that takes a little more forethought (marinating!), some minor effort with the coals (indirect heat!) and a bit of concentration. You have to keep track of how all the different ingredients are cooking and pull them off the grill one by one before they burn. Not that any of the techniques is challenging or time consuming. It’s just not the kind of thing you can do on automatic pilot.

But the payoff is great. The steak comes out charred and spicy on the outside, seasoned with oregano, orange juice and chili powder, and juicy on the inside. And the chunky tomatillo salsa studded with bits of sweet, caramelized pineapple walks the line between condiment and side dish, nicely setting off the brawny meat. It’s a festive, colorful meal for a cookout.

If you can organize yourself the day before, let the meat marinate a full 24 hours so it can really absorb the complex, earthy heat of New Mexico chili powder. (Seek out the good stuff here; its intense, almost fruity flavor makes a difference.)

Flank steak is a muscly cut that toughens up if you overcook it. Rare or medium-rare is optimal, and medium is as far as you should push it. If you like well-done meat, choose a more tender cut like rib-eye. Always slice flank steak across the grain; it breaks up the muscle fibers and makes it easier to chew.

Grilled Chili Flank Steak with Tomatillo-Pineapple Salsa

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

2 TBS freshly squeezed orange juice

1 TBS New Mexico chili powder

1 tsp dried oregano

11⁄2 tsp kosher salt, more as needed

11⁄2 to 13⁄4 lbs flank steak

1⁄2 lb fresh peeled pineapple in 1⁄2-inch slices

3⁄4 lb whole tomatillos, husks removed

1⁄2 onion (cut stem to root), peeled

2 jalapeno peppers, halved and seeded

1 head garlic, halved diametrically

11⁄2 TBS olive oil

Black pepper, as needed

2 TBS chopped cilantro

Lime wedges, for serving

In a bowl, combine the orange juice, chili powder, oregano and 1 teaspoon salt. Place steak into a large glass or ceramic container and coat all over with the marinade. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

To make the salsa, light a grill, keeping a small area unlit for indirect heat. Grill pineapple over direct heat until charred on both sides, 3 to 5 minutes a side.

Toss the tomatillos, onion, jalapenos and garlic with olive oil, remaining 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and black pepper. Place the garlic over indirect heat, cut-side down, and grill until charred and somewhat tender, 6 to 10 minutes (do not turn). Grill the onion, cut-side down over direct heat, until well charred, 3 to 5 minutes (do not turn). Grill the tomatillos and jalapenos over direct heat on both sides until they are tender and blistered, 1 to 3 minutes a side.

When cool enough to handle, peel onion and coarsely chop it and tomatillos and jalapenos. Squeeze the garlic from the peel and mash with the flat side of a knife, then chop. In a bowl, combine vegetables, half the garlic and the pineapple. Toss in cilantro and season with a squeeze of lime juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Grill steak until done to taste, about 2 to 4 minutes a side. Let rest for 10 minutes, then smear the remaining garlic on top. Carve steak against the grain and serve with the salsa and lime wedges.