Eric Akis: Grilled flat iron a bold, beefy take on steak

Eric Akis

When I’m in a restaurant and in the mood for a steak, I’ll order a flat iron if I see it on the menu. It’s a tender, flavourful cut of beef and, as an added bonus, it’s more moderately priced than other quality steaks, such as strip loin.

Another reason I would order a flat iron steak in a restaurant is because, for many years, it was the only place I could enjoy one. I would have cooked one at home, but local grocery stores and butcher shops did not sell it.

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When I asked these establishments why that was, all said it was because even when they tried to sell it, most home cooks did not buy it because they did not know what it was or how to cook it. Its odd-sounding name also confused them.

More recently, thanks to food magazines and cooking shows, savvy home cooks now often know what a flat iron steak is, and it’s more readily available at Island butchers and some grocery stores.

For those who might not know what a flat iron is, here’s a primer.

This steak comes from the chuck, the front, hard-working shoulder area of the animal. This primal cut is best known for tougher cuts, such as blade steaks and roasts, that require slow and long cooking to make them tender.

But tucked inside the chuck is an often well-marbled strip of meat called the top blade, that when extracted properly and well trimmed is surprisingly tender. That’s why it’s also known as the chuck tender. Because the top blade comes from the chuck, it also has a bolder, beefier flavour than other parts of the animal, such as the tenderloin.

The top blade is cut into steaks in two ways. The simplest way, which some call the old-style way, is to cut the top blade, widthwise, into oval-shaped steaks. Depending on the source, those steaks go by names such as flat iron, feather steak, petite steak, butler steak and top blade steak.

The top blade, which some call the newer way, is also cut into steaks but cutting the meat horizontally, so the one butchering it can remove the strip of connective tissue that runs down the centre of it. The two thinner, long strips of meat you end up with are then cut into rectangular steaks that, shape wise, kind of look like an old-fashioned metal flat iron — why lore suggests this cut got to be known as a flat iron steak.

Flat iron steaks are cooked as you would any other tender steak, by methods such as grilling, pan searing and broiling.

I have eaten flat iron steaks cut in the old and newer-style ways and enjoyed both. When the connective tissue is removed, you have a piece of meat that is free of those more chewy bits. When they are left in, as they were in the steak you see in the photo, and especially if it’s top grade beef, I find they release added flavour into the meat. You can also simply eat around that part of the steak, but I never do, because the taste is always good there, despite the bit of chewiness.

Grilled Flat Iron Steaks With Wine Peppercorn Sauce

Bold, beefy, tender, flat iron steaks are made even more inviting when topped with a rich, red wine- and green peppercorn-flavoured sauce. For a bistro-style meal, serve the steaks with frites and buttery green beans.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: Depends on desired doneness (see method)

Makes: Two servings

For the sauce

1/2 cup rich red wine, such as cabernet sauvignon or shiraz

2 tsp green peppercorns, drained well

1 Tbsp finely chopped shallot or red onion

1 small garlic clove, minced

1/4 tsp minced fresh thyme, or pinch dried

2 tsp cornstarch

3/4 cup beef stock, plus more if needed

• fresh thyme sprigs, for garnish (optional)

Place the wine, green peppercorns, shallot (or red onion), garlic and thyme in a small pot. Bring to a simmer over medium, medium-high heat. Simmer wine mixture until reduced by half. While wine reduces, place the cornstarch and stock in a bowl and whisk until cornstarch is dissolved.

When wine has reduced, whisk the cornstarch/stock mixture into it. Return to a simmer, and simmer one to two minutes, or until lightly thickened sauce forms. Remove sauce from the heat, cover and set aside until needed below.

For the steaks and to serve

2 (6 to 8 oz., about 1-inch thick) flat iron steaks

• olive oil

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat your barbecue or indoor grill to medium-high. Brush each steak lightly with olive oil, and then season with salt and pepper. Grill the steaks to the desired doneness, allowing about two to three minutes per side for rare, and three to four minutes per side for medium rare to medium.

When steaks are almost done, bring the sauce back to a simmer. Add a bit more stock to the sauce, if you find it too thick.

When steaks are cooked, plate them, top with sauce and serve.

Note: If you have any leftover sauce, it will freeze well, to thaw, heat up and serve with another steak.

Eric’s options: The sauce will also taste great served with any other tender steak, such as tenderloin, strip loin, top sirloin or rib eye.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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