Just about everybody who has watched America’s Test Kitchen knows that Chris Kimball has a heat-avoiding Yankee palate. He complains about the heat levels in some of the most mild recipes. So, I was a bit surprised that the current issue featured more than 10 Mexican recipes. This weekend I made 4 of his Mexican recipes for a big Sunday dinner; Carne Asada, Red Chili Sauce, Simple Refried Beans, and Folded Enchiladas. Overall, the meal was fantastic. It all came together quickly without a big mess. I will write separate posts for the other recipes; today I will just review the main course; Carne Asada (Grilled Meat).
Many of Chris Kimball’s recipes are cost-conscious (for example, this $10 Vaca Frita ingeniously substituted a Chuck Roast for Skirt Steak), but the current issue (September / October 2014) contains the two most expensive recipes I’ve made ($41 fish tacos and today’s $37 Carne Asada). It’s a bit of a splurge; not cutting any corners; using 2-1/2 lbs of beautiful Skirt Steak. By only lightly seasoning the steak with salt and a dash of cumin, the natural flavors were free to shine through. To attain the high heat necessary to char the beef without overcooking, Chris Kimball instructs us to cut the bottom out of a disposable aluminum pan (ensuring maximum airflow). This “trick” concentrates the intensity of the 6-quarts of charcoal; providing a perfectly even layer of charcoal. A typical mound of charcoal taper near the edges leaving the middle exponentially hotter. The steak was easy to evenly cook, only requiring minimal rearranging during flipping. The Carne Asada was fantastic; beefy flavor, and only lightly seasoned with lime and cumin. It was so delicious that I didn’t use a lot of my Red Chili Sauce. 4-1/2 stars, but mostly from the strength of the amazing cut of beef.
- I made dinner for 6 people, so bought 2-1/2 pounds of skirt steak, and cut the meat into 6 pieces. I adjusted the spice mixture accordingly, but maintained the same spice-to-beef ratio.
- Because Skirt Steak has wider muscle fibers than other cuts of beef, it needs to be cooked to medium (130-degrees) to become tender. If you cook beyond 140-degrees it will become tough and dry.
- Chris Kimball also has a variation of this recipe to make this one a gas grill. Instead of using the aluminum pan method, simply turn all your burners to high, and pre-heat for 15 minutes. Leave all your burners on high during the entire cooking process.
- I opted out of making dessert; but Cook’s Illustrated also published four Flan recipes this month.
Rating: 4-1/2 star.
Cost: $37. (Just for the Carne Asada)
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess? Low/Medium.
Start time 3:30 PM. Dinner time 5:00 PM.
Cook’s Illustrated original recipe is here. The recipe as I cooked it today is as follows (while I did cook 2-1/2 pounds of Skirt Steak, I’ve listed the original 2-pound ingredients):
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2-pounds skirt steak
13″x9″ disposable aluminum roasting pan
1 garlic clove
- Trim your steak of any excess fat (mine didn’t have any). Use a meat pounder to pound until it reaches a uniform 1/4″-thickness, and cut into 4 equal steaks.
- In a small bowl, combine the 2 teaspoons kosher salt and 3/4 teaspoon cumin. Evenly sprinkle over both sides of the steak. Set a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Refrigerate uncovered for a minimum of 45 minutes (or up to 24 hours).
- Meanwhile use kitchen shears to cut out the bottom of a disposable aluminum pan. You will only use the collar, discard (or recycle) the bottom.
- When ready to cook, completely open the bottom vents of your grill. Ignite a chimney starter filled with 6-quarts of briquettes. Allowing to light for about 20 minutes until the top coals become partially covered with fine grey ash. Put the disposable collar in the center of the grill, and empty the lit charcoal into an even layer inside the collar. Replace the grill grate and pre-heat grill for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grill grate (using tongs and oil-soaked paper towels).
- Position the steaks directly over the coals and cook (without covering) for 3 to 4 minutes, until the beef becomes well browned. Use tongs to flip (and rearrange as necessary), cooking for another 3 to 4 minutes. It is ready when the meat reaches 130-degrees (medium).
- Remove beef to carving board and tent with aluminum foil as it rests for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, peel and smash your garlic and cut your lime into wedges.
- Bub the steak with the smashed garlic, and cut against the grain into 1/4″-thick slices. Serve with lime.