As the days get longer, I find myself eyeing the grill on my back porch. Memories of the last time I fired it up are hazy — those steak-and-salad dinners of summer were too long ago.
But even with our new extra daylight, I still haven’t quite found the time to sweep off the pine needles and set things up for outdoor cooking. Luckily, there is an easier way to get a start on a new season of smoke and sizzle — indoors. All you need is a cast-iron skillet. And the nerve to get it nice and hot.
The goal is to sear the meat so it forms a brown, caramelized crust — a little char, even — not just for looks but because that crust is tasty. Especially if you’ve seasoned the meat generously with salt and pepper.
While this recipe for pan-seared skirt steak is foolproof, the smoke detectors in my apartment last winter were not. So, the first time my roommate Abbey and I tried this method of indoor grilling things, got a little out of hand. As we heated the skillet on the stove, we assured one another that the skirt steak we had chosen would cook so quickly, due to its thinness, that we would thwart those pesky alarms that had gone off during other smoky endeavors.
How wrong we were. In three short minutes, we managed to fill the place with smoke. With the alarms ringing, I flipped the steak over, wanting to give it just another minute, while Abbey ripped two smoke detectors out of the ceiling and dragged the dining room table under the third.
Abbey climbed up on the table and, using a meat thermometer to reach the detector, pressed the “hush” button over and over again. The ringing stopped just in time for me to hear her say, “Julia, I am going to pass out,” to which I responded, “The steak just needs 30 seconds more!”
Panting, and slightly woozy, she climbed down as I removed the steak to a cutting board. We both stared at it blamefully. But not for long. We could see that it was a perfect medium rare. Ironically, our distraction had enabled that outcome — for a properly crusty steak, it’s better to leave the meat alone than to fuss over it.
This year we’ve been lucky to be doing our cooking in a better-equipped household. The fan happens to be on the blink, but why should that matter in a kitchen with plenty of windows? This time, we’d have our first steak of the season without a side of drama.
Just as I flipped the steak over, Abbey remarked that the room really was getting quite smoky. The windows were cracked, but before she even finished her sentence, the smoke detector was screaming.
This is not to deter you from cooking a steak indoors. It’s just to say that, in addition to a cast-iron skillet and a window, what you need if you’re going to do this is a decent working range hood.
To me, skirt steak is the best cut of meat for grilling, whether you’re cooking over coals or in a skillet. It is well-marbled — more so than flank steak — flavorful, and satisfyingly chewy. It’s also flat and thin, so it cooks quickly. But beware: it becomes tough if you take it past medium. After a brief rest on the cutting board, the meat should be sliced across the grain, to maximize tenderness.
In summer, I like to pair grilled steak with arugula salad. The garden greens aren’t quite up yet, but there is that bag of Brussels sprouts at the back of the vegetable drawer. Tossed in garlic and olive oil and sautéed in that cast-iron skillet while the meat rests, they come out crispy on the outside and just tender on the inside — the perfect side for the steak.
Smoky Skirt Steak
1 lb. skirt steak
Fresh-cracked black pepper
A drizzle of olive oil
If necessary, cut the steak into two portions to fit in your cast-iron skillet. If one part is thicker than the other, it helps to pound it gently to an even thickness.
Pat the steak dry and generously salt and pepper both sides.
Get the skillet nice and hot by heating it for 3 to 4 minutes.
Place steak on the hot cast iron, pressing down to create a sear. Cook for just 3 minutes on the first side and 2 on the other for medium rare — it’s going to continue to cook as it rests.
Once done, drizzle a little olive oil on a cutting board and coat both sides of the steak in the oil. Cover with aluminum foil. Let sit for 10 minutes, then carve against the grain.
Crispy Brussels Sprouts
8 oz. Brussels sprouts
A big pinch of salt
A few grinds of black pepper
A pinch red pepper flakes (add less or omit if spice is not desired)
1 big clove garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Trim the ends of the Brussels sprouts and halve them lengthwise into a mixing bowl. Toss with two tablespoons of the olive oil and the minced garlic and seasonings. Don’t skimp on the salt.
Heat a cast-iron skillet that’s large enough for the sprouts to spread out in. If they’re crowded in the pan they’ll steam instead of crisping. Once it’s hot, drizzle in that last tablespoon of oil.
Sear sprouts on medium-high heat. Leave them alone: don’t stir them until they begin to get brown and crispy on one side. Flip them and continue cooking — total cooking time is just about 10 minutes.