A while back I bought some skirt steak from Sparrow Meats and stuck it in the freezer. If you've bought meat from Sparrow before, you know that Bob Sparrow's scrawls on the wrapping paper aren't always legible. (Neither is my handwriting, so I don't really have the moral high ground here.) That skirt steak sat in my freezer waiting for the right moment. Joe had taken to asking me, "What is this package labeled 't-shirt' that's in the freezer?" "Um, it says 'skirt.' It's skirt steak," I'd reply, squinting at the writing and recalling that I did indeed buy skirt steak.
After three or four of these exchanges, I decided I had better cook that skirt steak before I, too, forgot what the paper concealed. I dug out Diana Kennedy's The Art of Mexican Cooking and looked for some inspiration. Diana Kennedy is to Mexican cuisine what Marcella Hazan is to Italian, and her books can be intimidating to approach, with complex traditional dishes from scratch that are very labor intensive. But if you keep looking, you'll also find simple dishes. The skirt steak is twice cooked — boiled once and shredded, then mixed in with the rest of the ingredients to cook a bit longer. The seasonings are simple: onion, tomato, cilantro, garlic, and chiles with just some salt to bring out the flavor. I'm getting hungry just remembering the simple yet rich savory flavor of this dish!
I served it up on sopes, but it would also go well with rice or served as soft tacos. (For tacos, you may want to shred it more finely.)
Salpicón de Res — Shredded beef cooked with tomatoes, chiles, and cilantro
The Art of Mexican Cooking (Note: I use the 1989 edition. There is a new edition coming out in April: The Art of Mexican Cooking (2008))
1 1/4 lb skirt or flank steak, with some fat
1 small white onion, roughly chopped
3 cilantro sprigs
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
sea salt to taste
2 Tbs lard or safflower oil
1/2 cup finely chopped white onion
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/4 lb tomatoes (~4 medium?), unpeeled and finely chopped
4 (or to taste) canned chiles serranos en escabeche (pickled serranos)
3 rounded Tbs of chopped cilantro
1/4 of reserved beef broth from cooking the meat
Cut the steaks along the grain into 2 inch pieces. Put the meat in a saucepan with the onion, cilantro, garlic, and salt. Barely cover with water. Simmer until tender — about 25 minutes for skirt steak and 35 for flank. Allow meat to cool in broth. When cool enough to handle, remove from broth. Strain broth and set aside. Remove any gristle from meat and shred the meat roughly. Set it aside.
In a heavy pan, heat the lard, add onion and garlic, and fry gently without browning until translucent. Add tomatoes and continue cooking over high heat, stirring from time to time, until mixture has reduced and thickened (about 8 minutes). Add the shredded meat, chiles, cilantro, and broth. Taste for salt. Cook over medium heat, covered, for about 5 minutes longer.
Kitchen Chick's Notes: I didn't have white onions, so I used yellow onions, and the dish tasted just fine to me. (In many cases I treat yellow and white onions as interchangeable with no ill effects.) I also didn't have any pickled serranos on hand, so I used whole jalepeños.