Dinner at Home
Family favorites home for holidays
Flank steak is stuffed and elevated
Holiday favorite: This recipe makes nearly as regal a presentation as beef tenderloin, at a fraction of the cost. Flank steak, a lean, beefy-tasting cut, freezes well if properly wrapped. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)
My high school-age nephews can master nearly any chocolate recipe they encounter, and the nieces embrace all manner of candy-making and cake decorating. My offspring enjoy grilling and roasting, and employing my gadgets.
It's good to be in our family. Especially during the holiday season. That's when entertaining favorites such as mom's veal-stuffed and braised flank steak make their annual appearance. The recipe, mom reminds me, entered our repertoire when I worked at a cooking magazine after chef's school. The attractive presentation and rich flavors quickly earned the recipe a place in our box.
This recipe makes nearly as regal a presentation as beef tenderloin, at a fraction of the cost. Flank steak, a lean, beefy-tasting cut, freezes well if properly wrapped, so I buy them when they go on sale. During grilling season, marinades help tenderize the steak destined for hot coals. In cooler months, this slow braise in a flavorful pan sauce renders it tender and toothsome.
The only tricky part to the recipe is cutting a pocket in the meat to hold the veal and herb stuffing. Some cooks butterfly the flank steak and spread the stuffing over the thin meat and then roll it up jellyroll style. The cooked and sliced meat looks like a spiral. Trouble is the interior pieces of steak are not quite as tender as the exterior part of the rollup. So, I prefer to cut a pocket in the steak to hold the stuffing.
I prefer to prepare two smaller steaks because they cook slightly faster than one large steak. More important, the smaller stuffed steaks carve more easily. Of course, the recipe can be cut in half; you'll need to downsize the pot so the stuffed steak braises properly; that is, with the braising liquid about halfway up the sides of the stuffed steak.
For the stuffing, a combination of ground veal, herbs and onion pair beautifully with the steak. In the original recipe, butter-and-oil-toasted bread cubes held the stuffing together. These days, I simply use fresh bread crumbs made from crusty bread — crust included for flavor and texture. I like veal for the stuffing since it has a mild flavor, but ground turkey breast makes a fine substitute. Have the butcher grind it for you or use slightly frozen cubed meat and a food processor with on/off turns.
For the pan gravy, I indulge in two luxury items: broth made from beef demiglace and dried porcini mushrooms. Years ago I spent hours reducing bones and aromatic vegetables into the uber-rich, gelatinous concentrate known as demiglace.
Today, I order small, pricey bottles from the Internet and cherish the hours and cleanup I've saved. Low-sodium beef broth makes a fine substitute. Porcini mushrooms add a beautiful depth of flavor to everything. I find them in small clear pouches in the produce section of large supermarkets. You can use other dried mushrooms, even dried shiitakes, if you wish.
Cutting a pocket
It's relatively simple — you'll need a very sharp knife. Lay the steak flat on your cutting board with the grain of the meat perpendicular to the board. Then hold your knife parallel to the board and make a cut at the right edge of the steak. Keep cutting parallel to the board to make a pocket in the meat with a 1-inch border on the other three sides. Don't worry — it's much easier to actually cut the pocket in the steak than to read the method. (Your butcher can also do it for you.)
Braised stuffed flank steak with porcini tomato sauce
Prep: 45 minutes
Cook: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Note: You'll want to finely chop the onion and celery for the stuffing so it's easy to work with. Leftover stuffed steak tastes great thinly sliced and served cold on crusty rye bread.
2 beef flank steaks, each about 1 1/4 pounds
1 1/2 teaspoons salt