Smothering is a classic Cajun, Creole, and soul food technique of making a tough cut of meat tender by gentle simmering in a flavorful liquid. Most cooking methods for skirt steak overcome its tough texture with some combination of marinating, high direct heat, and cutting thin slices across the grain. But smothering is great technique for this cut, since prolonged gentle cooking converts the collagen proteins in the connective tissue into gelatin and makes this chewy cut luscious. Pre-searing and cooking it sous vide at 70°C for 12-24 hours is my favorite method because the skirt steak’s strong beef flavor is enhanced by umami compounds developed by low temperature cooking. If you don’t have all the equipment for sous vide cooking, don’t stress! You don’t miss that much by cooking the skirt steak until tender by the traditional method. The final gravy should not thick like biscuit gravy but more like bisque in viscosity. A few thoughtful squeezes of lime and a dash or two of cayenne right at the end brightens the entire dish.
- In a sauce pan, mix the two types of stock together and reduce by more than half over medium heat. Skim off any excess fat and foam.
- While the liquid is reducing prepare the other ingredients and equipment. Whisk together the flour, 1 tablespoon mushroom spice, 1 teaspoon salt, and onion powder in a broad, flat bowl. Peel and slice onion to 1/8th inch thickness. Cut steak along the grain into 4-6oz portions.
- Pre-heat cast-iron or dutch oven over medium low to medium heat.
- Apply a single coat of dry dredge to each piece of meat and shake off any excess flour.
- In pre-heated cast iron pan or dutch oven, add 2 tablespoons or enough tallow to barely cover the bottom of the pan.
- Sear each side of the skirt steak until golden brown and crusty, about 2-4 minutes on each side. If the fond begins to burn, remove it before searing the next batch of meat or adding the cooking liquid. Please don’t burn your fond. It’s so essential for the success of any pan sauce or gravy. The bitter, acrid flavor notes are impossible to remove.
- Remove seared meat from pan and let rest in a single layer on a tray or large plate. (If sous vide cooking allow the meat to cool completely before bagging.)
- Deglaze the pan in two steps: First season the sliced onions with a pinch of salt and a 1 teaspoon of mushroom spice and sauté until they begin turn translucent. The pan might be dry as tallow is absorbed by the flour. Simply add back enough tallow to cook the onions. Next, add enough of the cooking liquid to dissolve any remaining fond then add the remaining cooking liquid and lower the heat to a simmer and continue reducing until it begins to almost look like a bisque.
- If sous vide cooking: Cook pre-seared meat at 70°C for at least 12 hours, and up to 24 hours. Stop cooking by placing in ice bath. Cool and store cooking liquid in refrigerator while the meat is cooking sous vide. When you are ready to finish, re-heat cooking liquid and proceed to step
- For both traditional and sous vide cooking methods: Add meat back to cast iron pan or dutch oven in a single layer and bury each meat portion in onions. Cover and slowly cook over a gentle simmer, or in the 300°F oven until the meat is tender. If cooking from raw, using the traditional method, the cook time is about an hour to an hour and a half. If cooking sous vide, it should take about 30 minutes.
- Finish the gravy with fresh lime juice, cayenne and salt to taste.
- In a clean, dry spice grinder break up large chunks of mushrooms so that they will make contact with blade. It is much easier to do this in 2 batches. To grind: start by using short pulses to further break up large chunks then grind until a powder appears. Then add the other half of the mushrooms then repeat. Be careful not to open the spice grinder before the mushroom dust has a chance to settle. If you do not have a scale, simply grind enough mushrooms to get to ½ cup. If you purchase mushroom powder start at step 2.
- Sift in medium sized mesh to catch any large chunks of mushroom that remain and add what was caught in the mesh back into the grinder.
- Add the mustard seed and black pepper and grind until it forms a powder.
- Combine all of the powder and add a dash of cayenne. Mix well and store in clean, dry container. Store in cool dry place for up to a month.
Malik Francis left Los Angeles for graduate school at UC Berkeley, and after completing his PhD studies in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, his passion for cooking inspired him to work in some of the best kitchens in San Francisco. He currently explores his love of science, music, storytelling, and cooking demonstration at his Materials+Methods popup. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his other half Mariel and son Kenzo, who he hopes will inherit his love of cooking, Dodgers baseball, and the Lakers.