I've discovered that there's a subtle secret to a successful marriage. When your spouse does something that drives you crazy like, say, turning off the radio when she hears the words "Beatles Marathon," or eating the crust off her slices of pizza first, the best way to deal with it is to employ every psychological trick in the book in the hopes of training away (or at the very least double-thinking away) your simultaneous desires to educate her in the error of her ways and to rip out your own hair screaming "what have I married?!?" at the empty air.
Most of the time it works. Every once in a while, it doesn't. Take, for example, her dislike of polenta. Now, I've known about this long before we were even engaged, so I have nobody to blame but myself for putting me in the position of being accused of not listening to her needs and desires whenever I make polenta for dinner.
There is, of course, nothing not to love about polenta, especially when it's buttery, cheesy, creamy, and covered in a flavorful sauce. I know this, and I think she secretly knows this. Still, when I cook polenta, I like to hedge my bets by not putting too much time or effort into it. This quick polenta with skirt steak and tomatoes is about as easy as a meaty polenta dish can get.
Cooking the polenta itself is not hard. Sweat some garlic in butter and olive oil, add chicken stock, and whisk in the polenta when the stock starts boiling, finishing it off with heavy cream, Parmesan cheese, and fresh butter.
Usually polenta is paired with slow-cooked meats and sauces. Things that fall apart and drip rich juices onto the corn meal, flowing in rivulets down its surface. Things that take hours to prepare.
But here, I'm using a quick-cooking skirt steak, one of my favorite inexpensive cuts of beef. The trick is to marinate it briefly and sear it very hard to get some nice color on the outside while maintaining a tender, medium-rare center.
So if I'm using a quick-cooking cut of meat, where does the juice come from to sauce the polenta? Easy. Plump cherry and grape tomatoes cooked down in the same skillet until they burst open and release their juices. A few sliced red chilies, scallions, and garlic also hit the pan to round out the flavors.
The reduced tomato juice, along with the pan drippings from the steak, a touch of soy sauce and lemon juice, and a few knobs of butter (stirred in to emulsify it) make for a flavor-packed sauce that takes just minutes to cook.
I'm happy to report that my wife ate a whole plateful with no complaints. She'd never tell me she actually liked it, but finding the leftovers container half empty the next day is good enough for me.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.