Why is it that nearly all recipes for stir-fried beef call for flank steak? I've been following the advice for years, but have never been truly satisfied with the end results. Sure, flank steak is pretty meaty, absorbs marinades well, and—provided it's been cut correctly and cooked fast—can come out tender. But may I propose to you an alternative?
Skip the flank and go for the skirt.
Put a skirt steak next to a flank steak and immediately the words of Irving Berlin come to mind: anything you can do, I can do better.
What makes skirt steak better than flank? Let's compare:
Flank steak comes in large, flat strips that make it easy to cut down to size for stir frying. Skirt steak comes in even thinner strips that are even easier to break down.
Flank steak has a tender, wide-textured grain that makes it great at picking up the flavor of marinades. Skirt steak has an even looser texture that's practically custom-designed for picking up marinades.
Flank steak is packed with rich, beefy flavor. Skirt steak is just about the beefiest cut out there.
Shall I go on, or are you convinced yet?
Think about the most common uses for skirt steak and you'll be even more convinced, starting right at the top with fajitas. The process for cooking fajitas—marinating followed by intense, high heat cooking—is almost identical in concept to that of a stir-fry. What works for one should work for the other, right?
And indeed it does. These days I stir-fry almost exclusively with skirt steak (and occasionally flap meat, when I can find it; it gives you the best bang for your buck), and my stir-fries have never been tastier or more tender.
To get truly velvet-soft meat in your stir-fries, you'll still need to marinate it after slicing. I like to follow our basic rules for marinating meat for stir fries: soy sauce and salt to improve moisture retention, sugar to enhance browning, wine and sesame oil to bring out flavor, and a touch of corn starch to protect the meat from getting tough.
I also like to add a small pinch of baking soda to the mixture. This raises the pH of the marinade, which not only improves browning characteristics, but also helps to tenderize the meat more efficiently.
Ever wonder how those Chinese restaurants get their meat so meltingly soft? The right marinade is the key.
With beef this good, you'll want it to be the star, and we have some great recipes, like this Easy Stir-Fried Beef with Mushrooms and Butter that are almost all meat, but I like to balance mine with some nice sweet, crunchy vegetables like snap peas, snow peas, or asparagus.
Sweetened oyster sauce is a classic pairing with stir-fried beef, and one that I fall back on often. This sauce is a mix of oyster sauce, chicken broth, soy, sugar, sesame oil, and Chinese rice wine.
Just a light toss will do it.
Still not convinced to make the switch? Just imagine these bright crunchy greens and tender-as-you'd-like-it beef packed with buttery flavor and let your instincts do the deciding for you.