Scrapcook: Transform Leftover Steak With a Ponzu-Mustard Vinaigrette

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[Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt]

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Guide to Steak

All the methods and tips you need to make perfect steak, each and every time.

Over the course of the summer, I typically get at least a half dozen emails or messages asking me for the best method for reheating leftover steak. I understand the issue. As someone who doesn't often cook steak for myself, on the rare occasions on which I'm cooking it for guests, I always end up cooking way too much and have to deal with the leftovers. My advice? Don't bother reheating it.

Freshly cooked steak tastes juicy to us precisely because it gives up its juices so easily. Its cells are like little water balloons, and cooking them weakens their walls so much that they're ready to explode on impact. What that means is that reheating a steak will almost inevitably lead to dry, disappointing results. Cold steak, on the other hand, when treated right, can be absolutely delicious. Some of my very favorite summer dishes, like this Steak and Corn Salad With Ancho Vinaigrette and this Steak Salad With Salsa Verde, or this Isan-Style Sliced Steak Salad, have come from gluts of day-old cooked leftovers.

The other day, I found myself with a particularly large stockpile of leftover steak. I'd been shooting a video with Adam Savage* for Tested.com about the best way to sear steaks (stay tuned!), so I happened to have a good five to six pounds' worth of leftovers to experiment with. That meant even more steak salads and sandwiches, and you'll be seeing the results of the most successful experiments during the rest of the summer.

* Really! It was the coolest day ever!

This first one is easily one of my favorites of all time. It's a riff on a classic Japanese beef tataki, a dish of thinly sliced cold beef served with shoyu ponzu, a soy- and citrus-based dipping sauce.

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Though tataki is typically made with beef that has been seared on the exterior, but is essentially raw in the center (other than the very brief sear, it's basically carpaccio), it works great with steaks that have been cooked to rare or medium-rare.** Slicing the steaks cold will allow you to get the super-thin slices you're after; a sharp knife is still an essential tool to get you there.

** I wouldn't try it with a well-done steak. In fact, as open-minded and liberal as I am, there are many things I wouldn't try with a well-done steak.

I pair the steak with Japanese cucumbers that are sliced just as thin, to offer a cool crunch to contrast with the tender meat. English or Persian cucumbers will do; if you use American or kirby cucumbers, I'd suggest peeling them first. (Those varieties have skins that can feel tough when sliced like this.)

The first time I made this salad, I dressed it traditionally, with a straight-up shoyu ponzu. Ponzu is a Japanese condiment made by simmering rice vinegar and mirin (sweet rice wine) with katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) and kombu (sea kelp), then combining that with citrus juice—typically yuzu or sudachi. Fresh yuzu fruit can be nearly impossible to find in the US, and, while you can easily find bottled juice at a Japanese market, it's pricey. So, when I make ponzu at home, I cut my yuzu juice with equal parts lemon and lime juice.

When combined with soy sauce, ponzu has a wonderfully refreshing tartness layered with smoky, savory notes. Make it once and it'll become a staple recipe for you. It's excellent on noodles or salads, as a dipping sauce for dumplings or tofu, and on grilled meats and seafood. (You can read all about ponzu here or get the recipe here.)

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Though it's great on its own, I couldn't resist the urge to use it as the base for a vinaigrette in my next iteration, combining it with some minced shallots, some whole grain mustard, and some really good extra-virgin olive oil. Holy cow, this dressing is a flavor powerhouse! Complex and satisfying, while remaining incredibly light and refreshing.

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I spread it over the plate of beef and cucumbers, then sprinkled it with some scallions. I was this close to raiding my pantry for one more element to add, but then thought better of it before tasting. It was a wise decision. Everything the dish needed was already there on the plate.

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If push came to shove, this little Japanese/European mashup could be the only cold steak dish I'd ever need on my desert island.*** But thankfully, I don't see a lot of pushing and shoving in my near future, which means that we won't have to live with just one recipe.

*** Assuming that the ones doing the pushing and shoving are kind enough to provide a sharp knife, some vegetables, some ponzu, and a fridge full of leftover steak before they push and shove me off the plank, that is.