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Salads at steakhouses are, for the most part, an afterthought. While I look forward to an occasional iceberg wedge with blue cheese and bacon as much as the next person, it’s less a salad than a vehicle for the cheese and bacon. You might as well swap the lettuce for some crackers and call it a day!
But there's been a change on both the salad front and the steakhouse front. First, fast-casual salad chains like Sweetgreen and Chop’t are sprouting up everywhere, and they're doing a pretty good job of being thoughtful about salads even when they're churning them out to feed hungry office workers at lunch. I’ve also noticed a new wave of affordable quick-service steakhouses (see: Ikinari from Japan) that manage to do steak well for customers who don't expect to wait long and aren't meant to linger. I decided to turn to both concepts and use them for inspiration as I set about creating the ultimate quick steakhouse chopped salad!
For my salad, I looked to mushrooms, which have always been a popular choice for vegetarians seeking a meaty experience (you know, like grilled portobello caps in place of burger). Eating properly cooked mushrooms, well browned and cooked to a nice chew, is as viscerally satisfying as enjoying a steak.
Inspired by steakhouses, which classically use broilers to cook their steaks to perfection, I've written this recipe to use only a home broiler. Of course there's a big difference between the commercial broilers steakhouses use, which reach temperatures the home cook can only dream of, and the one in your home oven.
Plus, as with many home broiler recipes, you're trading some level of perfection for speed and ease. Yes, you can make better mushrooms and steak in a heavy skillet on the stovetop, but then you have to deal with grease splatters and a more involved cooking process. The broiler lets you get about as close to set-it-and-forget it as this type of dish can ever hope to come. (But, you know, don't actually forget it...foods cook quickly in the broiler, you need to keep an eye on it.)
You'll never get the same char as they do at a steakhouse or even on your stovetop, but you can still do a good job if you prep the steak well and use the broiler right. One key is to dry the surface of the steak as much as possible, air-drying it overnight if you have the time, or just blotting it dry with paper towels if you don't. The less surface moisture there is to cook off, the faster browning will kick in.
The other key is to get close to that broiler element—as close as your oven will allow. This is one situation where being right up on that screaming heat is going to do you favors, both for the mushrooms and the steak. I also avoid flipping my steak here. I'd rather get more browning on one side than less on both. No need to worry about a raw underside: the hot cast iron skillet will still help cook the underside of the steak from the bottom up.
You can use any cut of steak for this; here, I've gone with strip steak. It’s from the short loin, which isn’t as tender as the tenderloin, but has some fat marbling that adds flavor and juiciness. The strip is not as hulking a steak as a porterhouse or ribeye, but it still packs plenty of flavor. By cooking the mushrooms first, the pan builds up a glaze of flavor that is deep and complex. When I add the skirt steak, the juices of the steak mix with the mushroom residue, leading to a rich and satisfying savoriness that plays up the similarities between the two.
Once the steak’s done, I leave the mushrooms and all of the browned bits and juices in the pan and toss some shredded cabbage in, which wilts slightly but still maintains its crunchy core. Suddenly I have a warm salad that is a huge improvement over what most steakhouses try to pass off as a vegetable dish. A dollop of chive-spiked sour cream doesn't hurt either—any steakhouse would be proud to spoon that on.