Why It Works
- Skirt steak has a loose grain and intense flavor that makes it ideal for stir-fries.
- A marinade formulated with soy sauce, wine, cornstarch, and baking soda flavors the meat while keeping it tender.
- Stir-frying the meat and vegetables individually guarantees maximum heat for optimal texture and flavor in each ingredient.
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 Vs. Skirt Steak
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.
A Tender Stir-Fry
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.
Still not convinced to make the switch? Just imagine bright crunchy greens and tender-as-you'd-like-it beef packed with buttery flavor and let your instincts do the deciding for you.
July 23, 2014
This recipe originally appeared as part of the series The Food Lab Turbo.
For the Beef:
1 pound skirt steak of flap meat, thinly sliced against the grain
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
1/2 teaspoon roasted sesame oil
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
For the Stir-Fry:
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
1/4 cup homemade or store-bought low sodium chicken stock
1/4 cup oyster sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon roasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon cornstarch
3 tablepsoons vegetable, canola, or peanut oil, divided
1 pound snap peas, trimmed
2 medium cloves garlic, finely minced (about 2 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons finely minced fresh ginger
1 scallion, white and light green parts only, finely minced
For the Beef: Combine beef, salt, sugar, soy sauce, wine, sesame oil, baking soda, and cornstarch in a small bowl and toss to combine. Set aside for 20 minutes.
For the Stir Fry: Combine soy sauce, wine, chicken stock, oyster sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and cornstarch in a small bowl and stir to combine. Set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wok over high heat until smoking. Add half of the beef, spreading it out in a single layer, and cook without moving until lightly browned on first side, about 1 minute. Toss and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until barely cooked through, about 1 minute longer. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Repeat with 1 more tablespoon oil and remaining beef.
Wipe out wok, add remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and place over high heat until smoking. Add snap peas and cook, tossing and stirring frequently, until lightly charred in spots and bright green. Add garlic, ginger, and scallions and cook, stirring, until fragrant. Return beef to wok and toss to combine. Stir sauce and add to wok. Cook, stirring and tossing constantly, until sauce is thickened and coats beef and vegetables, about 1 minute. Serve immediately.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 25g||32%|
|Saturated Fat 7g||35%|
|Total Carbohydrate 20g||7%|
|Dietary Fiber 3g||12%|
|Total Sugars 11g|
|Vitamin C 56mg||278%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|