Published On: Wed, Aug 30th, 2017

For Extra-Flavorful Grilled Steak, Mustard Makes the Marinade


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[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

Editor’s Note: We’re very excited to welcome writer, photographer, and cook Michael Harlan Turkell to the virtual pages of Serious Eats. In this series, Michael will share some of his favorite takes on grilling recipes from around the world, all focused on the interplay of vinegar and the grill—something he knows quite a bit about, as he traveled far and wide while writing his awesome vinegar-focused cookbook, Acid Trip. You can order the book here.

Even though the most obvious beef recipe from Burgundy is that famous one with a red wine braise, boeuf bourguignon, I guess you could call this steak Burgundian, too.

Let’s be honest: No one wants a stew during the heat of summer. It’s too hot to turn on the oven, and besides, I’m craving something that will awaken my palate, rather than weigh it down. Lately, I’ve looked toward Dijon—Burgundy’s capital city, world-renowned for its great, bracing mustard (not to mention its wine)—for a flavor boost. This forwardly spicy but smooth finished mustard was first made during the Middle Ages, originally with verjus (unripe-grape juice); since the mid-1800s, versions of this now-omnipresent condiment have employed vinegar as the acidic ingredient.

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I’ve found that the vinegar component in Dijon mustard is intense enough to work as an excellent marinade for steaks—it tenderizes the proteins, which is great for tougher cuts, and imbues the meat with a nice tanginess. Rather than requiring hours of cooking, as boeuf bourguignon does, a skirt steak takes only about 10 minutes.

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Skirt steak was a highly underappreciated cut for years, as it’s very thin and can easily get too tough, but it’s become a grilling staple for me. It cooks quickly and absorbs flavor well, and it’s cheaper than sirloins or strips.

Instead of just rubbing the steak with mustard, I make a marinade that combines Dijon with champagne vinegar, maintaining that French accent. Champagne vinegar, unlike Champagne the wine, can be made anywhere in France, and has the same precise punch that you’d expect from a glass of bubbly. One of my favorite producers, called Martin Pouret, has been making vinegar in Orléans, France, for six generations. The family has been barrel-aging its vinegars for hundreds of years, which gives them a little more depth than others I’ve had.

Continuing in the French vein, I throw some rosemary into the marinade, too; its strong piney taste joins the mustard in its métier.

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Skirt steak is best grilled quickly over high heat, in order to sear the exterior while keeping the meat medium-rare in the center. The intrinsic sweetness of beef is brought out by the mustard’s acidity, while the vinegar tempers the charred exterior. I find this acidic bite of steak so satisfying that I don’t think it needs much to complement it, but if you’re the sort who believes a green component is necessary with dinner, this is great with a raw kale salad. Slice the kale up very thinly, almost as if for a slaw, and toss it with a vinaigrette made with whole mustard seed Dijon.

In my book, Acid Trip: Travels in the World of Vinegar, I use the same marinade on oven-dried beef jerky, which has a nice, toothsome chew. And, once prime grilling season is over, this marinade would also work well as a flavoring in a beef stew. Heck, maybe it would even give boeuf bourguignon a run for its money.

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