Grilled skirt steak may just be my favorite way to eat beef. Marinated, grilled hot and fast, sliced across the grain, skirt steak arrachera tacos are a legit contender for my deathbed meal.
Before you start scratching your head wondering why I am writing a beef post on Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, know that I am not using beef: I am using elk skirt steak.
Whaaaa?! You betcha. You can get an amazing skirt steak off an elk, moose, big deer, bison, even bighorn sheep! Obviously beef is the easiest to get if you are not a hunter. All will cook about the same.
A skirt steak, called arrachera in Spanish, is a long strip of meat that comes off the inside of the ribs, just in front of the paunch. It’s part of the animal’s diaphragm, and as such is tough when cut with the grain. Because animals breathe constantly (obviously), this is a heavily used muscle, which means this is an incredibly flavorful cut of meat.
My history with skirt steak goes all the way back to college. My girlfriend at the time, De Dee, was (and is) a picky eater. But she loves skirt steak, so we had grilled skirt steak often at her parent’s house. I immediately understood why Dee liked it so much: It’s beefier tasting than any other cut of the animal, save perhaps the cheek.
I also love the combination of tenderness and chewiness you get from slices of skirt steak cut across the grain. This is key: Cut with the grain and skirt steak gets stringy.
There are really only two ways to cook this cut: On a screaming hot griddle, or over a screaming hot grill. Why so hot? Because skirt steak is thin. It’s one of the few steaks that you don’t bring to room temperature before cooking.
Skirt steak is also one of the few steaks that really benefits from marinating, again because it’s so thin. (Read here for more on venison marinades.)
Since arrachera is a long, thin cut of meat, you will want to cut it into lengths you can work with; I like them about a foot long. There is also quite a bit of membrane over the meat. It needs to go before you grill.
My advice? When you are butchering your elk or whatever, leave the membrane on if you’re freezing it. Then, when you thaw your skirt steak, the membrane will peel off easily. It sticks annoyingly with fresh meat.
No matter how I cook skirt steak, I like it marinated. In this case, I went with a Baja-style arrachera marinade I found in a Spanish language cookbook. Interestingly, you see a ton of grilled skirt steak recipes in Mexico that use soy sauce in the marinade.
Hard to say for certain where this comes from, but Mexico’s Pacific coast has a centuries-long relationship with China and the Philippines, dating back to the Spanish galleon trade of the 1500s. Wherever it’s origin, this is a damn good marinade for anything; Holly pointed out that it’s reminiscent of Korean bulgogi.
When you make these tacos, keep them minimalist. The meat tastes so good you want to highlight it. A little cilantro, a bit of cheese, that’s it.
I went with homemade flour tortillas because this is a recipe from Mexicali, a border town where flour tortillas are common. Corn tortillas are every bit as good.
This is an unusual marinade from the Mexican state of Baja that includes soy sauce, an ingredient you don't think of as Mexican, but which has been used on that country's Pacific coast since the 1500s.
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/3 cup lager beer (I used Modelo)
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground cayenne
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 1/2 pounds skirt steak, membranes removed
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Queso fresco, for the tacos
- Cilantro, for garnish
- 12 flour or corn tortillas
Mix all the marinade ingredients together and submerge the skirt steak in it, making sure every bit is coated with the marinade. Let this sit in the fridge for at least 1 hour, and up to 5 hours.
When you are ready to grill, get your fire very hot. While this is happening, heat up your tortillas on a comal or heavy skillet; keep them warm in a tortilla warmer or wrapped in kitchen towels.
Remove the steak from the marinade and pat the meat dry with paper towels. Make sure it's pretty dry. Rub oil all over the meat.
Sear the skirt steak on the grill for only about 2 minutes per side, tops. Let it rest for a few minutes before slicing. My trick is to cut the skirt steak with the grain into sections, then slice across the grain to get thin, tender slices for your tacos. Serve the skirt steak with cilantro and a little cheese.