I’m looking for skirt or flank steak cut across the joint, about a pound or two in weight, said I. You’ll be looking for a long time, said the butcher. For some reason, those are not popular cuts in the UK. Maybe they get minced. Or fed back to the cows (that's a joke in bad taste).
I looked around the counter helplessly. A sirloin then? Or the ribeye? Or how about a butterflied whole fillet of beef? I asked in desperation. The butcher asked the destination of my meat and frowned at me with concern, like you do at people slightly soft in the head.
He patiently explained that a thirty quid a kilo ribeye, let alone forty a kilo beef fillet, is not a good sub for a piece of meat that will be marinated slowly, grilled quickly and sliced thinly; carne asada in other words. And offered, cut, wrapped and charged (not so much) for a good big rump steak.
Was he right or was he right. Oh boy, was he ever. It was a fantastic piece of meat, rendered tender (must remember this awesome phrase) by soaking it in oils and sauces; seared over hellish heat and sliced as thinly as I and my faithful chef’s knife managed.
The fact is, marinade cooks things. It imparts flavour all right but we sometimes forget that’s not its only role – it tenderises tougher cuts. We marinate brisket but not fillet steak; lamb shoulder but not cutlets cut out of rack, lest the delicate cut gets cooked before it even goes in the frying pan.
So my pricey meat would not only have been a waste of money but it would cook far too much, getting into medium-well done too fast too soon. As it was, it tasted fantastic – it had a bite of course, but the flavour was priceless, just like it should be in this Mexican classic.