NAMP Number: 121C
Muscle Name: Transversus Abdominus
Other names: Outside Skirt, Costillar, Arracherra Regular, Diaphragm, Bifteck de hampe, Faja, Romanian tenderloin, Philadelphia steak
Cooking Style: Marinate this sucker and grill it quick. More than 5 minutes over high heat and you’ve overcooked it
I want to tell a story. Actually I don’t because it’s embarrassing, but I’ve been day drinking dark ’n stormies, and the rum, it compels me. When I first started out in the world of whole animal butchery, I was working for a Belgian dude with an organic, pasture based livestock operation in upstate New York. I would break animals all week, and then head to the Union Square Greenmarket to hawk our wares in one of the premier farmers markets in the country. One day a well known NYC chef contacted us (I’m not about to say who, but you’ve heard of him), asking if we could provide him with skirt steak, which at the time was a cut that we didn’t usually fabricate. I was mostly left to my own devices in the shop, so it fell to me to identify the cut and fill the order. Maybe you can see where this is going.
These guys are so long we end up having to roll them to get them into the case.
Being the total newbie that I was, I turned to Google to provide me with the necessary info to find and extract this seemingly exotic cut. I took one look at a google image search, and thought I had it figured out. It was a long, grainy cut – clearly matching what I thought of as sirloin flap, aka bavette. Sure, ours was much thicker and wider in the middle, but then again our beef was heritage breed and obviously would have some different characteristics. That piece of diaphragm off the rib – the real skirt steak – was too weird and thin to be any use as a steak. So anyway, I pack up the bavette, head into manhattan and gleefully present it to the chef when he came to pick up his order. The chef, knowing much more than I did at the time about obscure cuts of meat, was – for lack of a better term – pissed the hell off. We went back and forth for a little bit, me swearing up and down that the cut was skirt, him telling me that there was no way an animal grew a skirt steak 4 inches wide. He finally left with the bavette, but not before drawing the attention of several onlookers, not the least of which being a well-known TV personality who was buying honey one stall over. New York is a weird place.
The point there is not to demonstrate my fallibility, because at this point I have none, but really to show just how far this humble cut has come in just a matter of years. Once relegated to the grind bin, only to be seen in it’s whole form in shady taquerias in the furthest reaches of Queens, the humble skirt steak is at the epicenter of a “cool cuts of beef’ renaissance. Food bloggers ventured out into those far flung carnicerias and brought back tales of the wonderful cut being sold like hotcakes. Of course, all of this attention has its downsides. Chief among which is the fact that a single steer only posses 2 skirt steaks weighing in at a total of 3 pounds max. At our shop the waiting list for skirt steak can top 3 weeks. Not bad for a cut that, until recently, was ground into hamburger without any additional thought.
Hanging rib primals, from whence came the skirt.
The muscle itself is one the few that come from the actual inside of the animal – it’s the muscle that controls the diaphragm, [and?] it’s responsible for keeping the steer breathing. From the grain structure the muscle is frequently mistaken for flank (in fact, the Brits call skirt steak “flank”, God only knows why), but skirt is fattier than flank which makes it all the better. Appearance-wise the skirt is long, over two feet in many cases, and thin – it’s less than 2 inches wide, and less than a half inch thick. One of the Spanish names for skirt, Faja, means belt – and the appearance definitely bears that out. Cut that belt up and you’ve got little belts – or fajitas (ohhhhhhhhh, that’s where that comes from).
Famed for it’s long, open grain structure the skirt steak is a delicious part of a traditional South America diet. Marinated heavily in citrus and spices, the steak is grilled quickly over high heat and served with rice and beans, or as part of the best taco you’ll ever eat in your life. This is one of my all-time favorite marinade recipes that I use whenever I manage to get my hands on a skirt steak (which isn’t often)
Mojito Marinade (adapted from Epicurious)
1/4 cup chopped garlic
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cups fresh orange juice
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup olive oil
3 Tablespoons cup good white rum
4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
Combine, and marinate skirt steak overnight. Bring to room temp before cooking and DON’T overcook it. Serve with more rum.