A total of five pantry ingredients and a preparation I’ve never tried before had me hooked before I finished flipping through a preview copy of Cynthia Chen McTernan’s “A Common Table: 80 Recipes and Stories From My Shared Cultures,” due out in October.
As the cookbook’s subtitle and the author’s surnames suggest, McTernan’s recipes draw from her Chinese heritage, South Carolina upbringing and her husband’s family background (Hawaiian, Korean-Irish). She began a lovely food blog as a Harvard Law School student that won a 2015 Saveur Readers’ Choice blog award, and has continued to blog weekly as a lawyer and new mom in Los Angeles.
Here, a modest piece of lean flank steak — not a folded-over slab — is lightly oiled, seasoned and given a brief ride in a hot cast-iron pan. This will cause smoke; be advised and take the precautions your kitchen demands. While the meat rests, you stir together sesame oil and what seem like unholy amounts of salt and pepper — a take on the Korean dipping sauce called gireumjang, McTernan says.
Slice the meat as you like, then drizzle and dip. The effect is mouthwatering, and although food writers overuse the construct, the dish could not be simpler. The sauced steak will taste good the next day, too, in a sandwich or atop a salad of leafy greens.
Because the recipe is so simple, you could make a quick, noodly side to go with it. If you like the looks of what’s on the plate with our steak, follow the directions on a package of rice noodles (skinny or wide; give a 10-minute soak, then drain). Whisk together a creamy dressing of peanut butter, soy sauce and/or fish sauce, rice vinegar and water in a bowl. Toss in the noodles, chopped green onions and/or grated carrot, maybe some crispy fried shallots and unsalted peanuts.
Sesame Salt and Pepper Steak
Serves 2 to 3.
Note: From “A Common Table: 80 Recipes and Stories From My Shared Cultures,” by Cynthia Chen McTernan.
• 1 lb. flank steak (about 3/4-in. thick)
• 1 tbsp. neutral-tasting oil, such as grapeseed or canola
• 1/4 tsp. coarse kosher or sea salt
• 1/4 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
For the sauce:
• 1 tbsp. kosher salt
• 1 1/2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
• 3 tbsp. pure sesame oil (not toasted)
For the steak: Preheat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Rub the meat with the grapeseed or canola oil all over, then season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Place in the skillet and cook, undisturbed, for 3 or 4 minutes, until a crust forms on the bottom. Turn the steak over (it should release fairly easily from the pan; if not, give it another 30 seconds); cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the internal temperature registers about 140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer (medium-rare; 150 to 155 degrees for medium-well). Transfer the steak to a cutting board to rest for 10 minutes.
For the sauce: While the steak is resting, whisk together 1 tablespoon salt, 1 1/2 teaspoon pepper and sesame oil in a small bowl until well blended. (The salt won’t quite dissolve, but it should be thoroughly moistened.)
Cut the steak against the grain into thin or thick slices. Drizzle some of the sauce over the top, or serve it alongside, for dipping.
Nutrition information per each of 3 servings:
Fat 20 g
Sodium 740 mg
Carbohydrates 0 g
Saturated fat 5 g
Total sugars 0 g
Protein 33 g
Cholesterol 95 mg
Dietary fiber 0