Fusion Flank Steak
Fusion as a culinary idea has been around for a long time, and to call a recipe a "fusion" dish today has dated feel. Fusion came on in the 70's and 80's, at a time when Americans and Europeans were just starting to pay attention to the range and depth of Asian cuisines that lay beyond the familiar neighborhood Chinese restaurant. Sushi, Thai food (outside pad thai), and Vietnamese pho were still largely unknown and untried by most Americans when Wolfgang Puck opened Chinois on Main in 1983, giving the movement a home and a platform.
I never quite understood what was so radical about bringing herbs, spices and techniques from Asia to western cuisine, but that was probably because I was doing business in Japan in the early 80's and taking side trips to other Asian destinations almost every time I went to Tokyo on business. In Tokyo, Taipei and Shanghai, especially, I ate at exquisite restaurants where Asian-influenced Western dishes were almost the rule, and, with my exposure to these new experiences (and probably also because I lived just a few short blocks from the markets in Boston's Chinatown at the time) Asian cuisine was exerting influence on my own cooking. Later I found out it was a movement in fashionable cuisine and was, uh, unimpressed.
In any case, this dish, adapted Irene Kuo's The Key to Chinese Cooking, is one of my oldest takes on the fusion thing, and the bottom line is that it's good food by any standard, old-hat though the style may be. My father, Grillmaster Bill, taught me in the 60's how to marinate a flank steak and cut in in thin slices across the grain and it's always been a favorite around my house. This version uses Chinese flavorings in the marinade and is served sitting in a puddle of flavorful broth made from the marinade.
I served the steak with a mound of Japanese rice and a knot of my Ginger-steamed Cabbage (with the shrimp omitted due to a guest's allergy issues and some shaved fennel and leeks cut in spaghetti strips added before cooking). The combination was well-received by the first guests to eat a meal cooked in my new kitchen.
Fusion Flank Steak
Adapted from The Key to Chinese Cooking by Irene Kuo
1-1/2 lb flank steak
1 T sugar
1 tsp "five-fragrance" spice mixture (see note below)
6 large cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 C soy sauce
1/3 C dry sherry
1/2 hoisin sauce
2 T black bean sauce
2 dried star anise pods, cracked open
2 C vegetable broth, preferably homemade and salt-free
1/3 carrot, peeled and cut in spiky chunks
2 T cilantro, minced
1/4 tsp Liquid Smoke
hot sauce to taste
balsamic vinegar to taste
3 T butter
Mix the marinade: sugar, five-fragrance powder, garlic, soy sauce, sherry, hoisin sauce, black bean sauce, and cracked anise pods. Pierce the flank steak every inch or so all over the surface with a sharp knife-point. Place the marinade in a shallow container just large enough to hold the steak without folding. Place the steak in the marinade and rub marinade all over the surface with your fingers. Refrigerate covered for 2 - 12 hours, turning once.
Remove the steak from the marinade and scrape marinade off the steak surface with a rubber spatula to remove any pieces of the hard anise seeds that may be clinging to the meat. Strain the marinade and reserve.
Make the sauce by bringing the vegetable broth to a boil, adding the carrot and reducing by half over a brisk flame. Spoon in marinade, tasting as you go until the flavor of the marinade comes forward (I think I used about a third to a half cup but I forgot to measure!). Add the Liquid Smoke and season to taste with the vinegar and hot sauce. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter until it melts. Set aside.
Grill the steak over a hot fire until the internal temperature is about 115º (rare). For medium rare, 122º; for medium, 130º -- turning once. (See note about doneness, below.) Rare took about 15 minutes on my new Wolf indoor gas grill...it used to take 11 minutes on my Viking when we lived in Boston.
Slice the steak in very thin slices on an acute angle, across the grain. Warm the sauce if necessary. Place the steak on a serving platter or individual plates and spoon on some of the broth. There should be a small puddle of broth around the steak when it's served. Garnish with a cilantro sprig if desired.
1. Five fragrance mixture. Buy in a Chinese market or make it from ground anise, ground fennel seeds, ground cloves, ground cinamon and ground Szechuan (or black) pepper. Click HERE for a recipe.
2. Doneness requests. Flank steak makes it a snap to honor individual doneness requests: when I made this I had two very rare requests, one medium rare and one "medium to medium well." I just cut the steak in half and then one of the halves in half again and cooked the two smaller pieces a little longer (medium rare) and then one of the smaller pieces a little more. Everyone was happy...