Chili-Spiced Skirt Steak Tacos
The magical skirt—my favorite strip of meat from an animal so giving with its immense choices of cuts. When done right it's beefy, juicy, tender, and all around a gift to our palates. It was one of the first things I posted on this blog, and I'd choose as one of the last things I'd ever eat as well. Loving it so much, it's surprising I've rarely veered from the Alton Brown recipe that first acquainted me with how great skirt can be. Not to get me wrong, I think Alton's recipe is pretty close to perfection in my mind, but it was time I branched out a little more and experimented with some other flavors against this insanely delicious bovine masterpiece.
For those unfamiliar with the skirt, it's about time you get comfy with this cut. Sometimes confused with flank because of its similar properties, the skirt is actually two distinct cuts—inside and outside—from the diaphragm area of the steer. The outside skirt steak is from the plate section, below the rib and between the brisket and flank, and usually comes with the membrane still attached, which needs to be trimmed before cooking. Inside skirt comes from the flank—it's narrower and thinner than the outside skirt, and comes with the membrane removed and is most likely what you'll find at your butcher today (I've only been able to pick up an outside skirt while in Texas).
Skirt is great on its own, but one of it's stellar properties is that its big, beefy flavor can easily hold up to excessive seasonings and marinades. In this recipe, this came in the way of a heavy spice rub with a nice hit of lime juice.
Since the skirt is thin and the acid in the lime can start to break down the proteins in the meat and turn it mushy, the steak only got a relatively quick marinade—about one hour. With this short amount of time, the meat could sit out of the refrigerator and let come to room temperature while preparing the grill.
Skirt wants to be cooked quick and fast and the grill is key in this success. For this steak, I lit a little more coals than normal, then piled them close together to create a concentrated, blazing hot fire clocking in well over the standard 600 or so degrees a standard new batch of coals produces.
It was at this point, when the grill was at its hotest, that I seared the long pieces of skirt. They quickly developed and beautiful blackened crust in only a few minutes per side, while leaving the center a nice medium-rare—you do not want to overcook skirt steak or it'll become dry and loose a lot of its flavor.
A perfectly grilled skirt can still be ruined if not properly sliced. Just about all meat should be cut against the grain, but this couldn't be more true for skirt steak; its long muscle fibers will be incredibly chewy if not cut properly.
To slice this steak, I first cut each piece of skirt into a three-to-four-inch sections with the grain. Then, sliced each of those sections into thin strips about 1/4-inch thick against the grain. This will ensured the shortest muscle fibers, creating nothing but a tender, flavorful steak.
The thin slices of steak were piled into warmed corn tortillas and topped chopped tomatoes and cilantro. A drizzle of cilantro cream—sour cream, lime juice, cilantro, and green onion pureed together—finished the tacos, which looked magnificent.
One bite and I was entranced by this bovinity divinity. The steak had the strong beefy quality that makes skirt one of the most flavorful cuts, with the addition of a nice spiced crust and little hints of smoke here and there. The tomatoes, cilantro, and cream all came together to add a fresh tang that made the taco whole. If cooked and sliced right, it'd be hard to go wrong with skirt steak, and this one left me almost as infatuated as the other recipe I've been loyal to for so many years. I guess I'm just a sucker for skirt, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Chili-Spiced Skirt Steak Tacos
- Yield 4 servings
- Prep 20 Minutes
- Inactive 1 Hour
- Cook 10 Minutes
- Total 1 Hour 30 Minutes
- For the Cilantro Cream
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1/2 cup packed roughly chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 green onion roughly chopped, green part only
- For the Marinade
- 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon light brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 lbs skirt steak
- 12 corn tortillas
- 2 to 3 roma tomatoes, diced
- 3 tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro
- To make the cilantro cream: Place sour cream, lime juice, cilantro, and green onion in the jar of a blender. Puree into smooth. Transfer to a small container and refrigerate until ready to serve.
- To make the marinade:In a small bowl, mix together paprika, ancho chile powder, gralic powder, onion powder, light brown sugar, chipotle chile powder, cumin, coriander, salt, and pepper. Add lime juice and oil, stir to combine.
- Place skirt steak in a large resealable plastic bag and pour in marinade. Seal bag and toss to thoroughly coat steak. Marinate at room temperature for 1 hour while preparing the grill.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over entire surface of coal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Grill steak over high heat until deeply browned on both sides, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Remove to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes. Slice into 3 to 4 inch portions with the grain, then slice against the grain into 1/4-inch strips.
- To serve, briefly warm tortillas on grill, then top with slices of steak, diced tomatoes, cilantro, and cilantro cream.
Steak adapted from Food & Wine
Cilantro cream adapted from The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbacoa Cookbook by Robb Walsh
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Kevin @ Extraordinary BBQ This looks absolutely delicious. I have not tried the skirt steak, only the flank. I'm excited to try the skirt now, as well as the delicious cilantro cream you created - yum! I posted a similar recipe for cinco de mayo - you'll have to try it and let me know what you think: http://www.extraordinarybbq.com/grilled-steak-fajitas/
Thanks for sharing!
Mike (pssss.... flap-meat. Don't tell anyone else though)
Robyn Lindars Looks delish! Great photos too! Impressive!
Chris I prefer flank to skirt, but I've also never had an outside skirt. That's not to say I don't like skirt steak, it's got great flavor. Your recipe sounds like just the thing for steak tacos. Great post, Josh.
Grillin Fool Greg Thomas I admire your work. I may wish to incorporate some of your ideas, or variations thereof, for our website, grillinfools.com., if you wouldn't mind. What camera are you using for the photography?
Josh @Grillin Fool Greg Thomas You're welcome to take the recipe and make variations, just include credit back to the Meatwave. I'm using a Nikon D300, mainly with a 50mm f/1.4 lens.
Looking forward to see what you come up with.
Josh @Robyn Lindars Thanks!
@Chris Good luck finding outside skirt. Outside of TX it seems pretty difficult. I have to say that having both, I've kinda found I like inside skirt better--both taste great, but inside was a easier to work with, less sinew, and slight thicker (but that's only compared to one outside skirt I've bought and cooked).