Why it Works: Against the Grain
Meat is a muscle, made up of fibers, that helps animals move. When cooked correctly, the connection between the fibers of the muscle loosen and we call the meat tender. In some muscles, such as flank or skirt steak, the fibers are glued together so tightly that no amount of cooking or marinating can soften them. For this reason, the meat has to be specially handled to make it tender. After cooking, allow the meat to rest a few minutes before slicing; this helps keep the meat juicy. Then look closely at the steak to identify the direction the strands of meat run. (The fibers of flank steak usually run the long way.) With a serrated knife, slice the meat thinly against the grain of the fibers—the short way. This will cut across each of the muscle fibers, making the meat tender.
Recipe Rx: The Incredible Shrinking Steak
You went to the butcher and bought a good-looking flank steak, just for this recipe. The problem is your finished steak is almost half the size it was when it was raw! No, this isn’t a conspiracy by butchers to get you to buy more meat, it is a natural property of the meat. As meat is heated, the muscle fibers start to contract and pull. In meats where the fibers all run in one direction, such as flank steak, this effect can be quite dramatic. Although this can’t be completely avoided, using gentle heat can minimize it. If the heat is really high not only will the meat burn more easily but also it will shrink faster. So cook as instructed and next time buy enough meat to compensate for the shrink.