Cards on the table: I find bloody beef somewhat revolting. Although I don’t eat it often, I can enjoy smallish bites of meat that have an interesting flavor – think lamb, duck and other full-flavored proteins. But to me, beef doesn’t have an interesting enough taste – not to mention health benefits — to include on my consumption list. This attitude changed the first time I tried hanger steak a couple of years back. While I still don’t eat it often, this is the first steak I can honestly say doesn’t just taste like beef.
This cut is called the Butcher’s Steak because those savvy dudes used to keep this formerly little-known part for themselves. In our country, anyway. Hanger steak has long been popular in Europe, In French, it is known as the onglet, in Italian the lombatello, and in Spanish the solomillo de pulmon. Until recently, those hanger steaks that weren’t squirreled away by butchers were added to the hamburger grind. The cut is still so obscure here that you’ll rarely find it on those cow charts that sometimes decorate the meat counter.
Hanger steaks come one to a cow, weighing roughly a pound and “hang” between the last rib and the loin of the animal. They’re the opposite of a Kobe steak; tough, almost stringy and without the fat marbling of the pricey cuts. There’s an inedible membrane that runs down the center that must be removed. Local butchers now often slice this out before sale, making the final steak smaller in diameter.
Hanger steak isn’t usually found on charts of beef cuts but is located
between the plate and flank near the kidneys
What’s so special about hanger steak is the extremely rich flavor. It’s not just beef. Supposedly, its close proximity to the kidneys is what makes it so unique and delicious. To my palate, the taste of hanger steak compared to other steaks is like rich, livery squab compared to blah chicken.
As with most things food related, the hanger steak is coming into its own in the Bay Area. It often appears on restaurant menus and has become slightly easier to find at retail. The go-to source used to be JJ&F in South Palo Alto (not no more since ownership changed) and sometimes at Schaub’s in Stanford Shopping Center. Those are still good sources but Draeger’s has also begun offering it (for around $10/lb.). The Menlo Park Draeger’s almost always carries it now (that store has the premier meat counter in the chain) but it can be ordered from the other stores. Most likely, some other upscale markets also make it available. The key: butcher shops that buy sides of beef and do their own carving, vs. the Safeways of the world, which sell pre-packaged meat.
This cut is supposed to be best marinated and cooked quickly over high heat (grilled or broiled) and served rare or medium-rare to avoid toughness. I still hate rare meat, however, so my personal favorite approach is to cut the long, narrow steak into generous pieces, marinate them, thread them on a skewer and grill them to taste (medium to well for this rare-meat-phobic girl) over charcoal. Nirvana is to serve the delicious brochettes with easy-to-make onion confit, which is fabulous with anything grilled. Making his dish is a perfect time to dig out those monster cabs you’ve been hoarding. During prep as well as at the table!
Coconut-Marinated, Grilled Hanger Steak Brochettes with Onion Confit
Serves 4 or more
Approximately 1 lb. hanger steak, membrane removed and cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces
Magic Marinade (see below)
Onion confit (see below)
This amount of marinade below will easily cover twice the amount specified above so buy more steak if desired or freeze the extra marinade. The onion confit recipe will also make extra; it freezes well, too.
Let the steak pieces sit in the marinade for 12 hour up to 2 days. Light your grill. Remove meat from marinade but don’t scrape off the excess and place on metal skewers. Grill as desired. Save extra marinade in the freezer and reuse.
Serve with warm or room-temperature onion confit on the side. Can be garnished with chopped parsley for color.
Magic Coconut Marinade
2 cups coconut milk (canned)
1 cup tamarind concentrate
1/3 cup black (Chinese) soy sauce
(optional) 4 sliced garlic cloves
Mix ingredients. Save extra marinade in the freezer and reuse. All these ingredients are available at Nak’s Asian Market in downtown Menlo Park. This marinade is absolutely great with just about anything. See the post (“My Magical Marinade”) for more details.
3 onions, red, yellow or white, thinly sliced
4 shallots, thinly sliced
6 T olive oil
pinch of sugar
¼ – ½ cup red wine (can include some cheap port)
¼ cup red wine vinegar mixed with some balsamic vinegar
(optional) 1T thyme leaves
salt and pepper to taste
Saute the shallots and onions in the oil until soft. Add the sugar, then the wine and vinegar. Cook on low heat until the liquid is completely gone and the vegetables are fully caramelized, which can take 30 or more minutes. If the liquid disappears before the cooking is done, add more wine. Stir in the thyme and season with salt and pepper after removing from heat. Can be stored in the fridge for a couple of weeks or frozen in batches.