Carne Asada: Brooklyn Style
One of the major challenges of apartment living in DC is that it's relatively unusual to have outdoor space. While most row houses have some kind of backyard, balcony, or patio space, older buildings are not likely to have anything of the sort, and there is an unfortunate dearth of building-maintained rooftop or patio grills. During my first two years in DC I lived in a row house on Capitol Hill which did have a backyard, and I grilled year round on a beat-up charcoal Weber regardless of the weather, mosquitos (of which there are millions), or humidity (oppressive). I've been backyard-less in Adams Morgan for three years though, and so when the caveman, gotta-cook-over-an-open-fire part of my brain really starts to light up, I need to take advantage of the good fortune of my friends.
Carne asada is a favorite of my friend Jeff, who lives in Brooklyn with his fiancée and a very nice ceramic charcoal grill. Carne asada, which literally translates to "grilled meat", is great because it's hard to mess up. Typically made with flank, skirt, or shell steak, a citrus-heavy marinade helps to tenderize the meat, which makes the steak a bit less tough than it might be otherwise. It's important to make sure not to marinate for too long or else that tenderness will become mushiness, but it's pretty forgiving. Also, go ahead and get half of your grill blazingly hot, because searing your steak is the way to go.
You'll notice that this recipe calls for beer to be added to the marinade. There's some argument about how much this really adds to the flavor of the steak, but I would argue that grilling basically requires the consumption of beer anyway, and as long as the thing is open you might as well introduce some additional flavor and sugar to the marinade. This is the exact reason you should not use domestic beer though. Other than tasting like shit, mass market beer (of the Coors, Miller, Budweiser variety in particular) is basically just water with crap added to it. Using this type of beer will introduce only undesired flavor, and will also serve to basically just water down the marinade. If you really want to add a lighter beer, buy some Tecate and add that. During my most recent batch I used a couple of good glugs of a summer helles lager from Troegs and was quite pleased with the end result.
- 8 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 jalapeno, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- Juice of 6 limes
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/3 of a flavorful, lighter beer (a Mexican beer such as Tecate, Dos Equis Amber, or Negra Modelo is ideal. Do not use American mass-market beer such as Budweiser or Coors).
- 1 and 1/2 pounds of flank, skirt, or shell steak
- 1 lime, thinly sliced
- 1 lemon, thickly sliced
- 10 to 12 tortillas, warmed
- 1 avocado, diced
- 1 white onion, finely chopped
- 2 limes, cut into wedges.
- In a large non-reactive mixing bowl, combine chopped garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, cumin, lime juice, vegetable oil, and beer. Stir or whisk thoroughly until mixed and add the steak to the bowl. Coat the meat in the marinade (feel free to use your hands) and add the sliced limes and lemons to the bowl. Mix again to ensure that the meat and all the ingredients have been combined.
- Transfer the meat and all of the marinade, including the sliced citrus fruit, to a gallon-sized ziplock bag. Squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible and orient the meat so that it's laying flat in the bag, with the lime and lemon slices distributed evenly on the surface of the meat (just do the best you can). Let the meat marinate for at least three hours, but no longer than six.
- Half an hour before you want to begin cooking, preheat your grill and scrape the cooking grate once it has been heating for around ten minutes.
- If using a gas grill, preheat about fifteen minutes before cooking and set half of the grill burners to high, while leaving the other half on low.
- If using a charcoal grill, pile your briquets on one half of the basin, while leaving the other half empty in order to create two temperature zones. Prepare your briquets per the instructions on the bag, or use a chimney to eliminate the need for lighter fluid and heartbreak. If you use the chimney, heat the coals until ash grey and pour into one half of the basin, leaving the other half empty.
- When your grill is heated, remove the meat from the bag and wipe down with a paper towel to remove any excess moisture and bits of chopped vegetable. Place the meat on the hottest zone of your grill and cook until seared, around 3 minutes. Flip the steak using tongs (never use a fork), and cook until the second side has seared. Move steaks to the cool side of the grill and cover. Cook until the center of the steak reads 125° for medium-rare using an instant-read thermometer, and 135° for medium. Transfer the steak to a cutting board, cover with foil, and allow the steak to rest for five minutes. (Cutting before the meat has rested will release delicious liquids and is a big steak no-no.)
- Remove the foil from the cutting board and thinly slice the steak against the grain. Serve immediately on the tortillas and top with diced avocado, white onion, additional cilantro, lime juice (from the lime wedges), or any other toppings you might desire. Consume with abandon.