There’s a piece of art in our living room that the gremlins toy with daily.
They know the mistress of the house is a brick shy of crazy. So they sneak up to the artwork and knock it askew every evening, waiting for the mistress to notice and readjust.
She never disappoints. She studies the angles as she’s dusting. Assesses the straightness from various vantage points. Stops conversations with friends and family by leaping out of her seat to fix the skewed painting.
Oh those gremlins. They laugh and laugh, never realizing the joke is on them: What’s compulsive in household decor is delicious when it comes to dinner.
I confess. I am obsessed. The crooked painting drives me batty, and the men in the family know it. But if I didn’t obsess and compulsively perfect, we’d never know the joys of matambre.
Matambre (which translates to “kill the hunger”) is an Argentinian dish of steak stuffed with vegetables and all kinds of other goodness. I came upon a recipe for it many years ago in the late, great Gourmet magazine. Sliced and laid out on a platter, perfectly roasted meat encircling spirals of green and orange, it was nothing short of edible art. I immediately bought the ingredients and made my own.
It was disastrous: Stringy, tough, bland. Definitely a recipe destined for the junk heap.
It was so lovely. And it had such a distinguished pedigree. So I tried it again. Then again. And again, tweaking each time I made it.
Today, matambre is a go-to entree in our house. I make it for clients, for parties and for our family. And thanks to my compulsion, I’ve learned a few tricks:
- Always butterfly: Flank steak is quite thin on its own, but it needs to be butterflied (or halved lengthwise) for this dish. Otherwise, the layers are too thick and bulky once the meat is rolled.
- Use a boning knife: A super sharp boning knife lets you halve the thin steak without tearing the meat. Place the point of the knife in the center of the longest side, and begin cutting from one side to the other. Place one hand atop the meat for extra control. Cut to within a half inch of the opposite side, then open the meat up like a book.
- Roll with the grain: Pay close attention to the meat’s grain, or the direction the fibers run. After the steak is stuffed, you’ll want to roll it up with that grain so when you slice into it, you’re cutting across the fibers. This will ensure a tender, succulent steak. Otherwise, your pieces will be stringy and tough.
- Season each layer: Skip this part, and you’ll have hunks of blandness on your plate. Once you’ve butterflied the steak, sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Repeat this seasoning with each subsequent layer. After the steak is rolled, season the outside with salt and pepper as well.
- Sear well: Whether you’re grilling or oven-roasting, sear the rolled steak on all sides until a nice crust forms. This step takes 10-15 minutes, but it locks in flavor and moisture.
- Let it rest: The finished steak should sit at least 15 minutes before cutting. Otherwise, the juices and filling with spill out all over your cutting board.
The gremlins don’t laugh at my obsession in the kitchen anymore. They know the outcome is deliciousness.
Now if they’d just leave that artwork alone …
Stuffed Flank Steak (Adapted from Gourmet magazine)
Play with this as you like … you can change up the spices; use kale or chard in place of the spinach; omit the bacon; use any type of breadcrumb you have lying around (our last go-round used crumbs from white, pumpernickel and rye breads). However you choose to make it, rest assured it will live up to its translation and “kill the hunger” quite nicely.
- 6 bacon slices, cut into chunks
- 1 cup homemade breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano (or 1/4 teaspoon dried)
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 2 1/2-pound flank steak
- 1 10-ounce package frozen spinach, thawed and wrung dry
- 3 carrots, peeled and grated
Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium-high heat until crispy. Using a slotted spoon, remove the meat to a paper towel-lined plate. Reserve 2 tablespoons of drippings.
In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic, oregano, cloves and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper, then add the bacon and reserved bacon fat. Toss to coat:
Butterfly your flank steak. Season with salt and pepper. Spread on the spinach, leaving a 1-inch border on all sides:
Place the grated carrots atop the spinach, again leaving a border:
Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the breadcrumb mixture.
Rolling with the grain (typically starting at the long end of the flank steak), roll the meat up and over the filling. Tie at 1-inch intervals with butcher’s twine:
Drizzle the steak with olive oil, then season liberally with salt and pepper.
Heat your grill or a griddle until very hot. Add the steak and sear on all sides. If using a grill, move to indirect heat and cover. If using your oven, place the seared meat in a greased pan, and put the pan in a 350-degree oven. Regardless of your cooking method, roast the meat for 30-35 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer registers 125 to 130 degrees.
Remove the meat from the heat and let it rest for 15-20 minutes. Remove the butcher’s twine, then slice into inch-thick slices.