Po’ Folks Surf and Turf

After a seemingly endless week away in various parts of Ontario, it’s time to get back on the blogging horse.  Because I care, and I know that it would be villainous to come back after a week and offer you up something milk-toast like a  quick bread or a salad, I’ll tell you about the best meal that I had all week.  Well, maybe that’s not true.  Staying in a resort that produced it’s own cheeses and cured meats meant a constant stream of choice comestibles, but I can’t give you a recipe for how they cured their prosciutto.  I can, however, give you a recipe for the first real meal that I shared with my darling fiancé upon my return:  a flavorful balsamic marinated flank steak with succulent beery shrimp and a zesty preserved lemon gremolata. That, my friends, is why he misses me when I go away.  It has nothing to do with companionship, and everything to do with dinner.

Well, that and the fact that the last time I went on a work trip that was only supposed to last a week it ended up being a month.

….the month when we were desperately trying to sell our house.  It wasn’t going so well and each day brought a new flush of panic.

……….and our cat died.

……………and it happened that I was in a country where the airport was bombed about 3 hour after I arrived.  Ditto for the hotel that we lunched at every second day. Did I mention the demonstrations in the street as rioters marched by in the middle of the afternoon?  Good times, good times.

As a result, now when I tell Mike that I’ve got a work commitment and I’ll be away for a couple of days, his eyes glaze over and he slowly backs up towards the wall muttering things like, “No….not again…..no trips….uh uh……the cats…..they’ll miss you…….and maybe die……”

To unwind and finally spend some well needed time together, on Friday night after an 11 hour work day, an appointment with our florist to vet centerpieces, a quick trip to deliver gifts to a close friend who needed cheering up, and a rapid fire grocery shopping extravaganza, we packed up the cooler and headed up north to my parent’s cottage.  It rained all weekend which meant that we were limited to indoor activities (get your mind out of the gutter), but that was absolutely fine by us.  All that we wanted to do was be together, eat good food and sip on beer and cheap cocktails. Thankfully, when you sign up for a weekend at the cottage that’s pretty much the only thing on the agenda.  Aren’t attainable goals just great?

Now  then, if you’ve been reading our site for a while it will come as no surprise to you when I say that I am NOT a touchy-feely roses-and-romance kind of a gal.  The first time that Mike said he loved me, I replied with a brusque and professional, “Thank you, that’s a very generous comment.  Would you prefer chicken or fish for dinner?”  No kidding.  What is perhaps the most telling, however, is that Mike quickly learned that I might not be as soft and effeminate as he anticipated, but I show my affection in other ways.  Some people “hug it out”, but I prefer to “cook it out”.  Instead of just saying, “What a god awful week. I missed you too and I’m so glad that we can finally spend some time together” I would say, “Hey bub! Nice shirt. I’ll grill you a steak for dinner tomorrow.”

There is something that just feels inherently special about a classic surf and turf meal, and better yet, it pleases both our blood-letting carnivorous sides and our heart healthy seafood loving souls.  However, I can’t say that it’s my go-to meal of choice when someone cons me into going to The Keg.  The thing about the surf and turf is that it’s always the most expensive plate on a restaurant’s menu for a reason. Steak  and seafood are top dollar items, and I just can’t bring myself to pay a premium when there is always the possibility of reheated lobster and chewy meat.  Eating at home is always more affordable than dining out, but frankly it breaks my heart just as much to shell out $70 for a cow and crustacean meal that I made myself. Let’s see…..two steaks at $12 each with lobster at $18 per pound and king crab legs at $21 per pound…….never mind.  I don’t want to do the math on this highway to canal robbery.  If I’m going to spend that much money on dinner, it really ought to be prepared by someone else and served to me.  Preferably by someone wearing white gloves.  And he should have a mustache and a Brillo cream pompadour.  Just sayin’.

The good news, however, is that when you want a special celebratory and only a surf and turf will suffice, you can still do it without breaking the budget.  The key is to opt for cheaper but flavorful cuts of meat and more affordable seafood options.  In this case, we used cheap and cheerful flank steak (one of my absolute favorite budget cuts) with jumbo tiger shrimp.  We didn’t need to break out the shell crackers or carefully cut our way around a T-shaped bone, but we didn’t care.  This is the essence of surf and turf: flavorful beef, succulent shrimp, and an enticing garnish that makes the meal feel….special.  Even if it cost less than $20 to make.

Po’ Folks Surf and Turf:

Balsamic Flank Steak and Shrimp with Preserved Lemon and Savory Gremolata

Serves 4

Balsamic Flank Steak

  • 2 lb (1 kg) flank steak *
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tbsp soya sauce
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1.5 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp red chili pepper flakes
  • 2 large rosemary sprigs

Shrimp with Preserved Lemon Gremolata

  • 1 lb jumbo (16/20) tiger shrimp
  • 1 cup pilsner beer
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 lemon, juice only
  • small bunch fresh parsley (1/2 cup finely chopped)
  • handful fresh savory (1/4 cup finely chopped) **
  • 1 whole preserved lemon (4 quarters)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1.5 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • pinch red chili pepper flakes

*Flank steak is a richly flavorful cut but it can also be tough as shoe leather if you don’t treat it correctly.  This cut is from the cow’s abdomen and is well muscled, meaning that there is negligible marbling/fat and the meat is fibrous and stringy.  To enjoy the flavor of the delightfully affordable flank steak without a 10 minute chew, there are a couple rules of thumb to follow.  The first is that a flavorful and tenderizing marinade will go a long way towards improving the final quality of your meat.  The second would be a warning not to over cook your meat.  Flank steak should be cooked to a maximum of medium, but rare/medium rare are preferred.  If you only like your meat well done, you can give a long and slow braise to your flank steak instead in an acidic liquid.  The final caution is that the fibers of the muscle run long, so when you cut into a flank steak you want to be sure to slice it thinly and always go across the grain.  Thankfully, flank steak is longer than it is wide so that is usually easy enough to do.  If you aren’t partial to flank steak, feel free to use hanger, skirt, or your favorite robust steak cut.

** If you can’t find fresh savory, you can substitute fresh oregano but reduce the quantity to 2.5 tablespoons and up the parsley a smidgen.

Peel the tough outer layer from the onion and grate the flesh into a large glass or non-reactive dish.  Peel the garlic and smash the cloves before adding them to the onions, along with all of the other remaining marinade ingredients except for the rosemary.

Whisk the marinade together until it is well combined and then turn the flank steak around in it a few times before letting it settle.  Lay one sprig of rosemary on top and one underneath the meat.

Cover the container and put it in the fridge to marinate for 3-5 hours, flipping the steak over at least once or twice during this time so that it soaks up the marinade evenly.  Take the steak out of the fridge so that it can come up to room temperature at least 30 minutes before you’re ready to grill.

In the mean time, make the preserved lemon and savory gremolata. Finely mince the parsley and savory leaves, discarding the stems.  You do want to be rather thorough, and really mince the herbs as finely as possible.

Finely mince the garlic and then mash it to a paste-like consistency.  If you have a mortar and pestle this will take no time at all.  If not, you can use the flat side of your knife to press and smear the minced garlic until it gets pulpy.

Scrape out the pith from the preserved lemons and leave only the thick peels.  Mince the preserved lemon well until it also has a pulpy consistency.  Add the garlic and lemon to the herbs along with the pinch of red pepper flakes.  Drizzle with mixture with the olive oil and mix it thoroughly so that everything is combined.

Pour the beer into a large bowl and whisk in the honey until it dissolves.  Add in the juice of half a lemon along with two (2) tablespoons of the gremolata mixture and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.  Put the remaining gremolata in the fridge until you’re ready to serve your meal.

Peel the shrimp but leave the tails intact.  Let the shrimp soak in this beery bath for 30-45 minutes, but no longer than that.  You want the shrimp to absorb the flavor, but if they marinate too long with the acid then their texture will be affected.

Fit two shrimp together like a yin-yang, making a kind of seafood spiral, and thread 2-3 of these sets onto a skewer.  Divide the shrimp up as best you can, remembering that 16/20 shrimp means about 16-20 in a pound, which means that you can make 4-5 skewers of 4 shrimp each.

Turn your grill up to a fairly high temperature (500° or thereabouts) or until it passes the Highly Technical “3 Steamboats” test.

Remove the steak from the marinade and discard the remains.  Grill the steak until it is cooked to your liking.  For medium rare, this will be about 4-6 minutes per side.  I like my meat rare, so 3-5 minutes is just fine by me.  I don’t recommend that you cook flank steak to more than a medium (richly pink throughout) as it has very little fat and dries out quickly.

When the meat is cooked, take it off the grill and tent it with tinfoil for at least 10 minutes before slicing it very thinly (no more than 1/4″) on an angle going across the grain.

The shrimp will cook up delightfully quickly, so don’t put them on the grill until your meat has had at least 5-7 minutes to rest.  Or, better yet, grill them after the steak has rested and while somebody else has been harangued into slicing it for you.  While your grill is still nice and hot, the shrimp skewers will cook up in only about 1-2 minutes per side. When the shrimp are pink and opaque, take them off the grill immediately so that they don’t overcook.  Just because we’re into cheap and cheerful here, it doesn’t mean that we’re not still fussy about proper cooking techniques.

Plate up the sliced steak with a shrimp skewer and liberally dollop the gremolata on top, because it tastes equally delicious with the steak as with the seafood.  For side dishes, I like simple roasted asparagus and green beans along with crispy smashed potatoes.  A glass or two of budget-friendly Argentinian Malbec would certainly be a welcome addition as well.

You could serve this meal without the additional gremolata on the side, of course.  You could also sell your firstborn to a boxing club in Guadalajara in exchange for a six pack of beer, or decide to stop wearing pants when you go to church on Sunday.  You could do a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean you should.

Thankfully, however, the shrimp and steak have enough flavor that even if you forget entirely about the gremolata and serve the meal as-is, you’ll still be pleasantly surprised.

Who says that surf and turf is only for the rich?  We po’ folks enjoyed a completely celebratory but embarrassingly affordable steak and seafood dinner, and relished every bite.  Hey, we might be beggars, but we’re sure as hell still going to be choosy.