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Latin American carne asada, or "grilled meat," typically starts with tough but tasty flank steak, which is tenderized, moisturized and flavored with a bold marinade. On the grill, it becomes a rich medium brown on the outside and juicy and pink on the inside. When served, it is sliced across the grain, further enhancing its tenderness.
For the lime-beer marinade:
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1⁄3 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
1⁄2 cup lager-style beer, preferably Mexican
Grated zest of 1 lime
1⁄4 cup fresh lime juice
1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbs. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
1⁄4 tsp. ground chipotle chili or cayenne
1⁄2 tsp. salt
1 flank steak, about 1 3⁄4 lb.
Canola oil for oiling the grill grate
Make the marinade
Fit a food processor with the metal blade. With the machine running, drop the garlic through the feed tube to chop finely. Turn off the machine, add the cilantro and pulse a few times until the cilantro is coarsely chopped. With the machine running, add the beer, lime zest, lime juice, olive oil, chili powder, cumin, oregano, ground chipotle and salt. (Chipotle will lend a smoky flavor.) You will have about 1 1⁄2 cups marinade.
Marinate the steak
Put the steak and marinade in a shallow ceramic or glass dish just large enough to hold the steak. Do not use metal, which may react with the acids in the marinade and impart off flavors. Cover the dish tightly with plastic wrap. (Alternatively, put the steak and marinade in a large sealable plastic bag. These plastic bags are good for marinating because they allow a lot of contact between the food and the marinade.) Refrigerate the steak and marinade for at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours, turning the meat occasionally to ensure that the marinade touches as much of its surface area as possible. Remove the steak in its marinade from the refrigerator 1 hour before grilling. Bringing the steak to room temperature before grilling helps it to cook more evenly.
Prepare the grill
About 20 minutes before you start cooking, prepare a charcoal or gas grill with 2 areas of high heat and 1 cooler area: If you are using a charcoal grill, first remove the grill grate and set it aside. Next, ignite the briquettes and/or charcoal using a chimney starter and let them burn until they are covered with white ash. Then, pour the coals into the fire bed. Finally, using long-handled tongs, spread the hot coals 2 or 3 layers deep in one-third of the fire bed and 1 or 2 layers deep in another third of the fire bed, leaving the remaining third free of coals. Replace the grill grate in its slots. If you are using a gas grill, turn on all of the heat elements as high as they will go. For either type of grill, place serving plates near the grill to warm from its heat, or warm them in a 200°F oven.
Scrub the grill grate with a wire brush to remove any traces of food. Then, lightly rub the grill grate with paper towels coated with canola oil.
Grill the steak
Before grilling, test the grill temperature. If you are using a charcoal grill, hold your hand about 4 inches above the fire. If you can count only to 1 before pulling your hand away (very high heat), the coals are ready. If you are using a gas grill, leave all of the heat elements on high. The temperature should reach 500°F before you begin to cook.
For either type of grill, when the grill is ready, remove the steak from the marinade and let the excess marinade drip off. Discard the marinade. Place the steak over the hottest area of the grill and cover, if desired. Grill the steak until the underside is browned (the moisture from the marinade prevents a dark brown surface crust from forming), about 4 minutes. If you want cross-hatching on the steak, use long-handled tongs to rotate it 90 degrees after 2 minutes of cooking. Use the tongs to turn over the steak and grill until the other side is browned, about 4 minutes more for medium-rare, again rotating the steak 90 degrees if cross-hatching is desired.
Check the steak for doneness
Insert an instant-read thermometer horizontally into the center of the steak or, if necessary, cut into it near the center. At medium-rare, the thermometer should register 140°F or the color should be deep pink. If the steak is not ready, cover the grill, let it cook for 1 to 2 minutes more and test again.
Let the steak rest
When the steak is done to your liking, transfer it to a carving board and let it rest for 3 to 5 minutes. This brief rest before serving allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat. The temperature of the steak will also rise about 5°F while resting. If cut too soon, the steak will not have its optimal juiciness and the color inside will be uneven.
Clean and maintain the grill for the next use
While the meat is resting, use a sturdy grill brush to clean the still-hot grill. If you are using a charcoal grill, cover it and let the coals burn out completely. If you are using a gas grill, turn off the heat elements, seal the propane tank and close the grill cover.
Slice the steak and serve
Turn the steak on the carving board so that the long end is facing you and the direction of the muscle fibers runs horizontally. The fibers are referred to as the meat's grain because they resemble the grain in a plank of wood. Use a meat fork to hold the steak steady. In the other hand, hold a thin-bladed carving knife perpendicular to the steak at a 45-degree angle and cut the steak across the grain into thin slices about 1⁄4 inch thick. This shortens the long, tough muscle fibers and makes the meat easier to chew. Transfer the sliced steak to the warmed plates. Pour any juices from the board over the slices and serve immediately. Serves 4.
Chef's Tip: Skirt steak can also be used for making carne asada. It is a relatively long, flat cut and, like flank steak, has enormous flavor. Also like flank steak, though fairly lean, it has just enough fat to keep it juicy over the high heat of the grill