Skirt Steak vs. Rib-Eye Steak

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While rib-eye remains a high-end restaurant steak, skirt has thrown off its image as a budget cut suitable only for fajitas or stir fry. The difference in price between the two may be unshakable, but with the right preparation, skirt steak can pack all the succulence and flavor of rib-eye.

Different Cuts

Rib-eye looks every bit the steak, with thick seams of fat, a smooth-grained center and a short section of bone.

  • Usually at least an inch thick, rib-eye is cut from the area
    between the sixth and 12th ribs on the steer, not as lean or tender as steaks
    cut from the short loin, but not as tough as cuts from the chuck.
  • The more tender rib-eyes come from those cut toward the
    short loin rather than the thicker chuck end.
  • Rib-eye steaks can be bone-in or boneless, the latter called a
    Delmonico.

Skirt steak comes as a long strip of sinewy muscle cut from the diaphragm area of the cow, similar in appearance to a flank steak, but with a grain that runs cross-ways rather than along its length.

  • Also known as short plate, skirt
    steak has a covering of thin membrane that needs to be removed before cooking.
  • Tougher than rib-eye, skirt steak nevertheless has a strong, beefy flavor and higher fat content than flank.
  • Cheaper than rib-eye, skirt is also thinner, lending itself
    to slicing into strips rather than serving whole.

Flavor Suggestions

Skirt steak benefits enormously from marinating because there is less marbling to keep it moist and sustain the flavor than a rib-eye.

Rib-eye, on the other hand, draws its flavor from the rendered fat and needs just a straightforward seasoning with salt and pepper.

For either approach, the steak needs to be left to season in the refrigerator, but the meat should return to room temperature before cooking. In the case of rib-eye, this can take up to an hour.

  • Marinate skirt steak in a standard acid, oil and spice
    marinade.
  • Lime juice or balsamic vinegar will both penetrate the meat
    sufficiently and tenderize it.
  • Soy sauce gives color, whereas a straightforward kosher salt
    rub draws out moisture to enhance caramelization in the pan.
  • Look to Asian flavors for a skirt steak stir fry, such as
    ginger, garlic, chili and cumin.

Cooking Approaches

Skirt steak dries out easily, so it either needs a short passage across a hot skillet or slow-cooking in a braising liquid.

  • Flash-fry skirt in a little butter or oil for just two to three minutes per side, then let it rest.
  • For maximum tenderness and moisture, rare to medium is
    sufficient. Anything more and the steak is likely to be tough and chewy.
  • If braising,
    slow-cook skirt in a Dutch oven or pressure cooker until it begins to fall
    apart, then shred it with a fork to make a thick stew.

Rib-eye is perfect for pan-frying in a cast iron skillet, where the steak will cook in its own rendered fat. Cook it for five minutes on each side, to medium, just enough time to render some of the fat and break down some of the tougher connective tissue.

Once the steak is removed from the skillet, cover it with aluminum foil and let it rest for at least five minutes while the juices consolidate.

If you're grilling rib-eye, bear in mind that the steak will ooze hot fat that not only draws away flavor, but also risks causing flare-ups. Set up a two-zone grill and char the steak first over the hot coals for just long enough to get the requisite crosshatch marks, then transfer it to the cooler side for a few minutes.

Meal Ideas

Rib-eye is a centerpiece steak, perfect for serving with just a side of fries or vegetables. However, a red wine sauce is a neat way of deglazing the skillet after cooking the steak to gather the remaining flavors.

Cut skirt steak against the grain to sever the tough sinews, and slice it into thin, juicy strips, ideal for fajitas, stir-fry or sandwiches.

References

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