Spice Rubbed Skirt Steak with Smoked Squash, Spicy Nuts, Brussels Sprout Leaves

I got hit by Spring Fever. Hard. Yes, I know, I’d be an ingrate not to acknowledge how mild a winter we’ve had. But there’s a big difference between warm for winter and just flat out warm. I needed to be standing outside appreciating the warmth and the fact that it was still light at 6:30 PM. It was like a chemical reaction, I just has to be grilling. But grilling wasn’t quite right. Throwing a piece of meat over open flames for 3 minutes, flip, repeat and done wasn’t going to cut it. I wanted it to last. Also, I was in the mood for slow roasted, smoky flavor, the kind that can’t be accomplished by grilling. However, being a weeknight, I wasn’t exactly smoking a brisket. I’d bought skirt steak because it looked great and because it’s an ideal weeknight cut, fast cooking and intensely flavorful. I’d originally intended to marinate and grill it but I really wanted the type of crusty bark you get from real BBQ. What was I to do? If I cooked skirt steak for any extended period of time it would become a dried out, overcooked piece of shoe leather. Then I had a flash of…..well, maybe not brilliance, but a good idea. I’d freeze the steak for an hour, lowering the temperature to enable it to cook for a longer duration. I’d massage it with a spice rub which would hopefully coat the meat in a sweet/savory shell. I wasn’t sure it’d work, but damned if I wasn’t going to try.

Spring feverish though I may have been, winter was still like 15 minutes ago. I decided to try to compose a meal that would bridge the gap between the seasons. Rather than roasting squash until soft, I decided to cook it in my barbecue while the steak was in the freezer, then puree it until smooth and top with nuts for a textural counterpoint. I was originally going to use Marcona almonds, but then remembered Bobby Sue’s Nuts, a Westchester local and personal favorite. She makes a slightly spicy, candied nut mix which I thought would work perfectly.

Lastly, I wanted something light, leafy and green to finish off the heavy, roasted dish. I was going to use arugula or mixed greens in a light lemon dressing, but then spied beautiful Brussels sprouts. My love for roasted Brussels sprouts knows no bounds, but that’s not what this dish needed.

Though that doesn't mean I didn't roast some as a snack.

Nope, I needed light. I peeled the leaves off the sprouts and gave them a quick saute, then tossed them with a bit of salt and lemon juice.

That's more like it.

This dish was successful beyond my wildest expectations. The steak did, indeed, have a beautiful, crispy bark, the spice rub accenting the meat wonderfully. The squash was pureed, the slight smokiness giving it an unexpected complexity, and the chopped nuts on top were perfect. The sauteed sprout leaves worked as well as I’d hoped, rounding out the plate brilliantly. I used a Big Green Egg, at 275°, to make this, however the same results can be achieved with a Weber Kettle, or, you can even make this on a gas grill. Don’t bother freezing the steak, instead rubbing on the spice blend and letting it marinate for the hour. You won’t have the smoky flavors but the charred crust should compensate.

For the spice rub:

  • 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon of cumin
  • 1 teaspoon mild chili powder such as chimayo
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice powder
  • 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Place a 3/4-1 lb. skirt steak in the freezer for an hour while you mix the eight dry ingredients. Add just enough olive oil to create a paste. Rub the steak generously with the spice mixture. Cook on a grill, over indirect heat, at 275° for approximately 30 minutes before moving over direct heat. Cook over direct heat, approximately 2 minutes per side, allowing for a nicely charred crust.

The interior should still be pink. If you like your steaks ruby red, stick to the direct grilling method. This was medium rare and incredibly tender. I like my steak red but I absolutely loved this steak.

For the squash:

  • 1 large squash (I used Kabocha, but butternut would be just as good, if not better)
  • 1 teaspoon molasses (I used this because the kabocha squash was not as sweet as I’d expected. If using butternut, check flavor first.)
  • 1 teaspoon champagne vinegar
  • Chicken broth (Approximately a cup, enough for a silky texture)
  • 3 tablespoons candied nuts or Marcona almonds, preferably Bobby Sue’s spiced nuts
  • Olive oil
  • Salt to taste

Cut squash in half and scoop out pits with spoon.

Rub cut side with olive oil and sprinkle gently with kosher salt. Cook on covered grill, on indirect heat, for the hour while the steak is in the freezer. If it’s not soft enough after the hour, place in a 375° oven for an additional 30 minutes. When soft, scoop the flesh from the skin and place in a blender or food processor. Add molasses (if using) and champagne vinegar. With machine running, slowly add chicken broth until it reaches a thick, but silky texture. Salt to taste. Cover with chopped nuts.

For the Brussels sprouts:

Using a paring knife, cut the core out of Brussels sprouts and peel of leaves until you have approximately 1 1/2 cups. Saute in olive oil, over high heat, until just softening but not wilted, approximately 2 minutes. Spoon into a mixing bowl and toss with a drizzle of lemon juice and a pinch of kosher salt.

Assemble. Enjoy.

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