For exactly one year I lived in an apartment in the city. I was a less than a block away from a farmer’s market, three bars, two cafes, one coffee shop, a volleyball court, a park, a bike trail and a convenience store. It was pretty great.
Now I live in the woods, in the middle of nowhere, a nature preserve across the street, the closest business is three miles away and it’s totally cool with me. A big reason why? This thing:
I love me some charcoal grilling and in an apartment on the second floor, that’s a no-no.
Grilling is one of my favorite ways to spend time. I’m the kind of person that comes home and before they’re even out of their office clothes has a chimney full of coals lit. A nice day to me is just an excuse to stand over some grilled food, tongs in one hand and a drink in the other.
Since this isn’t one of those things where you can have any other opinion other than GRILLING IS AWESOME, I’m gonna share a meal made almost entirely on the grill. Like a lot of my recipes, this one has southwestern influences. Like your food to have some heat? This one will be for you.
Grilled flat iron steak fajitas, corn salad with guacamole & chipotle aioli.
Cast iron pan
Cheap red wine (for drinking, silly)
2.5 lbs flat iron steak
3 ears of corn
5 bell peppers
1 red onion
4 limes, zest of two limes
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch cilantro
3 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, minced (usually found in small cans in your grocery store in the international foods aisle. You just need one can)
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp ground chipotle pepper
1 tsp Old Bay seasoning (for the veggies, you can use whatever seasoning you prefer)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 cups olive oil, divided
ground black pepper
Serves: 6 really hungry people
Total Time: 7 hours
1 – Marinade the meat.
In a zip lock gallon bag combine the juice of two limes, the zest of two limes, two cloves of garlic (minced), ground chipotle pepper, 1/2 tsp of salt, a half cup of olive oil and the flat iron steak. Mix it to combine and coat the meat. Put the bag in your refrigerator for no more than six hours.
FAST FORWARD SIX HOURS.
Remove the steak from your fridge, let it sit in the marinated mixture on your kitchen counter and let it come to room temperature. This is important so don’t forget. You don’t want to be grilling cold meat.
If you’re using a charcoal grill, you can light your coals. I use a chimney starter and it usually takes at least 30 minutes to get the coals white. While your coals are getting ready, you can prepare the rest of your meal.
2 – Make the aioli.
There’s a restaurant in my town that serves a grilled tuna sandwich with a chipotle aioli. After having it once, I became obsessed and whenever I visit this place it doesn’t matter what I order, I have to have the chipotle aioli with it.
Thankfully, it’s really easy to replicate at home. You don’t even need to date one of the waitresses and coax the recipe out of them like some people have been known to do from time to time.
In a food processor, add the mustard, one smashed garlic clove, chipotle chiles with one tsp adobo sauce, juice of half a lemon, one egg yolk and a pinch of salt. While you process the mixture, SLOWLY pour 1/2 cup olive oil* into the bowl. This should take multiple minutes. You’ll know you’re finished when you’re left with something that has the consistency of mayo.
If you don’t have a food processor, you can simply use a large mixing bowl instead. Mince the garlic instead of smashing it, and strongly whisk olive oil into the mixture a few drops at a time. If you go this route you don’t have to worry about the calories you’re soon to consume, because you’re about to have a 15 minute workout in your kitchen.
*While we’re on the subject of olive oil, can I simply say that ya’ll need to step your olive oil game up? I cook in many of my friends and relatives’ kitchens, and it’s a lock that I’ll see the same crappy bottle of olive oil that they’ve had for an entire year or more. If you’re a home cook, quality olive oil important. Buy only high quality olive oil, and never keep a bottle (stored in a dark area) more than six months. If your olive oil is older than six months, toss it and go get a new bottle. I like California Olive Ranch, and for the aoili part of the recipe I used their Miller’s Blend for the peppery note.
When your aioli is complete, store it in a covered container in your refrigerator.
3 – Make the guacamole
God, I freaking love guac. I’m not kidding when I say I make at least two batches a week. Often times it’s three. I consider it to be the ALMOST perfect (seriously? The browning?) food. You will never look in my fridge and not find limes, avocados, cilantro (or that cilantro oil paste that comes in the tube [seriously. It's actually perfect for guac]), red onions and jalapenos.
Making it is quick and easy.
In a medium sized bowl add:
• 1/4th of a red onion, finely diced
• 1/2 jalapeno with the stems and seeds, minced
• 1 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped, or one tablespoon of that cilantro paste (no, go ahead and use it, I won’t judge. Seriously, the stuff is great)
• the juice of one lime
• 1/2 tsp ground cumin
• 1/2 tsp kosher salt
• 1/4 tsp black pepper
• 2 avocados
The order here is relatively important. You want to add the avocados last to minimize the exposure to air.
Use a fork (or a mortar, ideally) and mash your ingredients. You want it mixed well, creamy but still a bit chunky.
Put it in a AIR TIGHT container that just barely holds all your guac. Again, less air the better. Into the fridge it goes.
4 – Prepare your veggies.
This step is easy.
Julienne your bell peppers and remaining jalapeno and red onion*. Put them in your cast iron pan, drizzle them with a tablespoon of olive oil, add a pinch of kosher salt and a tablespoon of your favorite seasoning. I like Old Bay so I use that. Toss them around and these are ready.
*Reserve about half a bell pepper and half a jalapeno. Dice these and save them in a bowl. They’re going in your corn salad.
5 – Shuck the corn
Shuck your corn cobs, lightly coat them with olive oil and sprinkle on some kosher salt. Like almost everything else, you’re going to be grilling your corn. Some people prefer to leave the husk on the corn. I’m not one of those people. I grill them directly over the coals until about 20% of the kernels are good and brown.
IT’S GRILLIN’ TIME, PEOPLE.
Here’s about where you should be at:
6 – Grill the corn.
Take a look at a picture of the grilled meat at the top of this post. Notice how I’m using a two-zone grilling setup? That’s what you want. Organize your coals so only one half of the bowl is filled. If you’re using gas, only light half the burners.
Using paper towels coated in olive oil and tongs, wipe the grates with olive oil.
Place the corn on the grates, directly over the coals. You’re going to rotate them every minute or so until the coals start to turn dark. Grilled corn is awesome.
When the corn is done, remove them and cover the grill to let it heat up. Bring them in to cool.
7 – Grill everything else.
Place the steak directly over the coals. Place the cast iron pan with your veggies on the side of the grate without coals. Occasionally toss the veggies with tongs.
After four minutes, flip the steak. Splash the veggies with your remaining half of a lemon and bring them in.
BE CAREFUL WHEN HANDLING THE CAST IRON PAN. I have a pair of industrial work gloves that I use when grilling. Use whatever you can to help you safely move your food around the grill.
After the four minutes are up, your steak should be a nice medium rare. Bring the steak inside.
8 – Tent your steaks in tinfoil.
One step a lot of people skip is they immediately dig in to their steak after grilling. You need to let it rest for a few minutes to retain much of the juices. I usually wrap my steaks in foil to keep them warm.
9 – Mix the rest of your corn salad.
Remember the diced pepper and jalapeño you kept in a bowl? To that bowl you’re going to add your no-longer-hot-but-still-warm grilled corn.
Using a knife, carefully remove the corn kernels by standing the cob up and slicing them off vertically.
Add them to the bowl of diced peppers and jalapeños, along with 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp olive oil, the juice of half a lime and a pinch of kosher salt.
10 – EAT ALL THE FOOD.