Fearless with the Flank

Last night a friend and I took a Thai cooking class at Eurostoves in Beverly, MA. Everyone settled on a recipe to work at a station where all the ingredients and a set of Wusthoff knives were at the ready. The smell of lime, lemon grass, cilantro, and garlic unleashed as knives started chopping away. Cooking Thai food is quick. The preparation -- a lot of chopping and staging of ingredients -- can be a little daunting, time consuming. But put a perfectly weighted Wusthoff 8" knife in your hand, and oh my goodness, the chopping angels sing. (They sang so loudly I left the class with a Wusthoff.)

The chef pointed out that Thai dishes are excellent to make for company. All the prep can be done before guests arrive, then the cooking happens in a flash. As part of the evening's entertainment, grab a guest and have her read directions while you toss ingredients into the pan. As you flick ingredients together and a Thai dish materializes... well, pretty impressive.

Chef's first instruction: read the recipe thoroughly before doing anything else. Mine was going to be a quick prep: Thai Beef Salad. Then I shuddered. Flank steak. An oddity in my grilling repertoire. But what better place to learn how to grill that cut than in a cooking class. Chef gave me the "feel the flesh between your thumb and forefinger lesson" to check for medium-rare, but I wanted minutes. That's how I grill. Chicken breast on the grill, close the cover, set timer for 4 minutes, flip chicken, set timer for 4 minutes, take chicken off and let it rest. Chef suggested that I start with 4 minutes each side.

I gave the 10" long steak a little salt and pepper seasoning and then laid it on the massive indoor grill under the ferocious fan. Beep, beep. I flipped the steak and noticed it looked a little strange on the top side. Had I thought to season both sides of the steak before putting it on the grill, I would have realized the steak was 15" long, not 10" long. Yes, I had grilled the steak folded up. I maneuvered the steak for an extra five minutes, eventually got all sides grilled, and removed it from the heat to set for 15 minutes. Lesson learned: In addition to reading the entire recipe, unfold all the ingredients.

Before grilling I had prepped the other salad ingredients and tossed them into a bowl: minced lemon grass, chopped spring onion, sliced red onion, match-sticked cucumber. I kept the dressing -- the juice of two limes and two tablespoons of fish sauce -- in a separate bowl. I laid out the garnishes of mint leaves, cilantro leaves and a tiny chopped beautiful bold red pepper.

Once cooled, I sliced the steak on the diagonal. When I got to the thick bit, it was a little too rare so I tossed it back onto the grill for a couple more minutes each side. Cooled it again, sliced it. Then I tossed all the chopped veg and the beef and the dressing into a bowl to work together until we were ready to eat. The platter of lettuce and the bowl of meat went into the fridge.

Just before serving, I dumped the beef onto the lettuce and spread it out a bit. Sprinkled the cilantro, mint and pepper over the top. Boom. Done. It was delicious!

This is going to be the salad of Summer 2013. All of those goofy grilling errors will happen before company even arrives.