In the spirit of journalistic integrity, the author needs to declare his interests. In researching this story, the scribe in question was obliged to eat a large amount of the subject matter, piling tender strips of vermillion skirt steak onto soft white tortillas and rapidly inhaling one after another.
The dish, Carne Asada, is Acland St Cantina’s most popular. Translated literally as a ‘meat assortment’, the Carne Asada is essentially a build-your-own fajita. It brings chorizo, guacamole, onions and corn tortillas together for diners to build at their whim. But at its heart is perhaps the most underestimated cut of all meats: the skirt steak. “It has never been an A-grade cut of meat – it has always been a secondary cut of beef,” says Acland St Cantina chef, Dan Hawkins. “It has never really been in fashion. But now, lots of different restaurants are starting to use it.”
Traditionally, skirt steak has been overlooked for classier cuts like the loin, fillet or rump. But as chefs begin re-exploring ways to serve an entire animal, so-called ‘secondary’ cuts like the skirt are appearing on menus.
The skirt, Hawkins explains, comes from the cow’s flank, along the belly of the beast. While it’s not a physical muscle in the way a thigh is, it’s always at work, even when the cow’s asleep. This constant activity makes the meat tender and its rich blood supply gives it a full flavour. “It’s the cult steak of Mexico,” says Hawkins. “You’ll see it in Mexico everywhere, because it is a cheaper cut of meat. All the street food – the cantinas, the taco trucks – it’s very accessible to them because higher-grade cuts go elsewhere.”
While skirt steak is a relatively cheaper cut, its provenance is by no means of a lesser quality. Acland St Cantina sources 100 per cent organic Angus and Hereford from the Queensland and New South Wales border, via South Melbourne suppliers Tom’s. “The farm it comes from is actually the very first organic farm in the country,” says Hawkins.
To serve, Hawkins char grills the steak medium rare, slices it into generous slivers and, after that, its up to us to decide what to do with it. “It’s essentially a build-your-own taco,” says Hawkins. “Or you can eat the meat by itself with the condiments and eat the taco separately. There’s no right or wrong way to eat the dish.”
He does suggest, however, that you accompany your Carne Asada with a glass of delicious Spanish red or even better, a beer. “You’ve got smoky, spicy flavours coming through, so maybe something like a tempranillo would be a good all-rounder for this dish,” he advises. “And cervaza negra, a dark Mexican beer, would be a stand-out match.”
Perhaps we’ll need to do some more in-depth research…