Wine With . . . Cuban Steak
by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas
The thing that sets Cuban steak apart from the wide world of rubs, marinades and the other enhancements a simple steak may get is mojo sauce. Pronounced mo-ho, this sauce’s citrus base provides a deliciously simple way to make steak taste refreshing rather than heavy.
Authentic mojo is based on sour Seville oranges, but since these are generally hard to come by in the U.S., increasing the ratio of lime to orange juice helps add more tartness. Homesick Cubanos often buy bottled mojo, but we like the exhilarating flash of fresh citrus so much that we haven’t sought it out and prefer to make our own. Numerous mojo recipes include fresh cilantro, but since it is not, apparently, a tradition in Cuba, we leave it out. And many recipes call for cooking the sauce before marinating the meat, but to emphasize the tang of citric acidity, we heat the sauce separately once the meat goes on the grill.
For the mojo marinade & sauce:
½ cup fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
¼ cup fresh-squeezed orange juice (a half to a whole orange)
½ cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely minced (or processed in a garlic press)
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon cumin
freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds lean steak such as skirt steak, flank steak or hangar steak
Whisk together all the marinade ingredients. Place the steaks in a bowl or re-sealable plastic bag. Add the marinade, making sure all surfaces of the meat are covered. Let marinate in the refrigerator 1-3 hours.
Prepare a charcoal or gas grill. Remove the meat from the marinade. Sear it for a minute or two on each side over direct heat; then move it over indirect heat to finish cooking. Meanwhile, pour the marinade into a small saucepan and bring it to the boil. Simmer it for one or two minutes, then remove from heat, taste for seasoning (adding more salt if necessary), and let the sauce come to room temperature.
To serve, slice the steaks about an inch thick on the diagonal, and spoon a little of the sauce over the pieces, passing the rest of the sauce at the table.
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We sampled twelve different red wines with our Cuban steak. Pretty much all of them performed well, but we did regret not trying a couple of whites as well The citrus in the mojo is quite pronounced, and a full-bodied white just might surprise. We, however, didn’t think of it beforehand, and had no chilled white wine on hand. Alas . . .
The best reds with this dish fell into two categories. Some were bright and fruity, echoing the basic flavor profile of the mojo, while others had a drier, more earthy quality that served as a contrast or foil. We enjoyed both types equally well. This in fact turned out to be a quite adaptable dish, which is in itself another reason to fire up the grill and give it a try.
Dry Creek Vineyard, Sonoma County (California) Zinfandel “Heritage” 2009
This spicy Zin is not at all hot or heavy, so actually seemed to lighten the steak. The combination proved especially lively.
Jorian Hill, Santa Ynez Valley (California) Syrah “Estate Grown” 2008
A very impressive Syrah, with plum and berry flavors and a delightfully long finish, this wine echoed the fruity character of the mojo. It does not have similar flavors, but it does exhibit a similar sort of style.
Perrin & Fils, Côtes du Rhône Villages (France) Cairanne “Peyre Blanche” 2009 (Imported by Vineyard Brands)
One of the earthy wines that performed well, this is a peppery Côtes du Rhône with aromas and flavors that echo dried herbs and savory spice. Unlike the more fruit-forward wines, it seemed to deepen the dish.
Soto de Torres, Rioja (Spain) Rioja “Ibéricos” 2008
(Imported by Dreyfus Ashby)
Another winner in the dry, earthy style, this Rioja has a decidedly dusty finish which provided a tasty, interesting contrast to the exuberantly fruity mojo.
Spice Route, Swartland (South Africa) “Chakalaka”2009
(Imported by Vineyard Brands)
A Rhône-style blend, this wine nonetheless tastes quite ripe, with flashy, fleshy fruit in the fore, and only faint hints of pepper and spice in the background. It seems almost juicy, and that succulent character is precisely what made it such a good partner for Cuban steak.