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Oct 16, 2012
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Wine With...Skirt Steak with Salsa Verde

Every culture seems to have at least one variation on a sauce whose main ingredient is fresh green herbs. In Italy and Spanish-speaking countries it’s generally called “salsa verde.” In France, where it is often distinguished by the addition of tarragon, it is “sauce verte.” Argentina’s chimichurri is a favorite of ours, as is a Mexican variant that includes tomatillos. And who doesn’t love pesto?

These lovely green sauces came to mind a week or so ago when we considered the autumnal disarray of the overgrown herb garden behind our kitchen. It was time to prune back those rambunctious greens and let the plants prepare to hunker down for the winter! Our main focus at that point was the garden, but after we brought the fragrant herbal trimmings indoors and whizzed them up in a blender with capers, garlic, and olive oil, we realized that what we had created was an irresistible savory potion that cried out for a good piece of meat. And so we slapped a couple of steaks on the grill, sliced up a baguette (great for sopping up residual sauce), and opened a bottle of hearty red wine. We had little doubt that we were in for a tasty dinner, but we were actually surprised by how deliciously the red meat’s rich, beefy char melded with the complex herbal tang of our improvised salsa, and how this fusion was made even more transcendent by the wine.

We were so enchanted by the felicitous pairing that a few days later we asked our friends Lisa and Charles to come for dinner to confirm our impression that red wine with steak and this particular salsa verde was a supremely toothsome partnership. We recreated the original dinner, this time grilling skirt steaks. We added some simply prepared wild rice to the menu, and opened a dozen or so red wines to further explore and refine these particular epicurean relationships.

Skirt Steak with Salsa Verde

You can increase the amount of jalapeno pepper, but keep in mind that additional heat will affect the salsa’s compatibility with the wine.
The salsa verde may be made up to a week ahead of time and stored, covered, in the refrigerator. Purists may, of course, use a mortar and pestle instead of a blender.

Skirt steak (or steaks), estimate a half pound per person
6 anchovy fillets packed in olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon capers
About 1/3 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
2-3 cups loosely packed fresh flat leaf parsley
1-2 cups loosely packed fresh mint leaves
1-2 cups loosely packed cilantro leaves
1/2 cup olive oil

Chop the anchovies and place them in a blender along with the garlic and capers. Pulse together a few times. Coarsely chop the herbs and add them to the blender. Whiz all ingredients together, drizzling in the olive oil, until the salsa is completely blended. Let sit at least an hour before serving.

Season the steaks with salt and pepper. Brush on a little olive oil (to help prevent sticking). Grill the steaks over medium to high heat, turning once, until they are cooked to your preference. Note, though, that skirt steaks, being thin, can all too easily become overcooked.

Once off the grill, let the steaks sit for five minutes or so. Then slice them on the bias into one inch wide pieces. Spoon some salsa verde on top, and serve.

* * *

You might think, as we did, that the fresh, herbal sauce would lighten this dish and so call for a light, fresh-tasting red wine—a Pinot Noir perhaps, or a Dolcetto or cru Beaujolais. We found, however, that just the opposite proved true. The salsa verde intensified the dish, making light reds seem prissy. Full-bodied reds fared much better. At the same time, though, reds with noticeably astringent tannins made the sauce seem a bit weedy. Our conclusion, then, is that the best choices with this particular dish are red wines that offer intensely vibrant flavors while feeling supple and inviting on the palate.


Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

Chateau Ste Michelle, Wahluke Slope (Washington) Syrah “Stone Tree Vineyard” 2008

$36

This limited release (so difficult to find) Syrah fit the profile of the best performing wines in our tasting so well that we simply had to recommend it. Full of rich red and black fruit flavors, enhanced by spicy notes of wood from barrel aging, it tastes powerful yet feels soft and enticing. That’s just what the steak and salsa verde needs in a partner.

Colomé, Valle Calchaqui, Salta (Argentina) Malbec “Estate” 2010

(Imported by Hess Family Estates)

$30

With a faintly floral bouquet, deep fruit flavors and echoes of black licorice, this well-structured and impressively deep wine made quite an impression on our small group. Though definitely full-bodied, it never seemed heavy, so allowed the freshness of the salsa verde to shine through the pairing.

.

Neil Ellis, Stellenbosch (South Africa) Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)

$23

Showing none of the off-putting rubbery aromas than can mar many South African reds, this wine offers pure varietal flavor and character—direct black berry fruit, a substantial body, fine balance, and a long, lingering finish. Impressively deep, it nonetheless never seems taut or astringent, so proves extremely easy to sip and enjoy.

Gallo, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

$40

Soft, almost lush on the palate, with extremely pliant tannins, this Cabernet tastes deep and rich, with opulent fruit flavors and woody spice from time spent in oak. Perhaps most impressive of all is its finish, which lingered after the steak and sauce were finished, giving the wine greater force and presence in the pairing than it would have had otherwise.

Laurent Miquel, Faugères (France) “Saga Pegot Grande Cuvée 2008

(Imported by Miquel et Fils)

$25

Made with 100% Syrah, this Faugères (an appellation in the Languedoc region of southern France) tastes wonderfully complex, displaying not just fruit but also a mineral-tinged earthiness that enhances its appeal. With silky tannins and an expressive bouquet, it was an ideal partner for this particular dish.