Saturday, March 27, 2010

Six-Spice Hanger Steak Tacos with Pickled Onions

For the past year I feel like you couldn't turn around without hearing some reference to the Kogi taco truck and Asian-inspired tacos, quesadillas and hot dogs.  Most of the variations that I hear about are Korean, but I decided to whip up some Chinese-inspired tacos using hanger steak.  Part of this decision was based on our lunch today at Umi Nom out in Brooklyn where we had some seriously delicious Filipino or more generally Asian-inspired dishes.  Actually, one of the dishes we had today, the crispy chicken wings, seemed like a good variation on one of my favorite dishes, butter-fried frog legs, served at Huong Viet, a Vietnamese restaurant in Falls Church, Virginia.  The main difference (aside from the fact that these were chicken wings and the others are truly frog legs) was that at Umi Nom the chicken wings were made using tempura batter, rather than a more standard batter for deep frying, so the coating was shatteringly crisp.  So delicious.  The bahay kubo fried rice with chicken, shrimp, and Chinese sausage was similarly delicious.  What a great restaurant.  Too bad it's all the way out in Clinton Hill.  After such an amazing lunch I couldn't decide whether making another Asian-inspired dish was a good idea since I was worried that anything Asian we made couldn't possibly compare to our lunch.  And in some ways I was right because I am no professional chef, but these tacos were truly delicious.

This recipe is a play off a hanger steak recipe that I featured in My favorite recipes of 2009 post.  Generally speaking, you have to be somewhat wary of Sichuan peppercorns in any recipe because they can be somewhat overpowering.  And our current batch of peppercorns is far more pungent than our last batch, so I had to seriously dial down the amount of Sichuan peppercorns in the recipe here.  Otherwise you would quickly learn why the Sichuan peppercorns are sometimes referred to as "numbing" - after an overdose of Sichuan peppercorns your entire mouth tingles and then eventually go numb.  It's definitely a peculiar and not altogether pleasant sensation.  When all of the ingredients in this spice rub are in proper balance, it results in a very flavorful piece of steak.  When served with my pickled onions, fresh cilantro, a squirt of fresh lime juice, and sliced avocado it results in a very delicious and unusual taco.  The creaminess of the avocado is the perfect foil for the six-spice seasoning.  It gives the dish some richness and fat to balance out the fairly assertive flavors of the six-spice.  The sweet, yet savory pickled onions (based off a recipe by David Leibovitz) add another fantastic level of flavor.  Those onions are seriously amazing.  I definitely recommend making them, if nothing else.  They would be delicious on top of almost any sandwich, or served alongside all sorts of other dishes.  On top of everything else, the fresh flavors of the lime juice and the cilantro brightens the entire dish.  Every bite of the tacos sings.  There are levels upon levels of flavor that play off one another.  Now maybe these tacos weren't as well-executed, or as fancy, as the dishes we enjoyed today at Umi Nom, but they sure were delicious. 

Recipe after the jump!

Six-Spice Hanger Steak Tacos with Pickled Onions

For steak tacos
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
10 whole black peppercorns
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp anise seeds
2-inch piece cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
1 1/2 tbsp packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 hanger steak (about 2 lbs and 1 1/2 inches thick)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
10 fajita or soft taco sized flour tortillas, heated according to package
1/2 cup cilantro
1 avocado, pitted and thinly sliced
1 lime, sliced into wedges
For pickled onions
3/4 cup white vinegar
3 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 small dried red Thai chili 
4 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
1 medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced

In a spice mill, blend together Sichuan peppercorns, black peppercorns, fennel seeds, anise seeds, cinnamon stick, cloves, brown sugar, and salt.  Heat a grill pan or a grill over medium-high heat.  Rinse steak and pat dry.  Sprinkle evenly with spice mixture.  Using your hands, rub spice rub into meat.  Drizzle steaks with vegetable oil.  Once grill heats up, place steak on pan.  Cook 3 minutes on each side, for medium-rare.  Remove steak from heat.  Allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing against the grain.

Meanwhile, heat vinegar, sugar, salt, chili, star anise, cinnamon, peppercorns in a non-reactive saucepan until boiling.  Add onion slices and lower heat to simmer.  Allow onions to simmer gently for 30 seconds.  Remove from heat.  Allow to cool completely.

Serve sliced steak, on warmed flour tortillas, with pickled red onions, cilantro, avocado, and lime wedges.

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