Road trip leads to a new flavor adventure with tri tip steak

April 30, 2021

For the first time in over a year, we recently ventured out on a road trip to visit friends. Once we were fully vaccinated, and Pat and Marie had received their second doses, we all felt it was safe to spend time together in their Hudson Valley, New York home. We had the chance to admire their newly remodeled kitchen, replete with new features and appliances (more on the steam oven in another column).

Because Marie loves to cook (and is quite accomplished), she spent much of her pandemic-quarantine time perfecting her sourdough baking skills. Before heading out to dinner at a socially distanced, open-barn-style restaurant, we were given lumps of dough to form into loaves – baguettes, mini-rounds and large boules – each requiring a different technique.

The baguettes were placed in the oven while the remaining loaves were set to rest in the refrigerator overnight. By the time the baguettes had finished baking, the enticing aroma was almost enough to convince us stay and eat sandwiches instead of leaving the house for our dinner reservations.

The remainder of the weekend featured a hike through an outdoor sculpture garden, reading on the patio, opening Christmas gifts by the roaring firepit (remember, it had been over a year) and dining on Marie’s many excellent meals, from homemade sourdough raisin bread French toast, to eggs Benedict with steelhead trout to replace the ham, and an amazing dinner of tri tip steak.

I’ve heard of this particular cut of beef, but had never before tried to cook it. As the name suggests, it is shaped a bit like a triangle and comes from the lowest part of the bottom sirloin. If you look at the diagram, imagine cutting straight across to remove the triangular piece. In addition to its geometrical name, it’s also known as California cut or Santa Maria steak.

These names refer to the origins of tri tip’s popularity. Until the 1950s, this section of the sirloin was the source of ground beef or stew cubes. At that time, Bob Schutz, owner of the Santa Maria Market, opted to prepare the steak in the same way you would any other slightly marbled steak. The result was the introduction of a relatively low-cost, very tasty steak.

Because of the configuration of the muscle fibers and the need for cooking on high heat, there are a few tricks to success with tri tip. First and foremost, season the meat aggressively with salt and pepper, making sure to coat it in a light sheen of oil to ensure the spices adhere. Alternatively, marinate the steak in a flavored vinaigrette for several hours.

Low in fat with a rich, meaty flavor, tri tip can be smoked, roasted or grilled, but for ideal results, opt for the grill. Here’s where an accurate meat thermometer is key. Plan to remove the meat from the heat when the internal temperature reaches 125 to 130 F. Another important step is to allow the meat to rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

A curious feature of the steak is that it has two distinct grain patterns, one vertical and one horizontal. You’ll want to cut the steak in half where the two grains intersect, then cut each section against the grain into thin slices. As you can see from the photo, the slices resemble those of brisket, which is why tri tip is sometimes called “poor man’s brisket.” But with such a short cooking time, it might more appropriately be called “quicker brisket.”

When purchasing tri tip, look for pieces that have been neatly trimmed of ragged ends and silver skin. When you get it home, remove any chunks of fat and remaining silver skin, leaving a boomerang-shaped piece of boneless, lean meat. For the recipe in the photo, grilled tri tip was served with a tomatillo salsa, roasted potatoes and citrus salad – another delicious Marie meal.

Marinated Tri Tip Steak

1 tri tip steak (1 1/2 lbs)
1 t salt
1 t black pepper
4 minced garlic cloves
pinch cayenne
2 t dried rosemary
3 T olive oil
1/3 C Balsamic vinegar

Combine the marinade ingredients in a zip-top bag and mix to combine. Add the steak, push out the air and seal the bag. Massage and turn the bag until the steak is well coated. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, but no longer than 12 to ensure meat doesn’t become mushy. Remove bag from the refrigerator and allow steak to come to room temperature while you preheat the grill. Place the steak on high heat, fat side down; cook until a crust forms, about 5 minutes. Turn and cook another 8 minutes. Move the steak to indirect heat and cook until the internal temperature reaches 130 F; this may take as long as 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing thinly against the grain. Serve garnished with tomatillo salsa.

Tomatillo Salsa

1/2 C grape tomatoes
1 tomatillo
2 T chopped cilantro
2 sliced green onions
1 pressed garlic clove
1/4 t cumin
1 t olive oil
1 t white Balsamic vinegar
salt, to taste

Finely chop the tomatoes and tomatillo; place in a small bowl. Add green onions, garlic, cumin, olive oil and vinegar; stir to combine. Season to taste with salt. Yield: 2/3 C.


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