- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2006

My husband loves to ask people to our home, and although he doesn’t typically issue an invitation without consulting me, he did so recently. Talking on the phone with good friends, he got caught up in the enthusiasm of the lively chatter and suggested that they come for a weekend visit.

That weekend is almost here, and, wouldn’t you know it, my spouse’s schedule is jammed with appointments, leaving him little free time to help get ready for company. Sheepishly, he has offered to make sure there are plenty of logs for the fire. Preparing meals is not his forte.

Fortunately, our guests are crazy about food and like to cook. They also happen to be very down to earth, so I know it will not be an imposition if I ask everyone to join me in preparing dinner. With this in mind, I’ve planned an easy menu. For appetizers, I’ll buy smoked salmon, which we can garnish with capers and a squeeze of lemon and eat atop lightly toasted baguette slices.

The main course will be anchored by pan-grilled flank steaks mounded with balsamic caramelized shallots and served with roasted red skins and a green salad. As a finale, we’ll make a bittersweet chocolate sauce to serve warm over scoops of coconut ice cream purchased at a local ice cream parlor.

I’ve made these flank steaks several times with great results. I rub the steaks with crushed dried rosemary, coarse salt and freshly ground pepper before grilling them on top of the stove. However, it’s the terrific caramelized shallots that make this entree a star.

After the shallots are peeled and quartered, they are sauteed until golden brown, tender and translucent. Then they are seasoned with the same trio of flavors used in the rub for the meat. Finally, both balsamic and red wine vinegars are poured over the shallots to counter their sweetness and to lend them a glistening sheen.

This is a practical recipe to use when entertaining. The shallots can be cooked early in the day and reheated quickly at serving time, and the meat needs only to be coated with the rub, then grilled or sauteed for a few minutes.

With this plan intact, I’m excited, rather than stressed out, about our weekend company. Oh, and my husband always does the dishes.

Flank steaks with balsamic caramelized shallots

3/4 pound shallots

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons olive oil plus 2 to 3 tablespoons extra for grilling or sauteing the meat

2½ teaspoons dried crushed rosemary, divided

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 flank steaks, each about 11/4 pounds

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Cut off and discard ends of each shallot. Then halve shallots lengthwise and, using a sharp paring knife, peel skins from shallots. Cut shallot halves in half, lengthwise.

Melt butter and 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large, heavy skillet set over medium-high heat. When hot, add shallots and reduce heat to medium low. Cook shallots, stirring frequently, until they are nicely browned, translucent and tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Season with ½ teaspoon crushed rosemary, ½ teaspoon salt and several grindings of black pepper. Set pan aside while you prepare the steak. (The shallots can be cooked 4 hours ahead; cover loosely with foil and leave at room temperature.)

In a small bowl, combine remaining 2 teaspoons rosemary with 1 teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons pepper. Pat flank steaks dry with paper towels, then rub the seasoning evenly onto both sides of the steaks.

When ready to cook the steaks, oil one large or two medium stove-top grill pans lightly and place over medium high heat.

When hot, add the steaks and grill 4 to 5 minutes per side for medium-rare. Internal temperature should be about 140 degrees.

Alternatively, the steaks can be sauteed. Coat bottom of one large or two medium skillets with a thin layer of oil and place pans over medium-high heat.

When oil is hot, add meat and cook, 4 to 5 minutes per side for medium rare. Remove steak from pan and set aside to rest 5 minutes.

Reheat shallots over medium heat, stirring often, until warm. Pour balsamic and red wine vinegars into pan and toss to coat shallots.

Cook a minute more, then remove pan from heat. Slice meat against the grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices and divide it among 6 dinner plates. Garnish each serving with a mound of caramelized shallots.

Makes 6 servings.


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