Bistro Steak with Make Ahead Pommes Frites

Hanger steak is the American name for onglet in France, the bistro steak that is always cooked rare and served with frites. We call it skirt, although butchers refer to it as the ‘hanging tender’ because it hangs below the ribs, an extension of the tenderloin, in the diaphragm of the animal. It used to be classified as offal because of its close proximity to the kidneys and this explains its rich, almost gamey, beefy flavour. It’s actually two muscles divided by tough connective tissue, which must be removed, then tidied up to leave a thin, narrow boneless cut of meat with a fibrous structure, almost shaggy, falling into pleats across its width. Your butcher probably won’t thank me for flagging up hanger steak but it’s time to stop overlooking this extraordinary muscle, which usually ends up in pasties, pies and the mincer. When properly cooked and carved, it is tender and full of flavour, with a silky texture although it requires a bit more chew than steaks from less worked parts of the body.

Bavette is another loose-textured flank steak much prized in France but remaining one of the least appreciated cuts of meat here. It’s a wide flat abdominal muscle, shaped a bit like a stingray, which is butchered into strips and then the strips can be cut into individual steaks. Some butchers – including the one at my farmers market – cuts it into thick pieces that vary from 350g – 600g. I cook them whole, then slice in strips after resting.

If making frites, they should be part-cooked and ready for the final few minutes in very hot oil before the steak is cooked. If you don’t want the bother of making your own frites, I can recommend the M&S variety sold in boxes (that stack conveniently in the freezer); you will probably need 3.

Hanger/Onglet Steak

Serves 4

Prep: 10 min plus 1 hour salting
Cook: 4 min plus 8 min resting

4 onglet steaks (approx 175g each)
Maldon sea salt
2 tbsp groundnut oil

Bavette Steak
Prep: 10 min plus 1 hour salting
Cook: 5 min plus 10 min resting

2 x 250g trimmed bavette/flank steaks
Maldon sea salt
2 tbsp groundnut oil

Pommes Frites
Prep: 30 min
Cook: 20 min

6 large floury potatoes
groundnut oil for deep frying

Take the steak out of the oven an hour before you plan to cook it. Prepare everything else – frites and watercress or garlicky green salad – to coordinate with cooking the steak. The second stage of cooking can start while the steak rests.

Both steaks are prepared and cooked in exactly the same way, although bavette takes marginally longer. Although the cooking time seems ludicrously short, you will have to trust me. It is vital to rest the meat for double the cooking time before slicing across the grain. Use oil like groundnut or rapeseed, not olive oil, with a high burning temperature.

Pat the meat dry with kitchen paper. Smear with oil and season generously with sea salt, pressing it into the meat. Heat the griddle pan over a high heat for several minutes until scorchingly hot. Lay out the steak or steaks, pressing down with a spatula. Leave untouched for 2 minutes, the bavette for 2 ½ (half) minutes, then turn and repeat. Remove to a board and leave to rest for 8 minutes, 10 minutes for the bavette. A good tip from a chef called Marcus who worked at a holiday chalet in the Alps where one of my sons once did a skiing season, is to cover the steaks with a stretch of clingfilm while it rests. Slice the hanger across the grain, cutting thin, long slices, spreading them across the board or a warmed serving plate. Slice the bavette across the grain, making a cross with the grain, in slightly thicker slices, laying out as before. Don’t miss out on the juices. You won’t need salt but a squeeze of lemon points up the flavours and you will need freshly ground black pepper. And Dijon mustard.

For the frites, cut the potatoes lengthways into your preferred thinness. Wash under cold running water until the water is clear and rid of starch. Drain in a colander and wrap in a tea towel to dry.

Half-fill a suitable pan or electric deep-fat fryer with oil and heat to 150C (when a scrap of bread takes about 30 seconds to colour). Cook the frites in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan and fry for about 5 minutes until cooked through but only lightly coloured. Lift out of the basket and allow to drain. This stage could be done in boiling water. The frites can be held in this state for a few hours.

For the final crisping, increase the temperature of the oil to 190C (when a scrap of bread crisps in a few seconds) and cook in batches for between 5 and 15 minutes until crisp and golden. This time variance depends on the type of potato available at different times of the year. If, and it happens occasionally, the potatoes refuse to crisp, remove the basket from the oil, raise the temperature and cook for a third time. Drain on absorbent kitchen paper, sprinkle with salt and serve soonest. I tend to transfer the batches to a paper napkin-lined bowl and keep them warm in a low oven, then toss with salt at the last moment.