Arrachera is a cut of beef that comes from the skirt steak of a cow. It is a thin, flat cut that comes from the plate primal or inside skirt of the cow. When marinated and grilled, arrachera makes for tasty and juicy tacos and fajitas.
Arrachera is sometimes confused with flank steak, as they come from similar parts of the cow. However, there are some key differences between the two. While flank steak comes from the bottom abdominal area, arrachera comes from the diaphragm muscles of the cow. This means arrachera contains more connective tissue and fat. The extra fat and connective tissue makes arrachera meat more tender and flavorful when cooked properly.
Where arrachera comes from on the cow
Arrachera is cut from the plate, which is the upper belly of the cow. This area includes the muscles that allow the cow to breathe by contracting and relaxing the diaphragm. Butchers separate the complex of muscles known as the diaphragm into two distinct cuts:
– Inside skirt steak (arrachera): This comes from the innermost diaphragm muscle. It yields a flavorful thin cut of meat.
– Outside skirt steak: This is from the outermost diaphragm muscle. It’s larger and more fibrous than the inside skirt steak.
Arrachera is sometimes labeled as inside skirt steak, inner skirt steak, or fajita meat. It’s a thin steak around 3/8 inch thick, up to 1 foot long and 6 inches wide. Due to its shape, arrachera is often cut into smaller pieces for marinating and grilling.
The diaphragm is a hard-working set of muscles, so arrachera has abundant collagen and fat marbled through it. This gives it great flavor when cooked. But it also means it can become tough if overcooked. Proper marinating and quick grilling helps keep arrachera tender.
Comparing arrachera to flank steak
Arrachera steak is often confused with flank steak because they come from overlapping areas of the cow:
– Flank steak: Comes from the bottom abdominal muscles of the cow, just behind the plate. This area allows the cow to twist its torso.
– Arrachera: Comes from the diaphragm muscles that allow breathing, situated just above the flank.
While overlapping, these two cuts actually have some distinct qualities:
– Arrachera is more heavily exercised and contains more connective tissue. This gives it a richer, beefier flavor when cooked.
– Flank steak is leaner, but still flavorful. It can become tougher and stringier more easily if overcooked.
– Arrachera offers a more tender, juicy bite, while still maintaining a pleasant chew.
– Flank steak has a looser grain and more defined muscle fibers. It can become fibrous if not sliced properly.
– Arrachera contains thin lines of fat marbling that keep it moist during cooking.
– Flank steak is very lean with little to no marbling. It can dry out on the grill without proper moisture.
– Arrachera is a wide, flat steak that’s thin. Flank steak is thicker and more irregularly shaped.
– Arrachera can be portioned into smaller pieces for fajitas or tacos. Flank is often grilled whole then sliced against the grain.
So in summary:
– Arrachera offers a more tender, fatty, rich flavor.
– Flank steak is leaner with a distinct muscle fiber texture.
Knowing the qualities of each allows you to pick the right cut for your desired flavor and texture.
How arrachera gets its flavor
The unmatched flavor of arrachera steak comes from its anatomical location and marbling. Here’s a breakdown:
The diaphragm muscles are constantly active with breathing motions. This means the meat contains more blood vessels, connective tissue, and exercised muscle fibers. When cooked, these elements release savory compounds.
The hard-working nature of the diaphragm muscles means arrachera contains a high concentration of collagen. Collagen breaks down into rich gelatin when cooked. This keeps the meat succulent.
Thin streaks of fat run through arrachera. When grilled or pan seared, this fat bastes the meat from within. This prevents it from drying out while adding beefy, savory flavor. The fat also liquifies during cooking for incredibly juicy bites.
The Maillard reaction produces meat’s signature grill flavors and aromas. When cooked over high, dry heat, natural sugars and amino acids undergo a browning reaction. This results in complex layers of flavor and appetizing sear marks. Arrachera’s loose grain takes well to being seared.
Spices and marinades
While delicious on its own, arrachera also shines when marinated. The thin cut allows spices, acids, and seasoning to rapidly penetrate the meat. A flavorful marinade tenderizes while adding another layer of taste. Garlic, cumin, citrus, Worcestershire, chili peppers, and Mexican oregano are all common arrachera marinade ingredients.
So in summary, arrachera has the perfect anatomy and marbling to yield incredibly beefy, juicy, and flavorful results off the grill.
Common names for arrachera
Knowing the different names for arrachera makes it easier to find this cut at your local butcher shop or grocery store. Here are some common names and labels used:
– Inside skirt steak
– Inner skirt steak
– Fajita meat
– Flap meat
– Philadelphia steak
The terms “skirt steak” or “fajita meat” are most widely used. However, the specific name depends on region and butcher tradition. In Mexico, arrachera may also be called faldilla.
Ask your butcher for the thin inside skirt steak for classic arrachera. The adjacent outside skirt steak is similar, but comes from a different part of the diaphragm with slightly different qualities when cooked. Vacío comes from a nearby section of abdominal muscle.
How to cook arrachera
Arrachera’s thin shape makes it perfect for fast cooking over high heat. Here are some tips:
The grill is the go-to cooking method for bringing out arrachera’s flavors. Grill over medium-high to high heat for just 2-4 minutes per side. This sears the outside while leaving the inside juicy. Slice thinly across the grain before serving.
You can replicate grill flavors in a cast iron skillet. Use very high heat and keep the meat moving. Cook a few minutes total until browned. Finish by basting with garlic herb butter.
For indoor cooking, broiling works well. Place 4-6 inches under high heat. Cook 2-3 minutes each side until charred but still pink inside. Slice and tent before serving.
For extra tender meat, braise arrachera for flavorful tacos or enchiladas. Brown the meat first, then cook low and slow in liquid. Shred or dice the fall-apart meat after cooking.
Soaking arrachera in an acidic marinade for 1-2 hours before cooking enhances juiciness and infuses flavor. Use citrus, vinegar, Worcestershire, soy sauce, or a store-bought marinade.
What to look for when buying arrachera
Check for these qualities when selecting arrachera steak:
– Thin cut around 1/4 inch thick
– Tight, thin grain
– Bright red color
– Good marbling but not excess fat
– Fresh smell
– Firm and springy raw texture
– Clean-cut edges with no drying
– Packaged in its own juices
High quality arrachera will be cut from the inside skirt muscle, not the outside. Make sure the steak has good marbling to keep it moist, but trim any thick sections of exterior fat. The meat should have a fresh smell and firm texture. Discoloration, dryness, or unpleasant odors mean the meat is past its prime.
Nutrition of arrachera
Arrachera is a lean, protein-packed cut of beef. A 3-ounce serving of cooked arrachera provides:
– Calories: 175
– Fat: 8g
– Saturated fat: 3g
– Protein: 24g
– Iron: 15% DV
– Zinc: 42% DV
– Vitamin B12: 40% DV
– Niacin: 25% DV
Like all red meat, arrachera provides important nutrients like niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, iron, zinc, and selenium. The fat content provides energy, while the protein supports muscle growth and recovery.
Eating arrachera and other unprocessed red meats in moderation can be part of a healthy diet. Keep servings around 3-4 ounces and avoid charring or overcooking to limit carcinogens.
Substitutions for arrachera
If arrachera steak isn’t available, these cuts make good alternatives:
Flank steak is probably the closest swap. It has a similar leanness and rich beefiness. Cut across the prominent grain for tenderness.
Outside skirt steak is very similar to inside skirt arrachera, with just slightly more chew. It shines when marinated and grilled or braised.
This tender and flavorful cut is from the plate primal. Cut across the grain for great fajita meat.
Also called flap meat or fajita meat, this comes from a bottom sirloin muscle. It has good flavor for Mexican recipes.
For arrachera tacos or fajitas, lean beef cuts work best. Look for steaks around 1/4 inch thick or pound thin for fast grilling. Marinating is a must for the juiciest flavor.
Popular recipes using arrachera
Here are some classic ways to enjoy flavorful arrachera steak:
The quintessential use for arrachera is sizzling Mexican fajitas. Marinate, quickly grill and slice. Serve with peppers and onions, warm tortillas, guacamole, and all the fixings.
Chopped or sliced arrachera is right at home on a warm corn or flour tortilla. Top with cilantro, onions, cotija cheese, and your favorite taco garnishes.
Thinly slice marinated arrachera across the grain. Stir fry in a hot wok with veggies and serve over rice.
Cut arrachera into 1-inch chunks and thread onto skewers. Grill the skewers and use in kebabs or tacos.
For a hearty main-dish salad, slice grilled arrachera over greens. Top with avocado, roasted peppers, corn, beans, and a tangy vinaigrette.
Global versions of arrachera
Skirt steak enjoys worldwide popularity for its excellent grilling abilities. Here are some of the global versions of arrachera:
Arrachera is a specialty in northern Mexico. It’s used in tacos, fajitas, quesadillas, and more. A classic version is Carne Asada.
In Brazil, fraldinha is the term for inside skirt steak. It stars in Brazilian BBQ as an accompaniment to feijoada stew.
Korean skirt steak is marinated in a sweet and savory bulgogi sauce. It’s grilled tableside or wok fried.
Philippines Bistek Tagalog consists of thin flank or skirt steak marinated in calamansi citrus and soy sauce.
Skirt steak has risen to popularity in the US as a thinner “fajita” steak. It shines with Tex-Mex seasoning or simple salt and pepper.
Around the world, cooks choose skirt steak cuts like arrachera for their ultimate grill performance and beefy flavor.
Buying and storing arrachera
Follow these tips for buying and storing arrachera:
– Look for fresh, in-house butchered arrachera whenever possible. This offers better quality, portioning, and value than pre-packaged cuts.
– For the best texture, only buy arrachera steaks that are 3/8 inch thick or less. Thicker cuts won’t cook as evenly.
– Plan on around 1/2 pound of arrachera per person. The thin steaks cook down in size.
– Pat arrachera dry and wrap tightly in plastic wrap before freezing. This prevents freezer burn.
– Frozen arrachera will keep 4-6 months in the freezer. Defrost in the fridge overnight before using.
– Store fresh arrachera loosely wrapped in the fridge for 2-3 days max. Any longer and the quality deteriorates.
– Don’t overcrowd the fridge or the meat may spoil faster. Keep the temperature at or below 40°F.
With proper shopping and storage, arrachera steaks will maintain excellent quality and flavor.
Common questions about arrachera
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:
Is arrachera the same as flank steak?
No, arrachera and flank steak come from different abdominal muscles. Arrachera is a thin inside skirt steak while flank steak is thicker and comes from the bottom flank area.
What’s the difference between inside and outside skirt steak?
Inside skirt from the diaphragm is arrachera, while outer skirt comes from an adjacent abdominal muscle. Inside skirt is more tender, while outside skirt is chewier.
Where does arrachera come from on the cow?
Arrachera is cut from the diaphragm plate muscles that allow breathing. It’s situated in the upper belly near the ribs.
Why is arrachera so thin?
Arrachera comes from thin sheet-like muscles that contract and expand for breathing. This shapes the thin, wide shape perfect for grilling.
How do you cook arrachera steak?
Season with salt and pepper and grill over high heat for just 2-4 minutes per side. Be sure to slice across the grain for tenderness. Marinating adds flavor.
Arrachera is a flavorful, versatile cut that excels on the grill. While it has some similarities to flank steak, the inside skirt cut offers superior tenderness and beefiness. Look for thin steaks with good marbling for the best results. A flavorful marinade helps bring out the juicy, rich notes. Quick cooking over high heat keeps the meat tender. Across Mexico and beyond, arrachera is right at home in tacos, fajitas, and other classic dishes. With proper seasoning and grilling, it delivers some of the most mouthwatering steak flavor you can find.