There’s been a lot of talk lately about culture. I don’t have a lot to say about mine and that’s a problem. My mom was from El Salvador, which makes me half Salvadoran. Growing up in California, I noticed that my mother didn’t embrace her culture as one would expect. She tried to blend in, didn’t teach me any traditions, and didn’t cook very many Salvadoran meals. She kept her memories of her homeland close to her chest and hidden. I regret not pushing her more for information, but she never wanted to talk about it.
She also hated cooking so I couldn’t fault her for not teaching me Salvadoran cooking. But she did make a few things and she made them well. She taught me how to cook black beans three ways: soup, refried, and gallo pinto. She baked Salvadoran quesadilla, a slightly sweet dessert made with rice flour and cream cheese. I remember one year when I was 5 she made tamales with some of the ladies from the neighborhood. I sat on a tall stool and watched all day as they did magical things to meats, dried fruits, and banana leaves. I wish she continued that tradition so I could learn, but it’s a lot of work and for someone who doesn’t like to cook, it was not fun, except the camaraderie shared among the women in the kitchen that December afternoon while drinking horchata. We ate tamales for Christmas Eve that night.
A few decades later, I’ve decided I need to learn what I didn’t learn: how to cook Salvadoran food. I’ve searched for cookbooks and came up empty handed. El Salvador is a small country, but I expected to find something. But with all this talk of culture, Bon Appetit has brought diverse cooking to the forefront and wrote an article about Salvadoran food. The article made me emotional, like maybe I’ve found my people. I know, it’s silly, but I found a piece of me that day, something to connect to. I decided to start my adventure on a fairly easy recipe, Hangar Steak with Chimol.
Chimol is a radish salsa that also includes red onions, lime or lemon juice, chiles, and cilantro. Some also add tomatoes, but this recipe left those out. Chimol drew out a distant memory of when my aunt made this icky radish and lemon juice mix every single day. At the time, I thought it was weird, but I think she was making chimol her way.
This recipe is not difficult to make, but making chimol was a little time consuming because of all the slicing and chopping. Combine lime juice along with thinly sliced red onion and serrano chiles (leave the seeds and membrane on for more spice). Grate a couple cloves of garlic (I added 2 cloves instead of 1 in the original recipe…I like a lot of garlic!) and slices of radish. I cut the radishes in half and then with the flat side down, sliced them up. Took a while, but that’s okay. Some things are worth the effort. I do have to say that I only used about 1/2 a chile because I didn’t want to scare away the boys. Next time, I’m going to make my own batch. Also, don’t forget to season it all with salt and pepper.
When you’re done, it will look something like this.
I think it looks pretty.
Prepare the grill for the hanger steak. I chose to use a grill pan and do this indoors. Hanger steak might be a bit tricky to find so ask your butcher if you can’t find it on the shelf. They usually have some in back. I thought it was the same as skirt steak and my butcher corrected me quickly. He’s a good guy. Here’s an informative article about the differences if you want to know.
While your grill pan is heating up, salt and pepper the meat and rub it with olive oil. Throw it on the pan on medium high heat. The original recipe has you do this first, but I think it’s better to wait until you’re done making the chimol.
Cook each side for about 10 minutes for rare, or longer if you prefer. Move it to a large cutting board and douse it with that sauce no one can pronounce: Worcestershire. Apparently it’s used a lot in El Salvador and is sometimes called salsa inglesa, which I’m thinking of calling it that from now on. It’s a lot easier to say. I also learned that El Salvador has the highest per-capita consumption of salsa inglesa. That’s impressive.
Let the meat rest for about 5 minutes so when you cut it, the juices stay in the meat rather than run all over your board. Cut thinly and serve on warm tortillas with chimol and more salsa inglesa. Yum. The meat is super tender. The chimol is peppery and spicy with the right amount of acidic tang from the lime juice. I thought that it would be weird to have salsa inglesa in a taco, but it complements it perfectly. Definitely a make again.
Hanger Steak with Chimol
- vegetable oil for grill
- juice of 4 limes
- 1/2 red onion
- 1-2 serrano chiles
- 2 garlic cloves
- 8 ounces radishes
- 1 cup cilantro
- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 cup olive oil plus 1 tablespoon
- 1 1/4 pounds hanger steak cut in 2-3 pieces
- Worcestershire sauce
- Prepare your ingredients: Thinly slice red onions. Depending on how spicy you want your chimol to be, remove the seeds and membrane of the chiles, and thinly slice. Grate garlic. Slice radishes. Rough chop cilantro.
- Mix together lime juice, red onion, chiles, garlic, radishes, and cilantro in a medium bowl. Season generously with salt and pepper. Stir in 1/4 cup olive oil. Let chimol sit at room temperature while the steak cooks.
- Prepare a grill for medium-high heat. Oil grate with vegetable oil. Season steak with salt and pepper, and then rub all over with remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Grill, turning once, until deeply browned on the outside and cooked to desired doneness, 8-12 minutes for medium-rare. Transfer to a cutting board and generously drizzle with Worcestershire sauce. Let sit 5 minutes before thinly slicing.
- Serve steak with chimol, warmed tortillas, and more Worcestershire sauce.