I recently found out that a recipe which I entered into the National Cornbread Cook-Off had earned me a position in the finals, to be held in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, at the end of April. This small southern town is the home of both Lodge Cast-Iron Cookware and Martha White baking mixes, but its claim to fame is the annual National Cornbread Festival, an event that draws over 40,000 people, who do everything from compete in the buttermilk chug to run in the 5K (hopefully not both--that could be a disaster).
Because the cook-off is sponsored by both Lodge and Martha White, your recipe must be completely prepared using only a cast-iron skillet, and it must include a Martha White cornbread or cornmeal product. Sorry, I don't think I am allowed to disclose the name of my recipe until I get the "go-ahead" from the festival folks, but my fellow contester and blogger of Picky Palate, Jenny Flake, won last year with her Chicken Taco Cornbread Wedges with Ranchero Cilantro Drizzle (I know, YUM).
If you know anything about cast-iron cookware, then you know that it must be seasoned prior to use, or else anything and everything will stick to the surface and will acquire an oddly metallic taste. Now, I'm still fairly new to this whole competitive cooking circuit, but I'm pretty sure that those are two surefire ways not to win! Seasoning involves baking oil or grease into the pan which results in a non-stick and rust-free surface. A properly seasoned pan eventually develops a shiny black surface and can last several lifetimes. I read that some die-hard seasoners refuse to use anything but bacon grease to season their pans, which explains the can of the unappetizing looking substance that has been sitting on my kitchen counter for the past week (hey, I'm nothing if not committed). I have been a seasoning machine, and the other night it was finally time to test my work.
I decided to make a simply seasoned steak topped with a spicy corn salsa that was prepared in the cast-iron skillet. By cooking the corn kernels in the dry skillet, they became slightly charred and a little bit smoky. The cast-iron conducts heat evenly and rapidly, so the salsa came together in mere minutes and was easy to reheat just before serving. Nothing stuck to the pan, and there was no metallic aftertaste, so it appears that I am a seasoning success story. We'll see what the people in Tennessee think..... Here are my tips for preparing this spicy steak and salsa:
- In addition to sirloin you can use rib-eyes, flank steak, strip steak, tenderloin, or any cut that is generally used for grilling. The salsa and seasonings would also work very nicely served with grilled pork, chicken, or fish.
- If you don't like spicy foods, then omit the jalapeno seeds from the salsa. The seeds are what add heat to peppers. If you like your foods to be extra spicy, then use two jalapenos for the salsa recipe.
- If you have a cast-iron skillet, then use it to make the jalapeno corn salsa. It will do a better job of charring the corn.
- The salsa can be prepared one day in advance and then reheated, although it is best the day that it is prepared. Leftover salsa is great with tortilla chips.
Southwestern Steak with Jalapeno Corn Salsa
3 cups fresh corn (about 3 ears)
4 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced separately
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 ripe tomatoes. finely diced
1 jalapeno chili, finely diced
1 1/2-2 pounds sirloin steak, about 1 1/2 inches thick
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
Prepare the corn salsa: Heat a large dry skillet over medium-high heat and then pan roast the corn, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 7-9 minutes. Transfer the corn to a bowl.
In the same skillet, melt the butter and then saute the white part of the scallions along with the garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon chili powder, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, stirring, until the scallions are tender, 3-4 minutes.
Remove the skillet from the heat and then stir in the reserved corn, tomatoes, and jalapenos.
Prepare the steak: Heat a grill or grill pan over medium high heat. Combine the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and sprinkle on both sides of the steak. Grill, turning once, until an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers 130F degrees for medium rare. Depending on whether you are using a grill or grill pan, this will be anywhere from 12-18 minutes total. Transfer the steak to a cutting board and let stand 5 minutes prior to slicing.
While steak is standing, reheat the corn mixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Stir in the cilantro and the scallion greens. Serve the steak with the salsa spooned over.