Before the seventies, “Arrachera” flank steak was not called that and was a despised cut.
It is one of the most popular cuts in Mexico, it is common to find it already marinaded in the supermarket and in meat restaurants. But flank steak is actually much more complex than you might think, it‘s a muscle and it wasn’t until the seventies that we started eating it.
What is it?
It forms the diaphragm of the cow, a muscle that contracts and its function is to separate the thorax from the abdomen – in humans, it is the muscle that produces hiccups. As it is a soft tissue it is full of ligaments and nerves, so when it is raw it is usually fibrous and hard. However, it has a good amount of fat, which makes it particularly tasty and its price is low compared to other cuts that have a similar marbling.
How do they soften it?
Due to its fibrous texture, this cut has to go through some process to soften it, there are two that are very common. The first is tenderization, in which they cut the ligaments and nerves and remove the membrane that covers it, this makes the cut become smoother. The second is through marinating, in which they use vinegar, meat tenderizer, and other spices to make the meat softer.
Why do we consume flank steak?
Before this cut was wasted, even in some butchers they gave it away. But the Monterrey businessman José Inés Cantú was the one who introduced it to Mexico. In the 1970s, he traveled to Texas to bring high-quality cuts to restaurants in Monterrey, and during one of his trips to Laredo in ’73, he met this great-tasting cut.
In the United States, it was also a cheap cut — they even used it to make sausages — so he immediately saw the business opportunity, in addition to being a muscle, he was able to enter it as organ meats, paying much less in customs than with higher quality cuts.
He began to serve it in his restaurant called El Regio and to keep the secret of the discovery he invented a name for the cut: Arrachera. The word comes from the French word arracher and refers to the rope with which the saddle is tied to the belly of the horses, it was a term that Ines remembered from her childhood.
The cut became so popular that other restaurants began to ask their meat suppliers for flank steak, but as it was an invented word, they could not find that part of the animal. Don Inés managed to keep the secret for five years but the fame of the court continued to grow. Later, other restaurants in the north of the country began to serve flank steak as well and the word was integrated into the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language.