Grilled Jalapeño-Marinated Steak Sandwiches With Charred Onions and Cotija Mayo
Everyone rejoice, Cinco de Mayo is here! In terms of eating holidays, this is my all-time favorite due to the fact that I use it as an excuse to combine my love of all things Tex-Mex with my passion for grilling. It was that dynamic duo that led me to create this grilled jalapeño-marinated steak sandwich with charred onions and cotija mayo, which also just so happened to be one of the best sandwiches I have made to date.
Starting out with steak for my sandwich was a risky move; I’ve been burned by over chew or tough steak sandwiches in the past that have made me wary of the genre altogether. I’ve found flank and skirt steaks do the job pretty damn well though as long as they’re not cooked past medium-rare and cut against the grain into bite-sized slices. Hanger steak, usually a premium overskirt and flank, got the call here mainly because there was a deal on it the day I went to the butcher, but those other two similar cuts well do just fine as a substitute. The steak I had picked up was on the thick side, though, so I butterflied it open to give it more surface area for searing and picking up the flavor.
Hanger steak has a loose, open structure that makes it ideal for sopping up marinades. To do that job here, I made a potent mixture of lime juice, jalapeños, olive oil, garlic, brown sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, salt, and pepper. The idea came from a jalapeño marinated steak that I had at the Kingsford Invitational whose spicy and fruity flavor left a lasting impression on me.
This highly acidic and super spicy marinade didn’t need much time to impart its flavor, so I only let the meat soak for as long as it took to prep the rest of the ingredients and get the fire going
As the steak marinated, I created a sauce that would be strong enough to both complement and contrast the beefy jalapeño-flavored steak in a meaningful way. I took influence from elotes (Mexican street corn) and began by grating some cotija cheese, which is the outer coating commonly clinging to those ears.
To get the cheese to stick the corn though, it’s first slathered with a mayonnaise peppered with so heavily cayenne that it develops a bright orange hue. So I started the base of my sauce in the same vein, but backed down on the cayenne a bit and added in chili powder for more of an earthy flavor. I then added in sour cream for added tanginess and lime juice for freshness as well
With the flames now going strong outside, it was time to get this sandwich grilled. I built a two-zone fire and grilled the hanger steak over direct heat while the fire was at its hottest. The steak seared in almost no time, and the meat hit a perfect medium-rare at the same time the outside was deeply browned—any more than medium-rare with hanger steak and it’ll start getting too chewy
After I had removed the steak from the grill to rest, I threw on a couple of rings of onions, each secured together by a wooden skewered I had forced through the center. I let the onions cook until they were well browned on both sides and crisp-tender. Off the grill, I cut them up into large dice.
I was gunning for this to be one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever made, so left no detail unattended to. For the bread, I chose a quality baguette and brushed each cut side with extra-virgin olive oil.
I then placed the baguette slices on the grill and let them cook until lightly browned, giving them an additional complexity by way of a toasty flavor.
Next, I slathered each slice with the cotija mayo, helping ensure the presence of this fantastic sauce would not be lost behind the beef, which I piled on next.I then lined the steak with a layer of the grilled onions and topped that with a few sprigs of fresh cilantro. At this point, I’d been cooking for about 20 minutes and the fire had reached a medium-heat range, meaning that the I could stick the sandwiches into the covered grill, over indirect heat, and let them slowly warm through without worrying about drying out the steak or burning the breadLuckily, I was not left disappointed. The steak itself was pretty incredible, with the marinade embedding a fruity, tangy flavor and a slight touch of heat. The mayo came through with a bold but complementary touch, cilantro added brightness and freshness, and the grilled onions created a subtly sweet and smoky note. In the crusty toasted baguette, I’ll be damned if these steak sandwiches aren’t some of the best you can cook up for Cinco de Mayo, or any day.
- For the Cotija Mayo
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1/3 cup finely grated cotija cheese
- 2 tablespoons sour cream
- 1 tablespoon lime juice from 1 lime
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- For the Marinade
- 1/3 cup juice from about 4 limes
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 medium jalapeños, stemmed and roughly chopped
- 2 teaspoons freshly minced garlic (about 2 medium cloves)
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound hanger steak, trimmed of any hard fat and butterflied if thick
- 1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch slices and skewered horizontally
- 1 handful of fresh cilantro leaves
- 1 baguette
- Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
- For the Cotija Mayo: Whisk together mayonnaise, cheese, sour cream, lime juice, chili powder, and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Set aside
- For the Marinade: Place lime juice, olive oil, jalapeños, garlic, brown sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, salt, and pepper in the jar of a blender. Puree until smooth.
- Place steak in a large resealable plastic bag. Pour in marinade and seal, removing as much air as possible. Let marinate for 30 to 60 minutes while preparing grill.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Remove steak from marinade, place on the hot side of the grill, and cook until deeply browned on both sides and an instant-read thermometer registers 125°F when inserted into the center of the meat. Remove from grill and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Slice into 2-inch portions with the grain, then slice against the grain into 1/4 to 1/2 inch strips.
- While steaks rest, brush onions with oil and place on the hot side of the grill. Cook until charred on both sides and slightly softened, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer to the cutting board, remove the skewer and roughly chop.
- Slice baguette into 4 6-inch portions and halve each portion lengthwise. Brush cut side of each baguette with oil. Grill baguette over hot side of the grill, cut side down until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Remove to plate.
- Spread cotija mayo on top and bottom halves of bread. Top-bottom halves of bread with steak, onions, and cilantro.
- Place sandwiches on the cool side of the grill, cover, and cook until warmed through 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate or tray and serve immediately.