Today I am getting a little nerdy and unveiling some of what goes through my head when I am creating a sandwich. The sandwich in question is a flank steak sandwich with a creamy and tangy gorgonzola sauce, crispy pear slices, and dressed arugula on homemade ciabatta rolls.
Sandwich component balance
When I am making sandwiches or more importantly thinking about making sandwiches for this blog, I am always considering the balance of items from component categories more than anything else. In my mind, each major piece of a sandwich is a component and I’m constantly thinking about whether one component will pair well with a second one or clash enough to throw off the balance of the whole thing.
If you want to skip the nerdy bits about sandwich creation you can just jump to read about the bread. Spoiler: that gets a little nerdy too.
What are these component categories?
What are the four component categories that each sandwich could contain? Glad you asked. I think the three that I consider to be Main component categories are: protein, bread, and sauce with the fourth component category being additional components like cheese or pickles. A sandwich can have multiple selections from the additional component categories but I think keeping these selections focused on complimenting or contrasting with the main three components—protein, bread, and sauce—is key.
My basic way of thinking about sandwiches is that they should all contain items from at least 2 of the Main Component Categories—with one most likely being bread. The more complicated but still balanced sandwiches could have as many as 7 or 8 items from different categories. When I’m brainstorming a new sandwich though, I typically shoot for 4 or 5 components to create a tighter sandwich concept that is balanced between flavor and texture.
There are plenty of well-known and well-tested sandwiches that have more than one protein and there are sandwiches that have multiple sauces that work well together, but these are the four component categories that I try to balance when creating a new sandwich.
What are the sandwich components for this flank steak sandwich?
|Sandwich Component Categories
This sandwich concept works for me because the two Additional Component category selections pair very well together, forming what is effectively a pear salad and then they as a combined sandwich component are very complementary to grilled flank steak and gorgonzola. My method is certainly overthinking the whole sandwich design process, but it allows me to keep a focus on ingredients and how they interact with each other.
Ciabatta is one of my favorite bread choices for sandwiches. It’s slightly crunchy on the outside from a bit of steam added to the baking process and the inside of the rolls has a bit of a chew which allows it to stand up to some slightly more vigorous bites. Usually, when you buy ciabatta, the ends of each roll are square-ish because of how the rolls are formed. This week I did a test to shape mine in a different way to see if I would prefer it.
Normally I “shape” my ciabatta in a pretty simple process by rolling out the dough and then cutting each roll in a rectangle (see graphics below).
But this week I decided to portion out the dough and shape rolls into ovals to see if they could be more consistent. I don’t have an opinion as to whether this was better or worse than cutting the dough into rectangles, but the shaped ovals turned out more consistently sized and shaped. After the dough was on the sheet pan, I treated it and baked it the same so the outside of the rolls were slightly crunchy.
Here’s my ciabatta recipe. You can buy your own for this sandwich or you can make mine. If you want to attempt this recipe I suggest that you try the cutout rectangles technique for the first try and see how that goes.
Marinated and grilled flank steak
Flank steak is a great protein to cook when you need a tender cut of meat for a sandwich. As long as you slice it against the grain (perpendicular to the direction the lines in the meat are going) you will end up with really tender slices that are super easy to bite through.
My mom has a great flank steak recipe that I have shared before that she would make and then send my dad out to grill it. The recipe I’m sharing here is a bit different and it is used as a marinade and then some reserved marinade is turned into a dressing that is used in the sandwich.
I grilled the flank steak for this sandwich indoors on a grill pan but it’s the same process for outdoors as it is on a grill pan and I list that in the recipe below.
If you take anything from this sandwich blog post, buy a digital quick-read thermometer—I use the old version of the ThermoPop (link to new one), but you can find inexpensive but well-reviewed thermometers elsewhere—and start using it when you grill or cook any meat. Unless you’re a professional chef who cooks meat all day, you will almost certainly become a better cook if you know whether your meat is done or not. Poking meat works for pros but just use a thermometer and know where you stand.
|Remove from grill
|120° F / 48° C
|125° F / 52° C
|130° F / 54° C
|135° F / 57° C
|140° F / 60° C
|145° F / 63° C
|Tiny sliver of pink
|145° F / 63° C
|150° F / 66° C
|160+° F / 71° C
|165° F / 73° C
Blue cheese gorgonzola dressing
This is a good sauce to use in a steak sandwich. It’s just blue cheese dressing with gorgonzola instead. Technically, gorgonzola is also blue cheese, but it originates from Italy where they do things differently.
Gorgonzola is typically a bit milder than most other blue cheeses but if you’re not a fan of blue cheese, I’m going to bet that you won’t like gorgonzola either. In this case, just use ranch dressing or mayonnaise as a substitute for this to keep the steak sandwich sauced up.
Blue cheese and gorgonzola are both great with steak and the sweetness from the pear also works well in the sandwich.
Here’s my homemade gorgonzola recipe. Spoiler: it’s almost the same as my homemade blue cheese recipe with gorgonzola instead of traditional blue cheese crumbles.
The pear in this sandwich does a couple of things. It provides texture and sweetness that might be lacking with the rest of the ingredients. The texture of a pear can differ, but a good crisp pear slice will lend a crunchy bite that also isn’t difficult to bite through.
My wife came up with the idea to add pear slices to this sandwich and don’t tell her I said this, but it was her best idea of the day. The sandwich already has a few soft elements and the pear compliments those while still pairing (not pearing) well with the dressing that we toss the arugula in.
By the time the sandwich has had a chance to settle a little, the pear and dressed arugula combine almost into their own sandwich component or a pear salad. This is a combination that I think would work in a fantastic dinner salad that I may make in the future with sliced flank steak, pear slices, ciabatta croutons, the citrusy dressing I made from the leftover steak marinade, and gorgonzola crumbles. I’ll update my social media when I tackle this.
The dressing that I use to toss the arugula in has a base of the reserved marinade for the steak. This means we get two uses out of making one marinade. Please note: you can’t reuse the marinade that your steak rests in. You need to hold some back for this purpose.
Then we toss in a little orange juice to finish the dressing and use a couple of teaspoons to toss your arugula in just before building the sandwich. I also like to use a teaspoon or two to moisten the ciabatta roll a little which brings in even more flavor to the final sandwich.
The full recipe
I eat this as a cold sandwich with cold, sliced flank steak. You could heat it if you want, but I enjoy the steak cold or warm and without the need to reheat it, you don’t end up overcooking the steak. This means that once the steak is grilled, you can put this sandwich together in just a few minutes.
Tender marinated and grilled flank steak is the star of this sandwich, topped with creamy gorgonzola sauce, and a small pear and arugula dressed salad.
Ingredients:Flank steak and marinade
- 1 to 2 pounds flank steak
- 1⁄2 cup vegetable oil
- 1⁄4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1⁄2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1⁄2 cup sour cream
- 5 ounces gorgonzola cheese crumbles
- salt and pepper to taste
- buttermilk (probably less than a quarter cup - can use regular milk too)
- leftover marinade (reserved from marinading the steak)
- 2 tablespoons orange juice
- small handful of baby arugula
- 1 ciabatta sandwich roll or another six-inch roll
- 2 to 3 tablespoons gorgonzola dressing (from above)
- 4 to 6 slices of flank steak (from above)
- 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 pear, cored and sliced into thin slices
Marinade flank steak: place steak in a large zip-top bag or a large bowl to get it ready for the marinade.
In a large bowl, combine vegetable oil, apple cider vinegar, sugar, minced garlic, Dijon mustard, salt, ground black pepper, diced parsley, and hot sauce. Mix to combine well and pour 2/3rds of the marinade over the steak in the bag or bowl. Reserve 1/3 of the marinade in a small bowl in the fridge to be used later in the sandwich.
Cover the steak and marinade and place in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight.
Steak grilling: grill over a preheated charcoal or gas grill or stovetop grill pan until cooked to your desired doneness.
It's hard to say exactly how long in time to grill a flank steak. I typically use a quick-read thermometer and do not cook based on any number of minutes. I like my flank steak medium rare, so I pull it off the grill when the internal temperature is between 120 and 125 degrees F. If you simply must have a time frame, I would start with grilling the steak for 6 minutes per side to get to something close to medium rare.
Allow the steak to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing.
Slice steak against the grain of the meat and store in a sealed container until time to make your sandwich.
Gorgonzola dressing: add the mayonnaise, sour cream, gorgonzola cheese crumbles, and salt and pepper and whisk well to combine.
Taste now to see if you think it needs more salt and pepper. You can stop now (without the buttermilk) if you want more of a mayonnaise-like consistency to spread on sandwiches.
Add buttermilk a little bit at a time and whisk until you reach the right consistency. I usually only need about 3 tablespoons to hit a thick dressing stage but if you're making this for salads, you might want to add more.
Store in a jar or container with a lid in the refrigerator for no more than 2 weeks.
Sandwich assembly: add the orange juice to the remaining 1/3 of the marinade and stir to combine well. This turns the marinade into a citrusy salad dressing. Place a small handful of baby arugula in a small bowl and toss it with a tablespoon of the citrus dressing.
Slice and split your ciabatta and toast it if you desire. Add a tablespoon or so of gorgonzola dressing to the bottom slice of ciabatta.
Top the dressing with a few slices of flank steak and then top the steak with a bit more gorgonzola dressing.
Add pear slices and top the pear slices with the salad dressed arugula.
Close the sandwich with the top bit of ciabatta and serve.
Check back next week
Next week I’m giving my buttermilk biscuit recipe an injection of spice.