I’ll never forget the first time I tried romesco sauce. When I was still a student in culinary school, the cuisines of the Mediterranean kitchen were always my jam. Foods from Spain, France, Italy, Turkey and the northern coast of Africa were a welcome hard left turn toward progress, inching ever farther from the canned pea dinners of my youth
Spanish Day was always my favorite. Assortments of tapas marched into place, shoulder to shoulder on a broad stainless steel table, ready for eatin’. The chef instructor in K8 (that was the classroom number) was particularly fond of tapas, so I was quickly schooled in the ways of romesco — a traditional Catalan sauce made with sweet roasted peppers, toasted nuts, sherry vinegar and garlic. Some people even put stale bread in the mix to thicken things up. It was like the most amazing almond and red pepper pesto I’d ever had.
Earlier this year I was working on a shoot with Marc Forgione — you know, the Iron Chef — and, as one does, he made romesco as part of a video on condiments. It was on this otherwise unassuming day, with one fell spoonful, that my romesco virginity was reclaimed and then shattered into a million delicious pieces. Lesson learned going forward: You’ve likely not really tried something until an Iron Chef makes it for you.
Marc’s approach, which inspired the recipe below, is to roast the nuts on the stovetop and then prepare the sauce while they’re still warm. He also does not skimp on nuts, which thicken the romesco to a texture that makes bread unnecessary.
I made quite a scene that day. No cracker, crisp or crudite was safe from a side swipe into the quart of sauce so sweet, savory, toasty and satisfying that I had to try it for the first time, twice.
Flank Steak with Romesco Sauce
Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound flank steak
Salt and ground black pepper
For the romesco
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups raw almonds
1 cup roasted red peppers, such as piquillo, Peppadew or red bell
2 tablespoons roasted pepper brine, if available
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
1/2 to 1 cup warm water, as needed
Salt and ground black pepper
Place a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat with the 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Season the steak liberally with salt and pepper and cook in the hot pan to your desired doneness, about 6 minutes per side for medium. Let the cooked steak rest on a plate for 5 minutes before slicing.
While the steak is cooking, place a saute pan over medium heat with the 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and the almonds. Toast the almonds, tossing frequently, until very aromatic and beginning to pop, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer the warm nuts to the jar of a blender or food processor. Add the peppers, pepper brine, olive oil, sherry vinegar and garlic to the almonds and begin to puree the mixture. Slowly stream the warm water into the blender or food processor while mixing to create a coarse paste. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper. (NOTE: The romesco will thicken as it cools, so add a few more splashes of warm water to thin it out as needed.
Thinly slice the steak and serve with the warm romesco sauce.
SERVING NOTE: Make this a meat & potatoes affair by rounding out the meal with some red-skinned potatoes that have been mashed with sauteed escarole.
COOK’S NOTE: This recipe will make more romesco than will be consumed in one serving. Since I believe there are worse problems to have, keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week and spread it on everything you possibly can.
Patrick W. Decker’s life revolves around food. Always has, probably always will. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and past member of the culinary teams for Food Network stars Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee, Marc Forgione and Bobby Deen, he now works as a food stylist and producer in NYC by day and a food writer and recipe developer at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley by night. You can see what he’s up to by following him on Instagram at @patrickwdecker or visiting his website at patrickwdecker.com.