My go-to Chipotle order is as follows: white cilantro rice, pinto beans, corn, mild and medium salsa, cheese, sour cream, and -- my favorite protein of all Chipotle proteins -- steak. The steak at Chipotle has never let me down; it's juicy and pink, well-seasoned, and has a captivating charred flavor that only fresh-grilled steak can have. It is the superlative protein option at Chipotle.
But Chipotle is testing my devotion to its cubes of steak with the introduction of their latest protein offering: hand-sliced carne asada. I mean, sure, it's still beef, but these strips (not cubes) of steak are worth getting excited about.
The carne asada begins with an in-house marinating process that's flavored with cumin, coriander, garlic, salt, and pepper. Following the marinade, the steak is cooked sous-vide -- low and slow -- which results in the most tender, fall-apart pieces of meat I've ever tasted at Chipotle. Yes, I would even venture to say that this carne asada is softer than the barbacoa option.
The carne asada is then seared on the grill and hand-sliced, topped with a squeeze of lime and a sprinkling of fresh cilantro. The result? Juicy, supple steak thats perfectly pink in the center and balanced with a unique blend of seasonings: kosher salt, chipotle peppers, and a bit of cinnamon and clove. In all honesty, it's beautiful.
"It's very simple, very straightforward," Nevielle Panthaky, Chipotle’s vice president of culinary and menu development, explained to me at a Chipotle press event in New York City. Though I would never consider cooking steak sous-vide as "simple," the flavors of the meat were undoubtedly bright, letting the smokiness of the steak cut with lime stand at the forefront.
That being said, is the carne asada better than the steak?
This is something I've been going back and forth on. Would this new version of steak replace my beloved cubes? And the conclusion I've come to... is no. Although the strips of steak are undeniably delicious, I still found myself thinking about Chipotle's champion steak cubes -- perfectly salty, with a nice chewy texture and pink center.
I feel that the preparation of the carne asada using sous-vide rendered the meat almost too tender for my liking. The strips were falling apart in my mouth and offered no resistance. For a burrito bowl that is already full of soft items like beans and corn, it's nice to have a textural element that stands out. The cubes of steak do that a whole lot better than the carne asada.
Despite this, I think the carne asada is a winner. The acidity of the lime is welcomed, and perhaps the protein would function better in a taco -- where it wouldn't be lost amongst the pool of rice, beans, and salsas.
Chipotle's carne asada launches September 19 and is only available for a little while, so hurry to your local Chipotle so you can make the call: carne asada or steak?