I’m often asked about Steak and how to treat a tough one. Truth is, there’s no easy answer because Steak is a ‘cut’ and ANYTHING can be a ‘Steak’. And any of them can be rendered ‘tough’ if not handled properly. To understand this you have to remember: there are no bad cuts, just bad ways to handle (cook) certain cuts. Think of it this way; the tenderness of a muscle (and ALL muscle is meat) is determined by how much work it does.
So, the Rib (Prime Rib, Standing Rib, Rib Eye), Loin (NY Strip, T-bone, Club, Wing, Porter House, Filet Mignon), and Sirloin Butt (Top Sirloin, Bottom Sirloin) are all considered to be non hard-working with the tenderloin (Filet) being a truly “floating” muscle that does nothing.
The Shoulder (Blade, Cross Cut, Short Rib) the Hip (Rump, Inside Round, Outside Round, Eye of Round, Sirloin Tip, Knuckle) are all hard-working muscles, used for support and mobility.
Ok so, the non hard-working muscles are tender BUT, most of them lack the heavy connective tissue, (collagen) and fat content necessary to impart flavour. THIS is why a Blade Steak (when cooked properly) has a TON of flavour and (at the extreme opposite ) your Filet Mignon arrives at the table, wrapped in Bacon.
Now, the addition of Bacon (in my opinion) to ANYTHING, improves it in ways that just can’t be measured (hell, I think Bacon Shampoo would be GREAT!!) but, I digress (again).
Expensive cuts in high end restaurants, come wrapped in bacon or served with wonderful sauces and crusts (Blue Cheese and bread crumbs comes to mind) because these things add FLAVOUR to an otherwise dull (tender, but dull) piece of meat.
Seriously though, connective tissue and fat are essential for imparting flavour because, as they cook (SLOWLY) these wonderful, fibres of connective tissue and fat break down, soften and bathe the meat in FLAVOUR.
Care needs to be taken when cooking these tougher cuts however. You can’t throw them uncovered in a high heat oven or onto the grill, you’ll be very disappointed.
Fear not Carnivores, there are TONS of things you CAN do to help. For example: you could Marinate. This will assist in the tenderizing process as well as adding levels of flavour. You could use a Meat mallet to break down the connective tissue and fibres but, nothing will whip a tough cut into submission like Braising.
Braising simply refers to cooking, with moisture (liquid) and, you can use anything. Water of course is a liquid but why stop there?? Orange juice and Beef LOVE each other (and the citric acid helps tenderize), Red or White Wine are great too (just remember, … if you wouldn’t drink it, DON’T cook with it), how about Beef or Chicken Stock? Beer anyone? Tomato juice? Condensed Cream of Mushroom soup is a HUGE favourite of mine … the sky is the limit, just watch out for added salt (it’s EVERYWHERE!!).
Finally Carnivores, I’m often asked about searing before braising and the answer is: what ever floats your boat. There are food scientists that are ADAMANT about NOT searing because it evaporates surface moisture and, there are Chefs that swear by it saying it adds a wonderful flavour. I have had success both ways.
I’m going to discuss the benefits of Low Temperature cooking in another post but for now, I encourage you to experiment. Let’s face it folks, I’m a Butcher NOT a Chef. BUT, I LOVE to cook and have been using my friends and family for eons as Guinea Pigs.
I’ve discovered some “Happy Accidents” along the way so, I’m only too happy to share what I’ve learned.
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