THE LOCAVORE’S GUIDE TO BEEF

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A butcher’s eye view of what’s good to eat

By Natalie Ermann Russell • Illustrations by Bambi Edlund

Where’s the beef? Ask a butcher that question, and he’ll want to know which beef you’re talking about. There are about 75 cuts to choose from, many of which have a variety of names, depending on how any given muscle was sectioned and where the butcher learned his trade (one man’s Kansas City steak is another man’s New York strip). How to prepare the various steaks, roasts and ribs is a challenge as well. When to grill? When to braise? When to roast?

Beef is muscle, and how you cook it depends upon how much it was used by the cow. The front (chuck) and back (round) are oft-used muscles, with plenty of connective tissue and marbleized fat (read: flavor). In general, these tougher cuts must be cooked with slow, moist heat. (Leaving bones in also adds tremendous flavor, so ask for the bones when you can.) The middle portions—where the cuts tend to be tender and more expensive—don’t involve the hard-working muscles, have a milder flavor and can be cooked with dry heat over a shorter period of time.

Some grocery-store packaging will tell you where a cut comes from, which is helpful for something like a London broil because it can be from several different parts of the cow.

Of course, visit a neighborhood butcher or get it straight from the farm, and you can ask questions and tap into the knowledge of these seasoned experts. In the meantime, we’re providing a map of the eight “primal cuts” (the first cuts made when a butcher breaks down a steer), along with some fantastic recipes and tips from local butchers. So, you ask, where’s the beef? Hopefully, it’s in your kitchen.

 

BRISKET & SHANK

CUTS: Brisket, shank, soup bones

LOCATION: This is basically the cow’s breast, immediately below the chuck. The abundant fat prevents the meat from drying out.

INSIDER TIP: Many chefs swear by the brisket for ground hamburger meat, because it has a magic ratio of 30 percent fat to 70 percent protein. (Ask for some next time you’re at the local butcher shop.)

COOKING TECHNIQUES: In liquid (braise, or use a slow-cooker). Also very good when cured (smoked, pickled, etc.), as in pastrami and corned beef.


Braised Brisket 

Cask & Larder
Serves 6

2 (750-mL) bottles red wine
10 black peppercorns
10 sprigs of fresh thyme
3 shallots, thinly sliced
3 dried bay leaves
1 head of garlic, unpeeled, cut in half widthwise
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (4-pound) brisket, cut into 4 pieces
3 cups low-sodium veal or beef stock 

1 Combine wine, peppercorns, thyme, shallots, bay leaves and garlic in a large bowl. Add brisket, cover tightly and marinate overnight in refrigerator.

2 Remove brisket from marinade and pat dry; season with salt and pepper.

3 Preheat oven to 250°F.

4 Place marinade in a large saucepan and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium and simmer until reduced by half, about 20 to 30 minutes.

5 Heat oil in a large, ovenproof Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add brisket to pot and sear on all sides until golden brown. Add reduced marinade and veal or beef stock to pot.

6 Cover pot tightly with foil, then cover. Braise 3 hours or until very tender. Serve with warm potato rolls and horseradish pickles*.

 

FLANK

CUTS: Flank steak, often used for ground beef and London broil

LOCATION: Comes from the belly section of a hindquarter and has no bone segments. It can be tough because it has a lot of tissue.

INSIDER TIP: Experts recommend cutting flank steak against the grain (perpendicular to the lines) because those lines are actually long muscle fibers that are difficult to chew if not cut crosswise into smaller pieces.

COOKING TECHNIQUES: Best cooked quickly: marinated and pan-broiled or grilled. Can also be braised.


Marinated Flank Steak with Chimichurri

K Restaurant and Wine Bar
Serves 6

5 to 6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 lime, juiced
⅓ cup chopped fresh parsley
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 (1½-pound) flank steaks

1 Combine garlic, lime juice, parsley, salt and pepper in a large, shallow dish. Add flank steak and turn to coat.

2 Marinate steaks for at least 30 minutes, or up to overnight. Remove from marinade and pat dry.

3 Preheat a grill or the broiler to high. Grill or broil for approximately 4 minutes per side for medium rare. Set aside to rest for 10 minutes.

4 Slice very thinly against the grain; serve with chimichurri.


Chimichurri 

1 cup cilantro
1 cup parsley
½ cup basil
½ cup mint
3 each cloves garlic
¼ cup red wine vinegar
½ to ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
Coarse salt, to taste

1 Combine cilantro, parsley, basil, mint and garlic in a food processor. Pulse until coarsely chopped. Add red wine vinegar. Pulse to combine.

2 With processor running, slowly drizzle in ½ cup oil. If needed, add remaining oil until mixture has sauce-like consistency.

3 Add salt to taste.

BEER PAIRING: ESB

Extra Special or Strong Bitters are generally considered to be English bitter ales at 4.8% or above in ABV. The color should be light amber to copper. The aroma should have notable hop aromas, with mils malt or fruity sweetness. Taste should have an equally notable hop bitterness. Also, malty sweetness should be obvious.

Beer suggestions: Cigar City Minaret ESB, Fullers ESB and Left Hand Sawtooth Ale

 

ROUND

CUTS: Top round steak or roast, bottom round roast, eye round steak or roast, heel of round, rolled rump, rump roast, round tip steak or roast, knuckle steak, cube steak, round steak, kebabs, often used for hamburger

LOCATION: Derived from a hindquarter, it is more or less the hind legs and the rump. It is the second-largest primal cut.

INSIDER TIP: There are three major muscle groups in this section: the top round, which is where a lot of London broil comes from; bottom round, which can be turned into cube steak (great for chicken-fried steak); and eye of round, which is typically a roasting cut.

COOKING TECHNIQUES: Because it doesn’t have abundant marbling, much of it needs to be cooked in liquid (braising, slow-cooker); however, some cuts are tender enough for roasting (i.e., high-quality top round, knuckle and rump roasts).

 

RIB

CUTS: Prime rib, rib roast (large end and small end), rib eye roast, rib eye steak, rib steak, back ribs

LOCATION: Top portion from the sixth through the 12th ribs.

INSIDER TIP: “Small end” and “large end” rib roasts refer to the size of the bones that surround it, not the actual size of the meat. The more-tender small end is actually larger than the tougher large end.

COOKING TECHNIQUES: Dry-heat cooking, including grilling, broiling, roasting, pan-frying.


Cider-Brined Rib-eye with Mulled Wine Jus

Spencer’s for Steaks and Chops
Serves 2

3 cups unfiltered apple cider
10 pink peppercorns
4 slices green apple
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 sprig fresh thyme
2 (6- to 7-ounce) grass-fed rib eye steaks
Coarse salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

1 Combine apple cider, peppercorns, apple slices, garlic and thyme in a large zip-top bag. Add the steak and seal bag, pressing out as much air as possible; place in the freezer until contents are very cold.

2 Once cold, place bag in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

3 Remove steaks from bag; discard bag and brine. Pat steaks dry and set aside until they are room temperature. Season both sides generously with salt.

4 Preheat oven to 350°F. Preheat an oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and heat until oil smokes. Sear 2 minutes per side, until a golden brown crust forms.

5 Transfer steaks to a baking sheet and roast until a thermometer reads 120°F for medium-rare. Let rest 10 minutes before serving. Serve with mulled cider jus.


Mulled Cider Jus

1 orange
1 (750 mL) bottle Lakeridge Winery cuvee noir, or other light red wine
1 cinnamon stick
1 whole clove
1 whole star anise
½ cup low-sodium beef stock

1 Peel colored zest away from orange in strips, avoiding as much white pith as possible. Reserve orange for another use.

2 Combine orange peel, wine, cinnamon stick, clove, star anise and beef stock in a medium saucepan over high heat.

3 Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until reduced by ¾ and thickened, approximately 40 minutes. Strain through a sieve. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

BEER PAIRING: Belgian Strong Darks or Christmas Ales

Belgian Strong Dark Ales range in color from amber to dark brown. The aroma has notes of dark candy sugar, mild dark fruits and roasted malts. Hop presence should be minimal. The taste also has a low hop presence, with roasted malts and dark fruits standing out. There may also be a mild hint of residual sugar sweetness, which can offset the usual alcohol notes. This style generally holds up well to secondary flavor additions, and some brewers will flavor the beer with spices, chocolate or other strong flavors.

Beer suggestions: Delirium Noel, St. Bernardus Christmas Ale and Unibroue Trois Pistoles

SHORT LOIN

CUTS: Boneless top loin steak*, T-bone steak, porterhouse steak, tenderloin roast (filet mignon), tenderloin steak (filet mignon)

LOCATION: The saddle section beneath the ribs, starting at the last rib (rib 13) and extending into the lumbar vertebrae. The most in-demand and expensive steaks come from this region.

INSIDER TIP: Just one example of the multitude of names for one cut of beef*: Boneless top loin steak is also known as strip steak, Kansas City Steak, New York strip steak, hotel cut strip steak, ambassador steak or club sirloin steak. Who can keep it all straight?

COOKING TECHNIQUES: Dry-heat cooking, including grilling, broiling, roasting, pan-frying.


Porcini-Crusted Tenderloin with Fig Balsamic Demi-Glace

Arthur’s Catering
Serves 4 

1 (½-ounce) package dried porcini mushrooms
4 (1-inch-thick) beef tenderloin filets
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 Place dried porcinis in a spice grinder and process into a fine powder; place powder on a plate.

2 Lightly rub filets with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper, then roll in porcini powder until well coated.

3 Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat oil in a large oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat. Sear 2 minutes per side, then transfer to a baking sheet and roast 6 minutes longer for medium-rare. Serve with fig-balsamic demi-glace.


Fig Balsamic Demi-Glace

1½ tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
½ tablespoon flour
1 shallot, finely minced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
5 dried figs, quartered
2 cups veal or beef stock
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon balsamic glaze
1 tablespoon butter
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 Melt ½ tablespoon butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add flour and whisk until combined; cook 3 minutes, then remove from heat and set aside.

2 Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add minced shallot and garlic and cook until just softened. Deglaze pan with balsamic vinegar. Add figs and stock; simmer until reduced to 1½ cups.

3 Strain through a sieve and return to saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in butter-flour mixture. Whisk until sauce is thickened and coats the back of a spoon.

4 Stir in brown sugar, balsamic glaze, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon of butter.

BEER PAIRING: Brown Ale or Porter

Brown Ales are malty, slightly sweet and full of flavor. Aroma usually has caramel malt or nutty characteristics. Hop notes should be muted, although some examples have a mild citrus character due to the hop varieties used.

Porter should range from light brown to dark brown, almost black. The aroma should have a strong malt presence, with notes of chocolate, coffee, and roasted grains. The taste should focus on the malts, with roasted malts, toffee, caramel and nutty tones present. Other flavors may include coffee, bready yeast and toasted rye bread. Hop presence in both aroma and flavor should be minimal.

Beer suggestions: Cigar City Maduro Brown, Bell’s Best Brown Ale and Rogue Hazelnut Brown Ale; Cigar City Jose Marti American Porter, Cigar City Puppy’s Breath and Anchor Porter

 

SHORT PLATE

CUTS: Short ribs, skirt steak, hanger steak, often used for ground beef

LOCATION: More or less the area below the rib primal cut; it includes the bottom portion of ribs six through 12.

INSIDER TIP: The inexpensive skirt steak gets tough if cooked beyond medium; keep it at rare or medium rare and it remains quite tender.

COOKING TECHNIQUES: Best cooked quickly: marinated and pan-broiled or grilled.

 

CHUCK

CUTS: Chuck eye roast, chuck eye steak, top blade steak, chuck pot roast, mock tender, blade roast, 7-bone roast, short ribs, flat iron steak, arm pot roast, often used for hamburger

LOCATION: The forequarter containing ribs one through five—which is basically the shoulder. It is the largest primal cut.

INSIDER TIP: The chuck contains the workhorse muscles of the cow, which gives it the most flavor. The plentiful connective tissue dissolves when the meat is slow-cooked and provides a special flavor profile.

COOKING TECHNIQUES: In liquid slow and long (i.e., braise or use a slow-cooker).

 

SIRLOIN

CUTS: Sirloin steak (flat bone), sirloin steak (round bone), top sirloin steak, pin bone sirloin steak, flat bone sirloin steak, cowboy steak, tri-tip, triangle steak

LOCATION: It includes bone segments of lumbar vertebrae and is often referred to as the hip area. Not as tender as the short loin region. Has many muscle groups, which means it can be cut in a myriad of ways, resulting in a great variety of cuts.

INSIDER TIP: The quality of the fat is different here than in other parts of the cow. It can become hard after cooking, so you will need to trim it out as you’re eating—not before, or you’ll lose flavor as well.

COOKING TECHNIQUES: This region can be a little tough, but still can be prepared with some dry heat. Best to broil or pan-fry. Also makes good stew beef.

 

Bacon-Fat-Seared Sirloin Steak with Creamed Collard Greens

Cuisiniers Catered Events
Serves 4

6 cups (tightly packed) roughly chopped locally grown collard greens
4 (6- to 7-ounce) sirloin steak filets
Coarse sea salt and cracked black pepper
1 (12-ounce) package bacon, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil, or as needed
½ sweet onion, diced
2 tablespoons minced garlic
½ cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1½ cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup grated Winter Park Dairy Florida cheddar, or other good-quality aged cheddar

1 Blanch collards in a large pot of boiling, salted water 3 to 5 minutes, or until just tender, depending on thickness of greens. Plunge into ice water; drain, chop into bite-size pieces, and set aside.

2 Place sirloins on a baking sheet and season both sides with salt and pepper; set aside. Place a skillet large enough to fit all 4 steaks without crowding over medium-high heat; heat pan 2 minutes.

3 Place diced bacon and onion into pan and sauté until bacon is crisp and onion is soft, approximately 7 to 9 minutes.

4 Remove bacon and onion from pan with a slotted spoon, and place in a small ramekin; set aside. Reserve bacon fat in sauté pan and place back over medium heat.

5 Add oil to the pan, and increase to high heat. Carefully place steaks in pan and cook 3 minutes per side. Remove steaks and place on a cutting board to rest.

6 Drain excess fat from sauté pan and place back on stovetop and over medium-high heat. Add garlic and chicken broth to the pan; simmer 2 to 3 minutes, until slightly reduced.

7 Add cream, nutmeg, reserved bacon and onions, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Simmer 2 minutes, being careful not to boil mixture.

8 Add prepared collard greens to cream mixture. Add cheddar and stir until slightly melted. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

9 To serve, slice each steak into three slices. Evenly divide the collard greens among four plates and place the sliced steak atop the collards. Serve immediately.

BEER PAIRING: Stout

Stouts are highlighted by a dark brown to black color. Head retention should be notable also. Aroma has pronounced tones of caramel, chocolate, coffee and a very notable roasted smell. Taste has notable coffee and roasted bitterness, with low to medium hop tones. Any hop tones are usually highlighted by subdued citrus notes.

Beer suggestions: Swamp Head Midnight Oil, Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout and Rogue Chocolate Stout

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