Cute Cow & the Red Center of Tenderness

Friday, February 8, 2013

We all know that beef is one of the main sources of protein in our daily diet besides seafood and white meat. Beef is of course a red meat. See its color when raw. Red, is not it? If you see white strips on a red meat block, those are just fatty tissues, not the actual meat. If I go to the market to get some meat, meat blocks with lots of whites on it is definitely a no-no. I don't like to wait long for it to cook and still need to spend some time chewing.

So basically, grading of beef lies on its tenderness with almost everyone prefer the tenderer meat rather than the ones which can replace your Wrigley's chewing gum. However, even the best quality beef cuts can be spoilt with wrong skills at the kitchen. Selecting the suitable part of beef to cook is one thing you do at the market but the rest of the meat story rest on how you perform in your kitchen.

Generally, tough meat requires longer time with slower heat to cook properly. Toughest section even requires a beating or two to relax those fibers it contains. In contrast, the tenderer cuts would only be nice with plenty of flavors to adore if they are exposed to correct heat temperature for only a short period.

Here are some primal cuts of beef that can be worth knowing if you're going to the supermarket or wet market near you to get some red meat. Each of these may or may not be suitable for your cooking style today. So, that's why you need to know this. Refer to the not-so-cute cow diagram to match these numbers.

1. Chuck / Shoulder

  • parts of the neck, shoulder blade, upper arm
  • tough meat with fat tissue
  • good for braised dishes like beef stew and pot roast
  • top blade can also be good for grill

2. Rib

  • tender meat, suitable for dry-heat cooking (grill or broil)
  • back ribs can be made into variety styles of dishes

3. Loin / short loin

  • tender cut, suitable for dry-heat cooking (grill or broil)
  • tenderloin is the best cut of meat, should only be cooked using dry-heat method.

4. Sirloin

  • tender meat, suitable for dry-heat cooking and roast
  • includes popular sirloin steak

5. Round

  • lean but tough cut
  • suitable for pot roast or braise (moist-heat cooking)

6. Flank

  • tough meat, good for braising or turned into ground beef
  • can be grilled too

7. Plate / short plate

  • meat with plenty of connective tissues
  • suitable for marinate and grill cooking
  • great for braised dishes too

8. Shank

  • tough meat with a lot of cartilage
  • suitable for pot roast cooking

9. Brisket

  • tough cut, mostly suitable for pot roast or stew only
  • used for corned beef and burgers production

If y'all noticed, among all the prime cuts of a cattle listed above, only a few are suitable for making steaks. These are the more famous steak options available at any steakhouses. Or at least at the meat section at your favorite market.

- Filet Mignon (French for 'cute fillet')

  • also known as Tenderloin or Chateaubriand steak
  • acquired from loin (short loin) cut
  • the meat is lean and contains very little amount of fatty tissues since it is one of the least exercised muscle
  • expensive meat because there are only two small pieces of tenderloin muscle (Psoas major) in every cattle
  • mild flavor so it responds well to steak sauces

- Ribeye

  • comes from the rib section
  • this steak consists of 3 muscles: Longissimus Dorsi, Spinalis Dorsi, and Multifidus Dorsi
  • contains right amount of fatty tissues that look like 'marble' on the meat which will break down and melt to add more flavor to the steak
  • high quality ribeyes are more expensive than the tenderloins

- Striploin

  • a steak cut from the loin section
  • also known as Toploin steak, New York Strip steak, Kansas City steak, and Strip steak
  • end part of Ribeye muscles closer to the waist of the cattle
  • largely consists of the same Longissimus Dorsi muscle as Ribeye does
  • same tenderness as Ribeye but less flavor

- T-Bone & Porterhouse

  • T-Bone is a Striploin (Longissimus Dorsi, Multifidus Dorsi muscles) with spine bone attached. The bone resembles a 'T' hence the name
  • the spine bone does not come for nothing. Tenderloin muscle is actually attached to it thus makes T-Bone a great steak
  • Porterhouse is similar to T-Bone with a different cut area within the loin section and it has bigger proportion if the Tenderloin muscle (Psoas major)

- Sirloin

  • a cut from the sirloin section
  • often contains the cross-sections of the hip bone
  • less tender than Striploin but more affordable in prices and a good choice for BBQ parties
  • consists of Gluteus Medius and Biceps Femoris muscles

With steaks, other than the meat itself, another factor that contributes to how your steak would taste is its doneness. Although taste is a matter of preference, only three level of doneness are said to be the optimum, if not best, condition to enjoy a steak. Steaks can best be made rare, medium-rare, or medium. All these seem to sound like the steak is either rarely cooked, half-way between rarely cooked and half cooked, or half-cooked, respectively. Yes, that's how a red meat is appreciated. The main idea is to maintain the juices inside the meat produced by slightly breaking the fatty tissues and meat fibres. Brown or dark brown on the outside but pink or red on the inside. That's the best moment to enjoy the tenderness and the juiciness of a steak.

It's February and I haven't had my medium-rare steak yet!

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