Monday, August 19, 2013
Not counting vegetarians, I haven’t met many people who don’t love a good steak. Because of this love affair, many steak-sized not too tender meats in the supermarket meat section are labeled “steaks,” such as beef chuck steak, chuck tender steak, round steak and chuck eye steak. Even some pork chops are deliberately mislabeled as “steak.”
I love a good steak like any meat lover yet I gave up on cooking it. Why? I cannot match the flavor and tenderness of the meat served in a good steak-house. My steaks are not fork-tender and just mediocre in flavor.
For a good steak the grade of the meat is of prime importance. The USDA started grading beef in 1927 and ever since every piece of beef is graded according to their system.
The highest grade steak, Prime, is well marbled throughout. The next grade is Choice with less marbling and that’s the highest grade you find in most supermarkets. Select grade has even less marbling and the lowest, Standard is a meat red all the way through without the marbling fat. Only the edges contain fat, not enough to lubricate the meat. A tough piece of meat. Note that some supermarkets use their own grading system though Prime and Choice are standard for all.
So for a good home-grilled steak, go for Prime. But you won’t find this grade in just any meat counter. Prime grade is expensive and often reserved by high-end butchers, exclusive clubs and restaurants for customers and clients who have generous expense accounts or far-reaching credit cards.
Yet we all had affordable steaks in steak-houses. How do they do it? By meticulous tenderizing lower-grade Choice meat. They do this by either chemical tenderizers (and these are all blends of natural products such as papaya, fig and pineapple) or by passing the meat through mechanical tenderizers which are like medieval torture instruments with many sharp needles that break up the tough meat fibers.
But grade is not the only thing you need to consider. A good steak needs to be aged too. Raw, unaged beef has a metallic taste and is rather tough, chewy; aging improves both flavor and tenderness. It chemically alters flavor and softens tough connective tissues. During the aging process the meat shrinks and loses some 12 to 15 percent moisture. The process adds to the price as the meat must rest in a temperature-humidity controlled room for about 15 days, for real high quality meat up to six weeks. Plus you pay for the shrinkage too.
Most shoppers are very conscious of the price of the meat package, and meat processors need to consider how much extra they can charge for the aging before they lose buyers.
When I want a good steak, I choose a steak house.