May 23, 2009


Affordable Steaks That Make the Cut (Tony Rosenfeld, 5/20/09, The Washington Post)

Affordable cuts of beef tend to fall into three groups: hanger and flatiron steaks, long prized by chefs; flank, flap, tri-tip and skirt steaks, which used to be even cheaper when they were less popular; and gems such as chuck eye, chuck shoulder and top sirloin steaks, which are, for the moment, the least expensive of the lot (less than $5 per pound).

One thing they all have in common is their tough texture. They come from well-exercised muscles of the animal, which tend to be the most flavorful. There are other cheap cuts to consider, but they suffer from a lack of beefy flavor or from lots of gristle and bones. Attentive prep work, intense marinades and closely watched grill time can do wonders for the bargain cuts we're focusing on here.

First, the marinades: Conventional culinary wisdom holds that these liquid mixtures flavor and tenderize tough cuts. Recently, food scientists have begun to question not only whether marinades tenderize meat, but also just how far the marinades actually are able to infuse flavor.

In the face of what science may or may not show, experience and many generations of cooks have proved that a good marinade can dress up ordinary meat. Even if the effect is only skin-deep and non-tenderizing, flavors such as soy-ginger and rosemary-red wine give affordable cuts a richer color and an intense, savory crust.

Grilling's the way to go for this kind of beef, and that merely demands organization and attention to detail. Little things make a difference, such as pulling the steaks out of the refrigerator while the grill heats up so the meat is not chilled when it hits the grate. That helps achieve the ultimate goal: steaks cooked to a uniform doneness. When the meat goes straight from the fridge to the grill, it takes longer for its center to reach medium-rare or medium, during which time the outside starts to char and the interior can go gray.

The fire itself can guide the grilling process.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 23, 2009 8:07 AM
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