A Simple Man’s Guide to Buying a Steak
With the latest so called health advice putting red meat on the warning list, we look at the art of finding that succulent cut of steak – and sod the doc!
Article by Nicolas Payne-Baader
Being able to buy a good steak has always been one of things that is supposed to be inherently understood by men; much like lighting a fire or bringing a woman to climax it’s something for which no instruction is supposed to be necessary. However it turns out that this is utter nonsense and buying a steak can be a great deal harder than it initially looks. In a world where there are a dozen different names for the same cut and that you can easily be overcharged for something underwhelming, not to mention to the fact that most men are too embarrassed to ask some advice, it can too often be a case of refusing to ask directions on the road to mediocrity rather than being able to indulge in one of livestock’s greatest gifts. Steak’s also one of the few dishes that the UK can truly compete with the best of them.
So, here we go, a simple guide to steak:
Some Ground Rules
There isn’t much point in trying to save money on steak, you really do tend to get what you pay for and when you’re cooking it at home you should probably be spending about ten pounds per steak. Keep in mind that if you go to the local pub you’re likely to pay 20 something quid for a steak that leaves you feeling disappointed.
Go to the butcher, or at least the meat counter at the supermarket – they aren’t necessarily scary and they aren’t necessarily pricey, especially not if you know what you’re after. You’ll be able to buy a steak that is exactly the size you want, if you’re buying two and want them of different sizes, if you want two different cuts that’s exactly what you’ll get and you’ll also, most likely, get a steak that’s been properly aged.
On that subject there’s quite a lot of smoke and mirrors surrounding supermarket steaks when they talk about ageing. If a steak is pre-packaged it’s likely that it’ll have been in its vacuum pack for a long while. Also note that a lot of them don’t say that they’re dry aged (that essentially means hanging the meat in a fridge, uncovered which allows the ageing process to happen properly), they are instead bag aged which means they’re sat in an air tight bag for the described amount of time – it does nothing for the taste or tenderness of the meat.
Don’t be afraid to describe what you’re after, if that means a steak which will come out crunchy and delicious on the outside and rare as you like on the inside, if it means something that’ll look massive but won’t cost the earth, if it means a steak for eight ten or twelve pounds, just ask, any butcher would rather you were specific and left happy (provided you aren’t asking for something unrealistic) than vague and leaving dissatisfied. It’s also okay to ask approximately how much a steak will cost before its cut.
The most tender of the cuts, when cut it looks like a little medallion, it’s lean (unfatty) and at its best is melt in your mouth tender. Because of such a lack of fat it’s not always the most flavoursome cut which is why it’s often served with a sauce. Not necessarily the cut you want for a big beefy flavour but is incredibly tender and also quite an impressive thing to serve up. Also the most expensive cut.
Good for: the inlaws, proposing to someone (assume they’re not a vegetarian…).
Also tender and with the best fat marbling of any of the main cuts of steak, it is pretty fatty and the fat runs through the steak so isn’t that easy to avoid; it’s from the centre of the fore rib so normally looks like a long thick piece of meat and can be cut to whatever thickness you want. It’s probably the cut you had when you ordered a fancy steak somewhere. Definitely has that bold beef flavour and is best kept really simple. Somewhat less expensive than Fillet but still pretty expensive.
Good for: pushing the boat out with the boys round.
A pretty similar runner to Ribeye but with the fat concentrated around the outside of the meat which means it’s optional eating. Personally I think you’d be missing out on a lot of flavour by leaving all of it on the plate but each to their own. The meat is certainly on the same taste and tenderness levels as Ribeye.
Good for: people who aren’t afraid of heart attacks, any time it’s really delicious.
T bone is really two cuts, a sirloin steak on one side and a fillet on the other meaning that it’s a really nice steak to buy thick and share between two people. Best to buy if you like your steak fairly rare as there will be an area which comes out on the rare side of cooked around the bone. Also looks rather impressive as it’s normally pretty big. Try not to ask for a really thin T bone as it’ll be a nightmare for whoever’s sawing it.
Good for: pretending to be a cowboy, sharing.
A really under-appreciated cut mainly due to the fact that it’s all too often labelled as being tough and chewy. If it’s been properly aged it won’t be and although it may not be as tender as some other cuts the flavour more than makes up for it. Cheaper than sirloin, fillet and ribeye it’s great value and like sirloin has a large strip of fat which runs along the edge which is optional eating.
Good for: a big steak which will cost the same as a medium sirloin
Bavette, Onglet, Flank, Skirt
The cuts which are rarely seen outside butchers although are becoming increasingly trendy. They all come from more or less the same part of the cow so have similar qualities. Don’t bother going near unless you like your steaks to be rare, they’re all quite thin cuts and if you overcook them they become as tough as shoe leather so be careful but when cooked well they have great flavour. They are also all very lean so are a great source of iron and protein…. if that’s what you’re in to. Significantly cheaper than any other cut of steak they’re a fantastic mid-week cut, a good size steak will only set you back around six pounds and they’re great to marinade and stick on the barbecue.
All steaks photographed from Flock & Herd who age all their beef on site which comes exclusively from free range cattle.
Enquiries: Flock & Herd, 155 Bellenden Rd, London SE15 4DH / 0207 6357733 / www.flockandherd.com/