The last time we got together, we spoke about the effects of aging and the benefits of fat contributing to a great eating piece of beef. Now that you have it selected, what do you do with it? Let us help you with some simple, chef inspired tips to make the most out of your excellent beef selection.
In the most simplistic way, there are two cooking methods that we can apply to beef: direct heat and braising. Direct heat is exactly what it sounds like; grilling pan frying or roasting. The beef is exposed directly to a heat source and usually cooks quickly. Braising is a classic method when tougher cuts are browned, then slowly cooked in a flavor enhanced liquid. We know there are more cooking techniques available, like smoking, barbequing, broiling, and the like, but today we will leave it at grilling and braising.
Braising perfectly suited for fall and winter. Warming and soul satisfying, paired with a creamy polenta or delicious mashed potatoes, braised beef is perfect for a family dinner or sharing with friends while watching football.
Generally, tougher cuts of beef that the steer uses more often, lend themselves to this type of preparation. Think of cuts from the front (chuck) or rear (round) or leg (shank) or chest (brisket) are suited for braising because they usually contain more collagen, which moist melt to become tender. Collagen is naturally occurring in muscles, and gives them strength and elasticity. Great for walking, running and moving, not so much for eating.
Simply put, you braise the beef by first seasoning the beef, which colors it, and caramelizes the natural sugars. Then you slowly cook it in a fortified liquid until the cartilage softens and becomes meltingly tender. The cooking can then be reduced to make a beautiful pan sauce, and if you mount it with butter, makes a luxurious eating experience.
Grilling is one of the more popular direct heat cooking methods, most people appreciate the sound of the sizzle as the abundantly marbled steak is kissed by the red-hot grates of a grill. This lends to those distinctive grill marks, which are a portent of goodness to come. To make a steak like a pro, start at 10:00 and do not touch. After 2 minutes, gently reposition to 2:00. Leave it alone. When cooked halfway up the side, flip over to finish.
Done and Done
How do you know when it’s done? By knowing the internal temperature, of course! You could poke and probe it, the firmer the steak the more cooked it is. This takes years of experience and a lot of trial and error. The most accurate way to determine doneness is to “temp” the product using a meat thermometer.
A unique trait of beef is that it will continue to cook even after the heat source has been removed; this is called carry over. Take this into consideration when determining how you would like your steak to be done. Usually, the internal temperature will rise five degrees after being removed from the heat.
Insert your thermometer into the thickest part of the meat. The range should be somewhere between 125°F for rare and 160°F for well done. A medium steak will be around 145°F. Be sure to let your steak rest a minimum of three minutes before cutting, plating and eating. It would also help if you are slicing the meat for serving, to cut against the grain, not with it.
This was a lot of information, and it may seem overwhelming, but not to worry. Just remember not to over handle, let the meat rest, slice against the grain, and enjoy!
One of our favorite fall dishes is braised short ribs nestled on top of creamy mashed potatoes. We are very much a “cook by feel” organization so use ingredients and amounts that feel comfortable to you. In this case, technique trumps preparation.
In a heavy Dutch oven, heat oil and sear off the boneless short ribs and brown on all sides, the meat should be liberally seasoned with salt and pepper before browning. Once browned, remove the beef and set aside, Discard the used oil.
On medium heat, add clean oil to the pot and add aromatic vegetables: carrots, onions, peppers, fennel or any combination will work. Sautee until soft and translucent. Deglaze with red wine, making sure to scrape up bits from the bottom. (This will also make cleanup easier.) Add chopped tomatoes and put the meat back in. Cover with water or stock. If you’d like, add some bay leaves or sprigs of fresh thyme. Reduce heat, cover, and let simmer until the beef is soft and meltingly tender.
Remove beef and raise the heat to reduce the remaining liquid.
Finish with two pats of butter and allow it to melt in the pan juices.
Nestle the short ribs on the mashed potatoes and spoon the sauce over the top.
Joe Vrola of Vrola: Center of the Plate Specialists, is NJ’s Meat Man. Servicing leading restaurants, hotels, and institutions all over New Jersey, this third-generation butcher brings over 30 years of meat expertise to the table. From recipe development to custom fabrication as a center-of-the-plate specialist, Joe can cut, cook, and recommend the best meat option for any need.