“At the butcher’s she deliberated over a fillet of beef but could only afford a cut called bavette which I now understand is tasty and cheap.”
The Improbability of Love, Hannah Rothschild
With regard to steak there is all sorts of choice, but in the end there is nothing like a fillet steak. Nevertheless, point, featherblade and skirt are all also worth experimenting with. Steak is usually defined as being tender enough to quick fry.
sirloin (from the French, ‘on the loin’):
This comes from the middle of the back of the animal. The steak is a reasonable size but in spite of some marbelling it still doesn’t have that much flavour and it’s often left on the bone (see T-bone below) to try to solve that. It’s also tougher than fillet.
fillet (also known as filet mignon or tenderloin):
This is from the inside of the sirloin and is VERY tender with no fat. It’s so tender because it is a muscle which hardly used. Many people complain it doesn’t have that much taste, but if you serve it with delicious sauces, butters, vegetables the flavour comes from them, so naturally Saucy Dressings thinks this is the best steak of all. Unfortunately it’s small (around 500g per animal) so it also tends to be the most expensive…. Follow this link for the best method for cooking steak.
A tournedos is a small, round slice taken from near the end of the tenderloin, it’s usually fried or grilled. Because it’s so lean it’s often wrapped in bacon, suet or pork fat before it’s cooked. See tournedos Rossini for much more information – where it gets its name, how to cook it etc.
is a particular thick cut from the centre of the fillet. It’s delicious but because it’s so thick it’s difficult to cook without it being overdone on the outside and completely raw on the inside, for which reason it’s a good idea to use a meat thermometer – the internal temperature should reach 54°C. It’s too large for just one person, perfect for two. Normally served with new potatoes and béarnaise sauce. It was first prepared 200 years ago by the Vicomte de Châteaubriand’s chef, Montmireil and so he’s no longer around to referee the contention as to how thick it should be, but it shouldn’t look like a steak!
comes from the backside (as you would imagine!). it has a lot of flavour. Best to buy from a butcher you know as it needs to be well hung. Buy really thick pieces (5cm/2”), flash fry in smoking hot oil, and then slice very thinly. Because it’s so thick there is the same problem as with chateaubriand, above.
not surprisingly a strange triangular, pointy shape! from the pointed, thin end of the rump, where it joins the sirloin. It has the flavour of rump with the tenderness of sirloin (but not fillet).
feather blade (also known as butler’s steak or flat iron):
you don’t often see this. It’s a small steak, coming from the shoulder blade. It has a lot of flavour and is better cooked rare.
rib-eye steak (sometimes called entrecôte):
is marbled with a central piece of fat gives it taste and juiciness. It comes from the fore-rib (top of the prime rib). Because of all the fat in its marbling you have to keep a look out if you try to grill it, but the advantage of the fat is that this bestows additional flavour.
is from the rump cap. It’s thin and needs to be fried quickly. Then it’s perfect in a sandwich. Quite often this is like old shoe leather.
onglet (butcher’s steak or hanger steak):
comes from the centre, near the diaphragm. It has a lot of flavour (it’s quite dark meat, a gamey flavour), but tends to be tough. It has a tough membrane which runs through – make sure the butcher removes this. Often butterflied to make it flatter.
t-bone (also known as Porterhouse):
This steak has rather a macho reputation. As Heston Blumenthal describes it as:
“a gargantuan piece of meat cut from the wing-rib end of the sirloin or the tail end of the foreribs”
It does look huge on the plate – and the cut is part sirloin (technically this is the Porterhouse part) and part fillet -served on the bone. The two different sections and the bone all cook at different rates. It isn’t named after the fictional Cambridge college, but after the drinking houses where it was first served. Be warned. In the process of Blumenthal’s search for the perfect steak, he reports that back in the UK he sends for six porterhouse steaks from six different suppliers.
“Three suppliers had sent porterhouse cuts; the rest had got it wrong. It brought it home to me just how unfamiliar a cut the porterhouse is in this country”
Heston Blumenthal, In Search of Total Perfection
goose skirt (also known as flank steak or bavette):
comes from near the bottom of the diaphragm, above the liver and kidney. Soft texture and delicate flavour. Steak needs to be sliced against the grain to maximise tenderness – try also marinating.
other cuts of beef:
roasting joint, lean, with a separate piece of fat which is tied around to keep it moist. comes from the hindquarters of the animal.
roasting joint, bit tougher than topside, also from hindquarters.
braising or chuck (term ‘chuck’ is used more in the US) steak:
best used for very slow cooked stews – but shin of beef is better – see below.
the breast of the animal. As cattle don’t have collar bones the muscles here take a lot of the weight, so the meat needs a lot of tenderising. Marinate AND cook slowly.
most often cooked as BBQ ribs…. a lot of work and mess and sugar for hardly any return!
shin of beef:
shin of beef looks less attractive than braising or chuck steak as it has lots of unappealing connective tissue. Delia Smith, however, points out that this melts and adds flavour and richness. Get the butcher to trim off the silvery sinew on the outside first and cook for an additional half hour. In Food in England, Dorothy Hartley declares “the scotch dish potted hough is the best use for shin of beef.” She goes on to quote the donor of the recipe, who begins
“Take a hough and bash it well with an axe. No’ just break it, but have at it until the pieces are no bigger than a wee hen’s egg”
and finishes by saying the hough should be drunk with
“a tankard of ale – ’twill fill them fine – ’tis all guid meat”.
Hartley comments that it probably was quite rich and filling as this lady was the mother of four champion blacksmiths. ‘Nuff said on shin of beef then…..
again, needs slow cooking. often made into mince
what it says on the tin. bony and gelatinous, although animals store reserve fat in their tails so a winter oxtail may have more meat than expected. Famously made into a stew, and often used for making stock