Saturday, May 10, 2008

Tough as Nails: Tips for Tenderizing - Part 1

A few things have sparked my interest in cheaper cuts of meat and the best ways to get bang for your few measly bucks.

1. My aunt and I had a discussion about skirt steak today. She regaled me with an anecdote about how she wanted to make authentic fajitas for Cinco De Mayo, which feature skirt steak as the meat component. The steak, she lamented, was “as tough as nails.” Understood. Skirt steak comes from a highly-exercised part of the cow, part of the underside, or “skirt” of the cow. Because of this, the muscle in skirt steak is lean and tight, making for a characteristically tough cut of beef (for a really cool diagram showing where each kind of steak comes from, check out the Beef Map from Alton Brown).

I had to agree with her. I usually won’t order skirt steak on a restaurant menu because it’s just so easy to end up with something so difficult to chew that you’d rather throw it in the blender and have a steak smoothie. However, recently my boyfriend and I ate at a relatively new and wonderful restaurant in Orlando called Citrus on Orange Ave. He ordered the skirt steak, a bold move that solidified my current state of in-love-ness. When it came out, I couldn’t help but inch my fork over to his plate while he buried his nose in his raspberry-colored glass of Pinot Noir. I took a bite of what I anticipated to be a classic example of a meal-breaker, but instead the meat practically disintegrated on my tongue. I was floored. I asked our unbelievably accommodating server about it and I was told that the steak is marinated in balsamic vinegar for 17 hours. All I can say: go to Citrus and have the skirt steak.

2. According to the December issue of Gourmet magazine, third-world countries will pay 90 percent more for food this year than last year. That, to me, is unfathomable. That would mean, in this country, that, if last year, a loaf of bread cost $2.39, this year we would pay $4.58. I can’t say that I don’t see that happening, with the impending wheat shortages coupled with the fact that the price of eggs has jumped 70% since this time last year. Everyone is trying to get more for their money, so it’s no wonder that Americans are going to be drawn to cheaper cuts of beef. Usually, however, this beef comes from the hindquarters or the shoulder section of the cow, which are generally the toughest pieces of meat. However, if you know how to prepare these cheaper cuts in the right way, they can yield a lot more than a 6-ounce filet mignon could ever promise.

Over the next four posts, I’ll talk about the four laws of tenderizing meat. Four things to be used either on their own or in combination to ensure that when working with chuck, round, brisket, skirt or flank steaks, the end result will be juicy, flavorful, and fork-tender.

TIP #1:

Marinate: Like the skirt steak at Citrus, if you want to both tenderize and add mountains of flavor: marinate. I’m not just talking a ten-minute dip in the pool either. Hours, and hours of submersion in a slightly acidic liquid can unravel those muscle proteins and make for a tender steak. Try marinating flank and skirt steaks, though thinner (1-2 inch) slices of chuck or round will work as well.

Use this marinade for a little Asian kick:

1-2 cups low-sodium soy sauce

¼ cup sake

2 tbsp rice wine vinegar

1 tbsp sweet chili paste

1 tbsp sesame oil

Juice of two limes

Marinate a minimum of 6 hours, but preferably overnight to achieve the best tenderization and flavor absorption. Oh, and with this kind of marinade – for the love of all that’s holy – it’s summer: GRILL.

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

try the amridade with the leftover pear jiuce from canned paers for 24 hours. Nother better!