Nothing beats a decent steak with a glass of red.
Wolfgang Puck thinks so. And, so do I.
And, while most of us know that fillet or filet mignon is the most expensive cut of meat up for grabs on a menu, the majority of people are not really aware of the different between the majority of cuts. While, there is no doubt that a well-cooked piece of fillet is great, there are other cuts of meat up for grabs that are just as satisfying. Depending on the cut, the grain will change, as well as, the amount of fat present in the muscle; ultimately, affecting the flavour. And, while the usual wisdom is that you should order your steak ‘medium rare’ in order to enjoy maximum tenderness and flavour, most people are not entirely au fait with the composition of different types of steaks and the impact of the cut on the overall taste.
In addition, geography and agricultural styles play a significant role too in imparting flavour. ‘Grass-fed’ beef is usually more prevalent from European farms while ‘corn-fed’ or ‘grain-fed’ beef usually comes from America. Corn-finished beef usually imparts a marbling of fat through the muscle and that is what you should look for if you are big on flavour. Wagyu beef is the richest and most tender beef of them all for this very reason. True wagyu comes from Japanese breeds that are genetically predisposed to yield a beef containing higher percentages of omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Raised on grain diet which is supplemented by beer, these cows are then massaged daily to ensure increased circulation which leads to better fat distribution. Ensuring even marbling throughout the muscle and an even higher price.
And, while all the different cuts sound intimidating. There are only really four on the more high-end side of things that are vital to know. The long and short of it being that the majority of the flavour comes from the fat, and taste is subjective.
Here are 4 cuts that will take the mystery out of it all and will allow you to order with confidence:
(also known as: Scotch filet or entrecôte)
By far this is my favourite. The fattiest cut of them all as it is from the upper side of the back or the longissimus dorsi muscle near to the ribs, and the high percentage of fat marbling throughout the meat ensures that this cut will melt in your mouth and has maximum flavour. Whether, you pan-fry or chuck it on the barbeque, this cut needs very little in the way of seasoning to enhance its flavours. It shines on its own. Some people like a sauce with their steak but with ribeye you risk swamping its juicy flavour. Rather keep the sauce for leaner cuts with less fat and instead, just enjoy.
(not to be confused with beef top sirloin)
Present on most menus and pretty much on the leaner side of things, sirloin is in danger of becoming quite chewy if overcooked. If you prefer your steak ‘well-dead’ then I would stay away from this cut and go for something that tenderizes more upon increased cooking or a cut with more marbling. However, if you the unhurried type who prefers to slow-roast than the sirloin might be for you. Beef top sirloin is a different cut and contains significantly higher percentages of fat which then influences cooking options and, of course, taste.
(also known as: filet, filet mignon, Tournedo, tenderloin)
The least fatty cut, yet, also the most expensive due to the typical demand and supply issues. Despite the the low-fat percentage, this cut has an almost buttery-like texture that literally means it can melt in your mouth when handled with care. When pan-fried be sure to take great care to avoid drying out or, alternatively, wrap your fillet in bacon . Often accompanied with a jus or sauce to provide the necessary flavour impact and moisture, if cooked to perfection this cut is a joy to consume. If done badly, it is can be a complete, irredeemable failure.
T-bone vs. Porterhouse
Basically, a two-for-one. Here, in this cut, you get a combo deal. Some strip steak and some tenderloin; each imparting their own relevant flavours. While virtually the same cut, the Porterhouse, is cut a bit further back meaning that more tenderloin is present and this makes it more desirable in some cases. I personally think this is a great one for chucking on a barbecue as it is holds up well to high temperatures. That means that grilling is an option too but I wouldn’t recommend the pan-searing route. This can be a bit tricky due to the bone and so you won’t get enough browning. Also remember to position the leaner tenderloin part away from the heat source so to avoid overcooking as the fattier strip will take a bit more time.