[Sca-cooks] Interesting NYT article about "new" beef cuts
Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius
adamantius1 at verizon.net
Wed Apr 29 05:19:01 PDT 2009
Hullo, the list!
Sorry about the bandwidth on this one, but I figured it was better
than supplying a link and then having a series of complaints about how
you have to be registered, etc.
The article deals with beef cutters "inventing" new, often smaller,
more tender, specialty cuts that often respond better to dry-heat
cooking methods than our more normal "chuck" and "round". And, of
course, it's a great way to turn $1.99/lb chuck into $7.99/lb "Denver
steak", which, if one sells beef for a living, could be argued to be a
good thing. Maybe.
And then, of course, this is what European butchers have been doing
since forever, and which American butchers have only been catching up
on, with their tri-tips and hanger steaks, for the past ten years or
so. Some of the new cuts are pretty funny, IMO -- "Oh, look! You've
created a newer, more expensive stew meat cut into shapes other than
cubes, with a funny name! I'm so happy!"
"April 29, 2009
Same Cow, No Matter How You Slice It?
By KIM SEVERSON
ON a stainless steel table in the National Cattlemen’s Beef
Association test kitchen, a meat scientist named Bridget Wasser began
dissecting a piece of beef shoulder as big as a couch cushion.
Her knife danced between long, thick muscles, then she flipped the
whole thing open like book. After a tug and one final slice, she set
before her visitor the Denver steak.
The three-quarter-inch-thick cut is an inexpensive, distant cousin of
the New York strip. And it didn’t exist until the nation’s 800,000
cattle ranchers began a radical search for cuts of meat that consumers
would buy besides steaks and ground beef.
The idea was simple. Dig around in the carcass and find muscles that,
when separated and sliced in a certain way, were tender and tasty
enough to be sold as a steak or a roast. “People know how to cook
steaks,” said Dave Zino, executive director of the cattlemen’s Beef
and Veal Culinary Center.
The Denver was invented after meat and marketing experts spent more
than $1.5 million and five years on the largest study anyone had ever
done on the edible anatomy of a steer.
The point was to increase the $15.5 billion a year that people spend
at the supermarket buying beef. The association thinks consumers may
pay $5.99 a pound for a Denver steak. As ground beef, it’s about $2.99.
“This has been an evolution in the way we think about taking apart
that beef carcass,” said Chris Calkins, a University of Nebraska
professor who was part of the muscle study. “It’s a profound shift.”
This year, the Beef Check-off program, which financed the meat study,
will introduce five new cuts from the chuck. Four cuts from the round
will be rolled out next year. A handful are already on the market. All
of them have new names that are sure to confuse some shoppers and
Selling the new cuts will mean persuading more than 600 meatpacking
plants, thousands of processors and supermarket managers and, at the
end of the chain, consumers who are already baffled by the names in
the meat case.
Skeptics, who include old-fashioned beef cutters and a new breed of
professional cooks who know European butchering techniques, say there
is nothing new in a carcass.
Mike Debach, who runs the Leona Meat Plant in Troy, Pa., reviewed the
cutting schematics for the Denver. His analysis: “This is just a
glorified chuck steak that they cleaned the junk off of.”
Tom Mylan, a butcher who breaks down whole carcasses at Marlow &
Daughters in Brooklyn, says the cattlemen are not inventing anything.
“The old Italians and French butchers have been doing this forever,”
he said. The surprise, he said, is that it took the big producers this
long to figure out how to process and market off-cuts.
“The difference in a good name is worth $3 or $4 a pound,” he said.
Of course, the names have to be good. One wonders if America’s beef
roast, the name a focus group has given a new cut of chuck steak,
stands a chance of becoming as familiar as prime rib.
The move to remake the supermarket meat case began in 1998, when meat
scientists in Nebraska and Florida began pulling apart the chuck and
the round, looking for diamonds in the rough.
The researchers studied 39 muscles, isolating ones that had enough
tenderness or flavor to sell as inexpensive steaks or roasts.
In one tenderness test, researchers cooked muscles to medium, punched
out half-inch plugs of meat and set them in a machine that measures
the force it takes to shear them in half. Promising cuts were given
names like the Sierra, the Western Griller and the Petite Tender.
“If we can dig out a muscle and use it in a new way that hasn’t been
done before, it seems to me we are obligated to give that muscle an
identity so someone can understand what it is,” said Dr. Calkins, the
Naming cuts of beef is a murky pursuit that is only lightly regulated
by the government. Industry guidelines and even some local laws
prevent butchers from calling a cut from the shoulder a flank steak or
a piece of round a tenderloin. But there is no harm (except perhaps
confusion) in giving the name Delmonico steak to any one of several
The Delmonico was once a rib-eye, but now it can mean a cut from other
spots on the same long muscle, including a slice of top loin or, in
the new naming conventions proposed by the beef industry, a piece of
In the case of the flatiron steak, the industry borrowed an old name
for what it says is a new cut. The association claims it developed the
flatiron as one of the first products to come from the muscle study.
The research showed the cut, from the top of the steer’s shoulder, was
the second-tenderest part of the carcass, right after filet mignon.
But the name is familiar to people who have been cutting meat for
generations. The cut, also known as chicken steak, butler’s steak or
top blade steak, fell out of favor because the traditional butchering
method left a tough line of connective tissue in the middle, which
consumers didn’t like.
The cattlemen’s team developed a standard for cutting it, which strips
away that layer of gristle.
Meat processors began shipping flatirons in 2002. In 2007, restaurants
sold 83 million of them and butchers and grocery stores 13.2 million,
according to the cattlemen’s association figures.
Not so fast, argues Bill Niman, a rancher. He says he started selling
trimmed flatiron steaks to high-end restaurants in the late 1990s.
At the 74-store QFC chain in the Pacific Northwest, managers are eager
to sell the new cuts, but they’ve taken naming matters into their own
Oscar Blaser, the senior director of meat and seafood for the chain,
put one of the new cuts — the boneless country-style beef chuck ribs —
in his meat cases a couple of months ago. The “ribs” have never seen a
bone. They are cut from the chuck eye roll to resemble ribs and are
intended to be braised, like a short rib. They can be finished on the
grill with barbecue sauce.
Mr. Blaser thought the new name just didn’t work. So he christened
them bistro braising strips, which builds the cooking method into the
But even with a new identity, there is no guarantee anyone will buy
them without in-store demonstrations. “We’ve got to get it into their
mouths,” Mr. Blaser said. “Then we have to walk them over to the case
and show them the package. It’s difficult, even if you’ve got the best
name in the world. People still want steak.” "
"Most men worry about their own bellies, and other people's souls,
when we all ought to worry about our own souls, and other people's
-- Rabbi Israel Salanter
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