Saturday, June 13, 2015

Divide and conquer...or not?

I like a nice rib eye steak. I like it thickish and cut from the chuck side. I like it with some rich intermuscular fat (fat between the muscles) and I like it grilled at a high heat over hickory coals to give it lots of crust. I season it a day ahead with salt, pepper and chopped garlic. That fat drips down into the coals and flares up in a smoky swirl. It goes perfect with a large salad of greens out of the garden and some nice basic apple cider vinaigrette which helps cut the richness of the steak. That, and a nice glass of Montepulciano (12 bucks for the big bottle!), is a perfect steak dinner. This may be a meal I have 4 or 5 times a year. Is it healthy? I'm not sure, nor do I consider that part of it. The fat is rich but I'm not eating this everyday. I suspect the processed fat in french fries or nuggets, with its antifoaming agents, is also harmful.
 Enough about what I like, lets discuss the trend in foodservice to take traditional steak cuts and divide them into smaller pieces that all seem to resemble a tenderloin medallion. We do this in class all the time. I've been teaching how to divide the top sirloin butt into medallions for the past ten years, showcasing the baseball steak and attempting to convert even the cap into medallions. ( If you are not following this here is a link) This cut, traditionally, would be a large slicing steak. I still think that is a great way to cook it, with some exterior fat left on the edge.
 Another presentation is to denude the striploin and divide it in half the long way and make striploin medallions. This is a way to cut the steak thicker and not serve such a huge portion. The trouble with this is that the steaks can sometimes look like a half moon.
 We also see the rib eye being divided. This process involves taking the cap or inner deckle off and isolating the longissumus dorsi ( which is basically the same muscle that runs along the entire back of the animal and is the striploin). The problem with this is the nuscle that is isolated for medallions is conical in shape and difficult to portion into even looking cuts and the cap ( deckle) must be sold as a seperate piece.
 A big part of all this dividing thats going on is chefs wanting to serve smaller, thicker cut portions. This may make sense but there really needs to be some serious yield testing done on these. Every cut I mentioned requires a lot of trimming and denuding of fat. These, other than the tenderloin, are the most expensive cuts you can buy. Taking them apart, trimming them into "unnatural" shapes really cuts into the profits if you aren't charging enough.
 Another reason I think the beef industry likes these innovations is that beef in general has gotten larger over the years and many chefs were complaining they cannot cut a nice thick steak at a reasonable weight. This way of cutting enables the beef industry to grow monster size cuts and not worry because chefs will be cutting everything in half.
 I am not the one to suggest whether these cutting styles are a good idea or not. Chefs need to cost and experiment with these cuts to see if they are profit worthy. But don't forget fat is flavor.